Catalan Leader Hopes EU Will Convince Spain to Discuss Split

Catalan President Artur Mas
Catalan President Artur Mas said he will begin the process of separating from Spain if pro-secession parties win a majority in the Sept. 27 elections, even though the Spanish government calls any such moves illegal. Photographer: David Ramos/Bloomberg

Catalan President Artur Mas said he hopes to avoid a unilateral declaration of independence by leaning on the “biggest” European Union countries to convince Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to negotiate the split.

“Some European countries will get involved in the affair” if the central Spanish government continues to refuse to collaborate on Catalonia’s independence, Mas, 59, said in an interview in New York. They could try “to convince the authorities in Madrid that it is always better to negotiate and to reach agreements because the economy is at stake.”

The Catalan leader made the two-day visit to persuade asset managers and business executives to keep investing in Catalonia and support its secession because separation will guarantee a better economic future for both the Catalans and the Spanish. He also delivered a speech at Columbia University, in which he invoked American poet Robert Frost by likening Catalonia’s path to independence as the road less traveled.

Mas said he will begin the process of separating from Spain if pro-secession parties win a majority in the Sept. 27 elections, even though the Spanish government calls any such moves illegal. The Catalan leader agreed Mar. 31 on a road map toward independence with Oriol Junqueras, the leader of his separatist allies Esquerra Republicana, another political party.

While no European countries have voiced support for Catalonia, their neutrality on the matter is a positive signal for the Catalans, Mas said.

“It’s quite easy for these European countries -- partners of Spain in the European Union, the Eurozone -- to give explicit support to the position of the Spanish government but they didn’t,” said Mas.

Supported View

German Chancellor Angela Merkel supported the Spanish government view last year. Germany is the most powerful in the EU, with its 2.9 trillion-euro economy accounting for about 29 percent of the Eurozone’s gross domestic product, according to Eurostat. In contrast, Spain’s GDP amounts to 1.05 trillion euros.

“We have a federal system in Germany that gives lots of leeway to the various parts of the country. That’s a completely different question than overall territorial integrity, and that’s why I support the view of the Spanish government,” Merkel said on July 18 in response to a question about whether the EU could support an independent Catalonia.

Catalonia, which has a population of 7.5 million, is preparing for its second vote on independence in a year. After the Spanish government refused to recognize a referendum Mas held in November, the president put together an alliance of pro-secession parties to split from Spain.

Biggest Economy

Located in the northeastern corner of the Iberian peninsula, Catalonia is Spain’s biggest regional economy, with an annual output of 198 billion euros ($214 billion). The figure is equal to the output of Scotland, where support for nationalists has soared since voters rejected leaving the U.K. in a referendum last year.

Mas is trying to regain momentum for independence ahead of local elections in May in which almost 1,000 Catalan towns will choose mayors, the first ballot since Mas announced his plan.

About 39 percent of Catalans support independence compared with a high of 49 percent in 2012, according to a poll by Catalan government-owned polling firm Centre d’Estudis d’Opinio released March 13. The survey included 2,000 interviews and the margin of error was 2.69 percentage points.

Mas’s party, CiU, would have won up to 32 seats if a regional election had been held at the time of the poll, while his ally Oriol Junqueras’s Esquerra Republicana would have taken 31 seats. That’s four fewer than a similar poll gave the two parties in December and falls short of the 68 needed for a majority in the regional parliament.

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