Rajoy considers self-determination vote "absurd" and rejects discussing it with the Catalan President
The Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, stated on Wednesday that he "will not join absurd debates" and will not "participate in the game" to negotiate Catalonia's self-determination vote since "the referendum is illegal and will not take place". Ironically, Rajoy accepted the request of the President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas, to meet, but he has specifically rejected to talk about the purpose of the interview: the self-determination vote. In addition, the Spanish PM has downplayed the agreement backed by a two-third majority of the Catalan Parliament, which was answering a mandate resulting from the 2012 Catalan elections. On the same day the Spanish Finance Minister, Cristóbal Montoro, rejected "reinventing Spain" to better fit Catalans and therefore ruled out a deep Constitutional Reform. In addition, he also rejected setting up a new fiscal scheme for Catalonia, similar to the one that the Basque Country already has.
Barcelona (ACN).- The Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, stated on Wednesday in Brussels that he "will not join absurd debates" and will not "join the game" to negotiate Catalonia's self-determination vote since "the referendum is illegal and will not take place". Ironically, Rajoy accepted the request of the President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas, to meet, but he has specifically rejected to talk about the purpose of the interview: the self-determination vote. In addition, the Spanish PM has downplayed the agreement backed by a two-third majority of the Catalan Parliament to set up a self-determination vote on the 9th of November (which was answering a mandate resulting from the 2012 Catalan elections) and Mas' open attitude to modify the question wording and date in order to have the Spanish Government's green light. "Earlier they wanted to ask about something and now they want to ask about something else or they want me to say what has to be asked", stated Rajoy. "I cannot participate in this game because it is not serious at all", he added. On the same day the Spanish Finance Minister, Cristóbal Montoro, rejected "reinventing Spain" to better fit Catalans, and therefore ruled out a deep Constitutional Reform. In addition, he also rejected setting up a new fiscal scheme for Catalonia, similar to the one that the Basque Country and Navarra already have. Therefore, the Spanish Government is blocking any agreement on the self-determination vote, and it is also blocking any third way between independence and the current status quo, despite the fact that around 80% of Catalans want greater self-government or independence.
The Spanish Government is avoiding making any concession before meeting with the President of the Catalan Executive. Rajoy, and other members of his team, such as Cristóbal Montoro, are sending strong messages suggesting they will not modify their stance of the last two years regarding Catalonia's self-determination. In addition, they will not look for any agreement to fit part of the claims from a majority of the Catalan society and to try to find a better accommodation of Catalonia within Spain.
Rajoy will meet with Mas but rejects talking about the main topic
After weeks of controversies and speculations, on Monday it was confirmed that the Spanish Prime Minister would meet with the Catalan President in Madrid to talk about Catalonia's political situation. However Rajoy is ignoring the white elephant in the room and rejects to discuss the main topic and the purpose of Mas' request for an interview: Catalonia's self-determination vote. Despite the Rajoy´s promises of dialogue with Catalonia that he has been repeating over the past few months, in his first formal meeting with the Catalan President since August 2013, the Spanish PM is willing to talk about everything except the main issue: the self-determination vote that a two-third majority of the Catalan Parliament agreed to organise on the 9th of November.
In the November vote citizens would be asked whether they would like Catalonia to become a State and, if affirmative, if they would like it to be independent from Spain. The agreement was reached in December 2013 among the Catalan Government and 6 political parties representing two thirds of the Catalan Parliament and organised in 4 political groups. It was the result of months of talks answering the mandate of the last Catalan elections, held in November 2012. Back then, during the electoral campaign, 80% of the elected MPs had promised they would support Catalonia's right to self-determination and the organisation of a legal vote on the issue. The December agreement was immediately announced by the Catalan President himself in a press conference surrounded by the parties' leaders. The parties supporting such an agreement go from Christian-Democrats to the radical left, from Liberals to Green Socialists and Social-Democrats.
"The referendum is illegal and will not take place" insists Rajoy
Before entering into Wednesday's European Council in Brussels, Rajoy stated that he had known about the self-determination vote's question wording and date "through the media" and on "that very same day", in a sort of lamentation for not having been informed before Catalan citizens. In fact, on the 12th of December, parties met in the Catalan Government's Palace in the morning for the final discussion and two hours after they started the meeting they were calling the press and made the announcement on the spot. On Wednesday, Rajoy insisted once again that "the referendum is illegal and will not take place", as he has said "from the very first minute".
"A referendum against the national sovereignty will not take place", insisted Rajoy, who leads the People's Party (PP). "Not because the Prime Minister says so, but because the Spanish Parliament [where the governing PP holds an absolute majority], because the Constitutional Court [where a majority of its members have been directly appointed by the PP] and because it is the Spanish people those who have to decide what is Spain", he emphasised.
Rajoy considers Catalonia's self-determination "an absurd debate"
"I will not participate in absurd debates", added Rajoy regarding whether he would discuss the self-determination vote with Mas. In addition, he criticised the will of Catalan representatives to renegotiate the question wording and date if it would enable an agreement with the Spanish Government. On several occasions the Catalan President has insisted that he is willing to change the question and the voting day in order to reach a consensus with Madrid. However, Rajoy has downplayed this attitude. "Earlier they wanted to ask about something and now they want to ask about something else or they want me to say what has to be asked", stated the Spanish PM.
The Spanish Finance Minister rejects any significant change to better fit Catalonia within Spain
In addition, the Spanish Finance Minister, Cristóbal Montoro, stated in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that Spain would not embark in a "reinvention" of the state's organisation in order to satisfy Catalan "separatists". Therefore, he was ruling out a deep Constitutional Reform to set up a true federal system which would fully recognise Catalonia's nationhood status and guarantee the respect of its self-rule by protecting Catalan powers from constant jurisdiction invasions from the Spanish Government in areas regarding taxation, the economy, culture or language. In addition, Montoro compared the relationship between Catalonia and Spain with "couples therapy". "We get along so-so, it's been like this for centuries, but there is just enough love left to understand that staying together is better for both of us."
Furthermore, Montoro ruled out the possibility of setting up a specific fiscal agreement for Catalonia similar to the specific fiscal schemes that the Basque Country and Navarre already have. As the Wall Street Journal underlines, many business leaders are supporting this formula and are considering it to be a positive strategy to decrease the support for independence. With this specific fiscal agreement, the Catalan Government would collect all the taxes and would transfer an amount to Madrid to pay for general services (such as the army), investments made by the Spanish Government in Catalonia, and solidarity with poorer regions and countries. However, Montoro totally rejected it since he recognised it would lower the resources available for the Spanish Government and the rest of Spain, although he rejected to provide exact figures. Rajoy rejected to even talk about such an agreement in September 2012, a few days after the first massive pro-independence demonstration in Barcelona, which gathered 1.5 million people according to the Catalan Police.
Catalonia has been giving away 8% of its GDP each year since 1986
Catalonia represents around 19% of Spain's GDP (similar to Portugal's or Finland's economy), and such a fiscal agreement would take away many resources from the Spanish Government and the rest of Spain. Different studies have calculated that every year since 1986 Catalans are giving away an average of 8% of their GDP to pay for services and investments in the rest of Spain, an amount representing some €16 billion in 2013 while the Catalan Government's budget for that year reached €29 billion. Such a contribution, on which the Spanish Executive does not disclose transparent data, makes the Catalan Government's services under-budgeted compared to other areas in Spain, despite being the wealthiest part of Spain. This particularly damages Catalonia's social cohesion (as it affects those with fewer resources) and the competitiveness of the Catalan economy. Catalans want to reduce such a contribution, while still keeping a certain amount for solidarity transfers.