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20th Jul 2018

Catalonia diplomats back in action abroad

  • 'We want to build a republic, earn the right to decide,' said Catalonia's foreign minister Ernest Maragall, while insisting tat separatists won't be 'ideologically-obsessed' (Photo: Eric Maurice)

Almost two weeks after direct rule from Madrid ended, the Catalan regional government is back on the diplomatic scene - but this time more cautiously.

Catalan representations will soon be reopened in Washington, London, Berlin, Rome and Geneva, and in Paris, Lisbon and northern Europe in the next two or three months, the new regional minister for foreign affairs Ernest Maragall announced on Thursday (14 June).



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At a press conference symbolically held at the Catalan representation in Brussels, he said that the diplomatic network would "defend Catalan interests" and "be present in European debates".

Catalan representations abroad were established in recent years by the previous separatist government to gather support ahead of the independence referendum that was organised last year.



They were closed by the Spanish government after it suspended the region's autonomy last October in reaction to a declaration of independence.

Article 155 of the Spanish constitution, which regulated Madrid's direct rule, was itself suspended when a new Catalan government was sworn in on 2 June.

On the same day, by coincidence, the conservative Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy was brought down by a non-confidence vote over corruption cases, and replaced by socialist leader Pedro Sanchez.

'Build a republic'

"Our first goal is to establish a scenario of dialogue" with Sanchez's government, Maragall said in his press conference.

"We are still waiting for the new Spanish government to say clearly and aloud what its purpose is," he said. "Not just wishful thinking and good intentions but a real commitment in this dialogue and mutual comprehension."

Asked later by EUobserver whether Sanchez was more open than Rajoy, Maragall said: "Let's hope!"

While Rajoy always rejected any talk about an independence referendum, Maragall said that the new Catalan government would try to get Sanchez's approval for a referendum, but that it remained an "hypothetical consideration".

"We want to build a republic, earn the right to decide," he said.

The new Catalan government is led by Quim Torra, a hardline separatist known for previous insulting comments on Spaniards.

But Maragall, a moderate, explained that the regional executive's aim was not to try to push again for independence on the basis of the unrecognised referendum.

"We have to open a debate, to see if we increase social support for the republic," he said, using the word "republic" rather than "independence".

Not ideologically-obsessed

"Independence is an institutional concept, and a negative one," he argued. "Republic [means that] we want to build something - equality, dignity, justice".

Maragall, a former Socialist MEP, said he was in Brussels to "send a clear signal of the European commitment of the [region's] government and Catalan society".

A stone throw from the European Commission and Council, he insisted that Catalonia was "at home" there and wanted to "command respect, for what we do and say, not through special rights".

Asked how he intended to ensure that Catalonia would not remain a problem for the EU, a club of member states standing together to protect their integrity, the minister argued that this would be done "through the action of government, its responsibility".

In a jab at the previous regional cabinet led by Carles Puigdemont, who is still in exile in Germany, Maragall added that the new one would "demonstrate that we are respecting the rules."

"We do not want to appear as sectarian or ideologically-obsessed," he said.

Basque threat of 'second front' for independence

Last weekend some 175,000 people in the Basque country demanded a 'right to decide'. For some, it means more autonomy from Spain, others independence. "We want to open a second front within the Spanish state," says one Basque politician.

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