(Reuters) – Spain cannot block a non-binding vote on Catalan independence that could become the basis for negotiations on Catalonia’s future, the president of the northeastern region said in an interview published on Sunday.
“If I call a consultation, not to declare the independence of Catalonia nor to break with the Spanish state, but to know the opinion of the citizens of this country, a knee-jerk anti-democratic response from Spain would be pretty bad and disgraceful in the view of the entire world,” Artur Mas told La Vanguardia, Catalonia’s leading newspaper.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has pledged to go to the Constitutional Tribunal to block any Catalan attempts to hold a referendum, arguing sovereignty is a matter for all of Spain to decide, but Mas said there was another possible approach.
“It is what I call the solution tolerated by the central government. They let us hold the consultation, they don’t get involved, and afterwards we go to Madrid to negotiate,” he said.
Over the past three years the independence movement in Catalonia has gained force, with roughly half of Catalans saying they want independence from Spain and a much bigger majority saying they should have the right to decide.
Catalonia, which has its own language, has significant self-governing powers. But economic doldrums, public spending cuts and perceptions of unfair taxes and the concentration of power in Madrid have fed breakaway fever.
The independence movement has become a major headache for Rajoy, who is struggling to pull Spain out of six years of economic stagnation and unemployment of 26 percent.