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16th Feb 2019

Catalan separatists ready to compromise on independence

  • The Spanish government have to think of "what they could do to seduce the Catalan society", said a Catalan official. (Photo: Matthias Oesterle/ZUMA Wire/dpa)

Catalan leaders have called on the European Commission to step in as a mediator between the Spanish and Catalan authorities, while signalling that they would be ready to talk about options other than independence.

Their call comes two days ahead of a controversial referendum over the region's secession, planned for Sunday (1 October). The vote has been declared illegal by the Spanish Constitutional Court.

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  • "There is no unilateral declaration of independence on the table," said Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont. (Photo: president.cat)

"There is no unilateral declaration of independence on the table," Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont said in an interview with Spanish news website Eldiario on Thursday.

"What is on the table at the moment is only ... the 1 October referendum," he said.

The law adopted in early September to organise the referendum says that if there are "more affirmative than negative votes" in the vote, the regional parliament will meet within two days "to issue the formal declaration of independence of Catalonia."

But Puigdemont said in the interview that "when reading the results, there will be an agreement for dialogue, negotiations and mediation."

In Brussels, his minister in charge of external relations, Raul Romeva, said that separatists would declare the region's independence within 48 hours if they won the referendum, but he also suggested that they were ready to discuss other options with the Spanish government.

"If there is a proposal to make on Sunday, or after Sunday, we are keen to listen," he said at a press conference. "Talk means talk. And talk means putting proposals on the table," he said.

The Spanish government has said so far that it was also open to a discussion, but under the condition that Catalan authorities cancelled the referendum.

Seat at the table

Romeva said that the referendum was "the will of 80 percent of [Catalonia's] population" and that holding it was "non-negotiable".

"What is negotiable is that we can sit at the table with that proposal - and if there are other proposals, we can talk about it," he added.

He said the Spanish government had to "take on the job of thinking what they could do to seduce the Catalan society".

The Catalan leaders' new overture comes as Spanish authorities are tightening the noose around the referendum.

On Thursday evening, the Guardia Civil seized 2.5 million ballots and 4 million envelopes, as well as around 100 ballot boxes. More election materials had been seized in previous days.

On Wednesday, Catalonia's high court ordered the police to close public buildings that could be used as voting stations.

Romeva denounced the "brutal crackdown on democratic institutions", including the shutting down of pro-independence websites and "pressure on 800 mayors".

He said the separatist movement was getting "worldwide support" because of the Spanish authorities' actions.

'Political grandeur'

He called on the EU commission and parliament to "stand for values and civil rights", which he said were being violated by Spanish authorities.

"The commission can no longer argue that this is a domestic issue," he told journalists, adding that Article 2 of the EU treaty, which referred to EU citizens' rights, was being violated.

He said that "failing to call for political dialogue is not neutral" and that "it is seen by the Spanish state as an endorsement of its repressive actions."

"Political challenges call for political dialogue and political grandeur," he said.

In an article published in the Guardian, a British newspaper, the mayor of Barcelona, Ana Colau, also called on the EU commission to "open a space for mediation" in order to "find a negotiated and democratic solution to the conflict".

Earlier this week, in an interview with EUobserver, the speaker of the Catalan Parliament, Carme Forcadell, noted that the EU would have no choice but to "face reality" if Catalonia declared independence.

She said the EU "is pragmatic and will find a good solution for Catalonia, for Spain and for the EU."

"In the end, what they always do is find a solution. It won't be easy, it won't happen over night, but why not?" she said.

The commission has declined to answer the calls for mediation.

Internal issue

"We respect Spain's legal and constitutional order. We have no other comment to make," commission spokesman Alexander Winterstein said on Thursday.

He noted that, in the past, commission president Jean-Claude Juncker had taken "charge of discussions and took them towards a result" when he was asked to do so by the two sides in a dispute.

But when asked whether Juncker was ready to play a role, if asked by Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy in addition to Catalan leaders, the spokesman said he did not want to speculate.

In Brussels, EU officials and diplomats have said in recent days the referendum and Spanish authorities' efforts to prevent it were an internal issue - one in which none of Spain's EU partners ought to meddle.

There has been informal contact between the EU institutions and Spanish authorities, as well as Catalan representatives.

An official said that the EU would not do anything that has not been coordinated with the Spanish government, and that, in any case, Europe would have to wait and see how the situation evolved on Sunday and later on.

EU 'embarrassed' by Catalan 'taboo'

Faced with the growing tension between the Spanish and Catalan governments, the member states and EU institutions would prefer not to get involved.

Spain arrests Catalan officials

Armed Spanish police have arrested Catalan officials and seized ballots for an independence referendum, prompting appeals for EU help.

Catalan authorities call independence vote

After a tense session, the regional parliament adopted a bill organising a referendum on 1 October. The Spanish government has promised a "serene but firm" response to prevent the vote.

Feature

Catalonia ponders independence 'leap of faith'

Ahead of a referendum on 1 October, Catalans are almost united on the need to go to the ballot box. But they are divided on the question, and uncertain about the result and the consequences.

Spain and Catalonia in referendum showdown

Barcelona vowed to hold a vote and Madrid vowed to prevent one on the eve of Sunday's planned independence referendum. The deadlock has prompted criticism of Rajoy.

Catalonia's separatists claim victory after violent day

"The citizens of Catalonia have won the right to an independent state," the region's leader, Carles Puigdemont, said at the end of a day marked by Spanish police violence inside and outside polling stations.

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