THE CATALAN QUESTION

Catalonia’s plea to endorse independence falls on deaf ears abroad

Region's network of foreign delegations fails to recruit supporters for the cause US headquarters moved from New York to Washington in bid to ramp up campaign

The Catalan government’s drive to find international support for its sovereignty plan is running into a wall of silence and rejection.

The nationalist premier, Artur Mas of the CiU coalition, needs such endorsement if he finally decides to hold a referendum without permission from Madrid, where the central authorities are arguing that it would be unconstitutional.

That is why Catalonia’s network of foreign delegations has been working double shifts to seek allies in Brussels, France, Britain, the United States and elsewhere.

But so far, the independence drive has met with little sympathy abroad, where silence has been the most common response — so much so that when European Commission President José Manuel Durao Barroso merely acknowledged receipt of a letter from Mas on the issue, the Catalan government hailed it as a resounding success.

It’s not about lobbying, but about extending the Generalitat’s political management”

“[His] reply has disappointed the Spanish government because it proves a European interest in the referendum,” claimed Francesc Homs, the Catalan presidency commissioner. What Homs failed to mention was that Barroso’s seven-line reply noted that this is an internal Spanish affair and that if Catalonia were to secede, it would automatically be excluded from the European Union and would have to reapply for membership.

“We are detecting an interest in the process. But no complicity,” admits Francesc Gambús, head of the Catalan government’s foreign affairs department.

Gambús’s mission is to encourage and develop bilateral relations between the Catalan executive and other governments, and to coordinate the work of the 70 or so offices abroad. Although most of these deal with economic issues, there are five that conduct political work as well: Brussels, London, Paris, Berlin and New York.

“It’s not about lobbying, but about extending the Generalitat’s political management,” says Gambús. “And the sovereignty process is a part of that.”

In fact, Catalan authorities have decided to transfer their US headquarters from New York to Washington so that the delegate, Andrew Davis, can be closer to the political action.

“This is the only change to the delegations that is tied to the [sovereignty] process,” says Gambús, adding that Davis will be shuttling back and forth between both cities.

“Washington is where the White House and the think-tanks are, but you also have to be in New York because that’s where the United Nations is, and it’s important to keep working there.”

As for the London delegation, it has practically no relations with the British government, and communicates instead with the Foreign Office. The relationship with the Scottish executive is based mostly on technical and environmental issues and avoids all talk of independence. In Wales, however, Catalan authorities have found a more sympathetic ear, with First Minister Carwyn Jones visiting Barcelona in early 2013.

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