THE CATALAN QUESTION

Mas lays out goals for region in 2014

CiU leader says administration has “strength” to push through recovery and referendum

Artur Mas listens to a question during a news conference at Palau de la Generalitat in Barcelona on Tuesday.
Artur Mas listens to a question during a news conference at Palau de la Generalitat in Barcelona on Tuesday. ALBERT GEA (REUTERS)

Artur Mas, the premier of Catalonia, is facing a decisive year. The region’s economic recovery and the referendum on independence from Spain, scheduled for November 9, top the list of challenges faces his governing CiU coalition, which in the most recent polls has slipped behind the Catalan Republican Left (ERC), its ally in the regional assembly. However, Mas on Tuesday ruled out the formal entry of ERC into the administration at a press conference to lay out his objectives for 2014.

“The government is stable. At the beginning of the legislature I had doubts as to whether a party without a majority would be sufficient,” Mas said, adding that he viewed the government as having the “strength” to carry through the region’s goals for the year. However, he did leave the door open to joining forces with ERC, “because a lot of things are going to happen in 2014.”

As well as economic recovery, which the Catalan leader said must bring about job creation, Mas also stressed that the budget should not contain further cutbacks in public spending – although those already enforced will remain in place. Furthermore, laws to increase the transparency of the regional government will be enacted, he said, leaving the matter of the referendum as the final point on his to-do list. “Good work was done in 2013. For the first time we are seeing a new horizon to create jobs, we are in a situation in which it is possible to avoid new cutbacks and we are progressing determinedly with the national process,” Mas said.

Despite having set the date for a referendum on independence, Mas remains ambiguous as to whether it will be held if the central government refuses to sanction it. “We will exhaust all the options for them to tell us that yes, we can hold the referendum, or that it will be tolerated,” said the CiU leader. Mas has offered to negotiate with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy but remains steadfast in his refusal to renounce the region’s right to decide its own political future. He described relations between Catalonia and the Popular Party central government as “tense.”

Mas’s most recent gambit was to pen a letter to European leaders seeking support for the region’s secessionist aspirations. The ensuing silence has failed to dim his drive: “We already knew that there would not be an explicit stance on the part of European nations in favor of the referendum. But we also know that many of them respect the democratic functioning of societies. Therefore our wish is that they are informed punctually of what is going on.”

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