Only talks would stop independence if ‘yes’ wins in referendum, says Catalan official

People hold Catalan separatist flags known as 'Esteladas' during a gathering to mark the Catalonia day 'Diada'. [Reuters]

Catalonia has told the Spanish authorities it is willing to consider proposals to avert the break-up, but is otherwise set to proclaim independence within 48 hours if the ‘yes’ camp wins in Sunday’s referendum, Raül Romeva, a member of the Catalan government in charge of foreign relations, said on Thursday (28 September)

“We are keen to listen”, Romeva told reporters. “We are open to considering proposals”, he added. He was asked whether the regional government would forgo a unilateral declaration of independence after a ‘yes’ victory if Spain offered to talk.

He stressed Catalonia is prepared to declare independence unilaterally within 48 hours after the vote, as it is included in a law recently passed through the regional parliament.

“People know what the consequences are,” he added.

Catalonia would split from Spain within 48 hours of secession vote

Catalonia will declare independence from Spain within 48 hours if voters back secession in an October referendum, according to a draft bill proposed by secessionist parties on Tuesday (4 July), though it remains unclear whether the vote will go ahead.

Over the previous days, top Catalan politicians disagreed over who should take such a radical step. The President of the Parliament, Carme Forcadell, said the decision would be in the executive’s hands.

But Jordi Turull, a spokesman for the regional government (Generalitat),  said the regional Parliament should take the ultimate decision based on the referendum result.

Romeva had come to Brussels for a swift charm offensive before the international press ahead of the referendum vote on Sunday. The trip was organised at the last minute and he headed back to the airport as soon as the press conference ended.

Catalonia has stepped up its campaign to win international support for the referendum, declared illegal by the Spanish Constitutional Court.

Spanish government led by Mariano Rajoy (Popular Party) has increased the police and judiciary pressure on the organisers to ensure that it does not take place.

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Despite the court ruling, Romeva said the vote was neither “unconstitutional” nor “illegal” because he said the Spanish code of law acknowledges the possibility to hold referendums even if they are not agreed.

The Catalan government has increased its efforts in order to open talks with Spain and settle the long-running dispute over funds and competences.

The Guardian newspaper published a letter from the Barcelona mayor, Ada Colau, requesting the intervention of the EU.

“This is a political challenge that calls for political dialogue”, Romeva added.

Catalan rep: The EU should push Madrid towards a 'more constructive stance'

‘We would have already expected a more explicit invitation of encouragement by EU leaders and institutions to Madrid to engage in some kind of political discussion,” said Amadeu Altafaj, the Permanent Representative of Catalonia in Brussels.

But the European Commission has declined to intervene because it is a domestic issue that concerns the legal order of a member state. The institution explained that it would step in only if Spain requested it.

Romeva insisted on the importance of opening a negotiation to help the situation evolve in a different way.

Referendum a condition to talk

“Talk requires no preconditions, only the absence of violence,” Romeva said. But he said it was still necessary to hold the referendum before any talks.

“Obviously” we are not going to drop it, he said.

In a recent interview with the Financial Times, Spain’s Economic Affairs Minister Luis de Guindos said the government would be open to talks about the regional funding and competences if the Generalitat dropped the referendum.

Romeva said Catalonia’s right to decide was not an issue of legality but legitimacy.

A report distributed by his team, prepared by four professors from foreign universities, indicated that “the very fact that for the last years Madrid has resorted to all possible legal and constitutional means to bar any discussion of the Catalan claims has led to a political and institutional deadlock”.

The 18-page document did not include any reference to the regional elections held in Catalonia in 2015, the last time the Catalans went to the polls.

Romeva said that in those elections 80% of voters were in favour of the referendum.

He has insisted on various occasions that “first and foremost, it is about the democratic standards”, and “the democratic way is to vote.”

In the 2015 elections, 48% of the voters were in favour of pursuing a referendum even without an agreement with Madrid. The rest were in favour of an agreed referendum with the central government (a coalition of left-wing forces) or against it.

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Catalonia caught Europe’s attention like never before this week. The arrest of regional government officials involved in organising the 1 October referendum was published on front-pages across Europe and sparked a torrent of questions from the international press in Brussels.

Heritage of Franco

Romeva also denounced the Spanish government´s “repression” over the last weeks. He said  Spain’s problem was not Catalonia but that “the heritage of Franco is still there” in various institutions.

Despite describing Spain’s behaviour as “authoritarian”, the Madrid-born Romeva stressed that he did not have “anything against Spain” and would not renounce his Spanish passport if Catalonia became independent.

Romeva was grilled by the international press on the Generalitat’s decision to rush the referendum process and was told the initiative may destabilise Europe because some extreme groups funded by Russia were involved.

Catalonia’s cause is being supported by a complicated network of actors on social media and websites, and that could be traced back to Moscow, El Pais has recently reported.

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Romeva dismissed these accusations. He said one cannot find a region “more European than Catalonia”. “Our will is clear: to build a modern country”.

He explained Catalonia was rushing to organise the referendum because its fundamental rights are being violated.

Prosecution of journalists

Over the past days, the regional government and demonstrators rallied in the streets to protest against last week’s arrest of officials involved in the organisation of the referendum.

The arrests came after the ruling coalition passed by a slight majority the transitional law setting up the breakup with Spain after the referendum. A majority of the opposition parties denounced the lack of a thorough parliamentarian process.

Spain has deployed thousands of policemen in Catalonia in an attempt to impede the holding of the referendum on Sunday. The public prosecutor has also ordered the closure of websites involved in the organisation of the referendum.

Reporters Without Borders strongly condemned the use of judiciary procedures to intimidate Catalan media supporting the pro-independence call.

The organisation also denounced the “lynching” on the social media of journalists, including correspondents based in Brussels, who are “inspired or supported” by members of the Communication team of the Generalitat.

  • 1 October: referendum in Catalonia.

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