Mas Calls for Early Elections as Proxy to Secede from Spain

Catalonia’s regional president says the region could secede within a year and a half after elections.

Catalan party leaders Artur Mas and Oriol Junqueras sign a governing agreement in Barcelona, December 19, 2012
Catalan party leaders Artur Mas and Oriol Junqueras sign a governing agreement in Barcelona, December 19, 2012 (CDC/Rubén Moreno)

Catalonia’s regional president, Artur Mas, said on Tuesday early elections could trigger secession from Spain, provided all separatist parties in the region joined a single electoral list.

Although Mas wouldn’t commit to calling early elections, he told supporters in Barcelona it was the “only” way for Catalans to voice their opinion.

His demand for a single pro-independence list would not only settle the ambiguity that resulted from an informal independence vote earlier this month; it could also help his conservative Convergència i Unió stave off an electoral challenge from the less compromising Republican Left.

A survey published in El Mundo newspaper this week put support for Mas’ party at 23.8 percent and support for the Republican Left at 22.1 percent.

Momentum for statehood

Mas previously rejected proposals from the party — the second largest in Catalonia’s regional parliament — to interpret a legislative victory for the separatists as tantamount to a vote for independence.

However, on Tuesday, the conservative leader pledged that if independence parties won the next election, the Catalan government would immediately start building up “state-like structures” and be able to secede within a year and a half.

The same day, Catalonia’s government approved a law to expand its collection of taxes in the region.

Republic Left leader Oriol Junqueras supported the law, saying, “If we don’t try to act like an independent state, we’ll never be able to negotiate as equals.”

Catalan frustration

Earlier this month, more than 80 percent of Catalans voted for statehood in what was dubbed a “citizens’ consultation” after Spain’s highest court had struck down a planned referendum as unconstitutional. Roughly half of the region’s 5.4 million eligible voters took part.

Polls put support for independence around 45 percent — up from 13 percent in 2005.

Many Catalans believe their region is bearing the brunt of Spain’s recession. Catalonia has 16 percent of the country’s population but produces more than a fifth of its economic output, giving it an economy the size of Denmark’s. An estimated $21 billion in Catalan taxes, equivalent to 8 percent of the region’s gross domestic product, is invested in other parts of Spain.

The central government’s intransigence has also contributed to the rising independence sentiment. Madrid has diluted Catalan autonomy and consistently blocked the region’s attempts to organize a referendum.