Catalan President Artur Mas said he may be prepared to pause the countdown to November’s referendum on independence for talks with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, so long as he gets the backing of the other pro-vote parties.
“If the Spanish government says o.k., we are willing to accept the consultation in Catalonia, we are committed to let Catalan people vote, and as they did in the U.K., we have to sit at the table and open negotiations,” Mas said in an interview in Barcelona yesterday. “You can talk about the terms of this referendum or this consultation, you can talk about the date, you can talk about the question.”
Mas set the Catalan government on course for a clash with Rajoy in December, when he named the date for the independence vote. With less than four months to go, he’s offering the premier a way to dodge that collision as the two men prepare to meet.
Rajoy insists the country’s constitution doesn’t give the regional government the power to call a vote, slated for Nov. 9, while Mas says his plan is legal and points to polls that show a large majority of Catalans backing his planned referendum.
“Even small steps that help positions get a bit closer count towards getting this conflict resolved,” said Antonio Roldan, a London-based analyst at Eurasia Group, which advises bond investors on political risk. “It would be against Rajoy’s electoral interests to allow any sort of vote on independence,” he said, adding that “Rajoy and Mas still remain miles apart.”
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Parties that support holding a referendum on independence took 56 percent of Catalan votes in May’s European Parliament election. Support for independence itself was about 45 percent in April, according to the regional government’s most recent polling. That compares with about 25 percent in October 2010 before Mas took office.
The two leaders spoke on July 11 and agreed to organize a meeting, in a sign of a thaw in relations. Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said the conversation was “cordial.” It lasted one minute, according to Mas.
“This is a difficult issue for them and for us,” Mas said.
The Catalan Parliament has already agreed on a question for November’s vote.
“Do you want Catalonia to become a state?” voters will be asked. If so, “do you want this state to be independent?”
Should Rajoy agree to negotiate over the referendum, Mas said he would call a meeting of the other Catalan parties that have backed his push for a referendum to ensure they would support any deal. He said it’s difficult to imagine a wording that doesn’t include a reference to independence.
Catalonia, located in the northeast of the country, is Spain’s biggest regional economy and accounts for about 16 percent of the nation’s population.