Catalan referendum plan 'illegal', says Spain's PM
By Benjamin Fox
Spain's Prime Minister maintained that a referendum on independence for Catalonia would be "illegal" on Tuesday (25 February) as he delivered his annual state of the nation speech.
Mariano Rajoy vowed to block the vote, which the Catalan authorities intend to hold on 9 November.
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"This referendum can't take place, it is not legal," he said, adding that "it is the entire Spanish people who have the capacity to decide what Spain is."
Catalan separatist parties, which hold a majority in the regional parliament, agreed on two referendum questions last December. Voters would be asked if they wanted Catalonia to become a state and if they wanted it to be an independent state.
The Catalan referendum, if it happens, is to take place less than two months after voters in Scotland decide on whether they want to leave the UK.
As with Scotland, legal opinion is divided on whether an independent Catalonia would be required to re-apply for EU membership, although EU officials and Nato have warned that the region would automatically leave the bloc if it voted for independence.
However, unlike the Scottish vote, the Catalan poll would not be legally binding due to continued hostility to the idea from both Spain's ruling conservative party and the Socialist opposition. In response, Catalan president Artur Mas has said that the referendum should be thought of as a "consultation".
Currently, opinion polls indicate that around 55 percent of Catalans want to leave Spain.
Rajoy's speech came as the growth forecast for the Spanish economy was revised up by 0.3 percent to 1 percent in 2014 by the European Commission, while the forecast for 2015 was revised to 1.5 percent.
Spain's economy has suffered two straight years of recession after being forced to take a €40 billion rescue loan from the eurozone's bailout fund to prop up its stricken banking sector in 2012.
“We were a burden for Europe, and now Spain is going forward and is part of the engine,” said Rajoy of Spain's economic prospects.
"We have gone from retreat to advance, from decline to recuperation and from threat to hope . . . We have successfully sailed past Cape Horn," he said, unveiling plans to reduce the tax burden for 12 million Spaniards by raising the income threshold at which people pay tax to €12,000.