Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said that a vote for Catalan independence risked excluding the region from the European Union, as polls showed a decline in support for Catalonia’s ruling party before Nov. 25 elections.
Rajoy, speaking during a meeting of his People’s Party in the Catalonian city of Girona today, said that calling an early election in the region was a “mistake” that had wasted time and energy better invested in fighting Spain’s recession. He reiterated his warning that a push for Catalan sovereignty jeopardized the region’s membership of the EU as part of Spain.
“Today it is in Europe because it is in Spain, and it benefits from Europe as the rest of Spain does, and it contributes to Europe as the rest of Spain does,” Rajoy told PP supporters and members in Girona. While his party has an absolute majority in parliament, Rajoy has said he doesn’t have the power to call a referendum on Catalonia’s independence.
Catalonia, the first contributor to Spain’s economy as well as its most indebted area, is at the forefront of a resurgent push for regional autonomy in Europe as the debt crisis frays the ties that bind the regions to their constituent states.
Rajoy’s warning on losing the benefits of EU membership echoes comments made by U.K. government officials and those opposed to Scottish independence before a referendum on Scots self-determination scheduled for the fall of 2014. Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond has said that he is seeking legal advice on future Scottish membership of the European Union.
Catalan President Artur Mas called early elections after Rajoy rejected a request to let Catalonia have full control of the taxes it collects. Mas, who doesn’t have an absolute majority in the regional parliament in Barcelona, is aiming for a strong show of support in the ballot to gird his hand for negotiations on independence with Rajoy.
Separate polls published today by the newspapers El Mundo and El Pais suggested that Mas’s CiU party might not surpass its result at the 2010 election, with a projected 62 or 63 seats in the regional parliament, one more at best than it has now.
Mas’s CiU has 37.3 percent support, according to El Pais, and 36.6 percent in El Mundo’s poll. That compared with 40.9 percent in a poll for La Vanguardia published on Oct. 28.
The ruling CiU party has said that strong support on Nov. 25 will force the Spanish government and the European Commission to revise their positions about new states having to leave the union and reapply for membership. Even so, commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said yesterday its position on territories that secede from member states hasn’t changed.
Mas would consider pursuing autonomy even if an independent Catalan state were to be denied EU membership, his chief of staff, Joan Vidal de Ciurana, said in a Bloomberg Television interview on Nov. 13. Catalonia wouldn’t need Spain’s Treasury for funding if it had “the possibility to become a state and to negotiate directly with the markets,” he said.
Rajoy, speaking in Girona, said the central government will continue to provide Catalonia with liquidity. Catalonia’s bonds are judged non-investment grade by at least one rating company, while the Spanish treasury itself is on the brink of junk. Catalonia and Spain depend on each other, Rajoy said.