Rajoy Vows to Defend Spain’s Unity After Catalan Vote Announced

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy vowed to protect Spain’s unity after Catalonia’s leader called for early elections framed as a de facto referendum on independence.

Responding to the announcement, Rajoy said his government won’t allow the breakup of Spain or let Catalans become “foreigners” in their own country, adding that the political situation in the region cannot “go on like this.”

“We need to put an end to this old idea that you’re either Spanish or Catalan,” he said. “We’re all Spaniards, Catalans and Europeans.”

His comments come after Catalonia’s president, Artur Mas, signed a decree calling for early elections late on Monday putting his region on a collision course with the central government in Madrid.

Mas has framed the Sept. 27 vote as a referendum for independence and has vowed complete Catalonia’s secession if his “Yes” group, which includes high-profile Catalan personalities such as soccer coach Pep Guardiola, wins a big enough majority in the election. Asked what would constitute an overall majority, Mas said the result will be pegged to the number of seats in Catalonia’s regional parliament, not votes.

Meanwhile, the central government argues the vote is simply a regional election, and that further action toward a split would violate the Spanish constitution. Unilateral independence would result in Catalonia losing the euro and exiting the European Union, according to the Rajoy administration.

On Tuesday, Catalonia’s Mas blamed Rajoy’s government for refusing to engage in talks over the future of the region. He argued that, while the election decree doesn’t make specific references to independence, Catalans will be voting to stay or leave.

“On Sept. 27, the counting of the votes will be like plebiscite in nature,” he said. “Things have reached a point where this can’t be just another vote.”

Support for Catalan independence has waned as Spain’s recovery gathers pace. With the economy growing at the fastest pace in eight years, opinion polls point to no overall majority for either camp. A survey for La Razon newspaper published July 27 showed pro-union parties and pro-independence groups running neck and neck with just one seat separating the two.