• Commission says it's internal matter as Germany favors Spain
  • Separatists say they have democratic mandate for secession

Catalan separatists say voters have given them an unquestionable mandate to push ahead with independence from Spain. Officials in the rest of Europe aren’t so sure.

The European Commission told Catalan leaders on Monday they need to settle their differences with the Spanish government rather than look for international support after the campaign to set up a new state fell just short of a majority of votes in Sunday’s regional election. As separatists claimed victory, Angela Merkel’s spokesman said the German chancellor was unmoved by the vote and urged Acting Catalan President Artur Mas to respect Spanish law.

After a five-year campaign to give Catalans a chance to vote on their constitutional future, Sunday was Mas’s opportunity to prove his claim that most Catalans supported his goals. Failing to reach that threshold effectively ends his chances of setting up a new state for the foreseeable future, said Jose Ignacio Torreblanca, head of the Madrid office of the European Council on Foreign Relations.

“There is no chance of going ahead with the secession process for the time being,” Torreblanca said in a phone interview. “The international community accepts unilateral secession process only in cases where human rights are clearly being infringed and there is a big consensus.”

Mas’s mainstream separatist platform and the CUP, an anti-capitalist party that also favors a breakaway from Spain and the euro, won 48 percent of the vote in Sunday’s ballot. Though they fell short of a popular majority, they claimed 72 out of 135 seats in the regional assembly, giving them control of the legislature.

Illegal Secession

Separatists aim to “disconnect” from the Spanish state within 18 months. That would require setting up a central bank and a tax agency, and finding a way to stay in the European Union. Officials in Brussels say any new state would have to reapply for membership, which could take years.

Under Spain’s constitution, a unilateral secession would be illegal because all Spaniards are entitled to vote on such a decision. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has used the Constitutional Court as his main line of defense against Mas’s campaign, filing a series of lawsuits.

Despite the response from European institutions, Mas said the mandate was clear and the separatists would press ahead even without a majority of the vote. His comments were echoed by his main ally on independence, Oriol Junqueras. In contrast, CUP leader Antonio Banos said his party won’t support Mas as regional president.

“We want to make sure we are all heading in the same direction since we have the majority to do so,” Mas said. “We don’t want to hinder the democratic mandate, right?”

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