Europe

Tuesday, September 25, 2012 - 10:31

Catalonia's President Calls For Early Election Nov 25: Press


--Ruling Catalonian Party Wants Some Kind Of Referendum On Independence

PARIS (MNI) - The president of Spain's semi-autonomous region of Catalonia, Artur Mas, has called an early election for November 25, the Spanish daily El Pais reported on its website.

A snap regional election was widely reported to be in the works after a meeting between Mas and Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy last week ended in acrimony over a Catalonian demand for fiscal autonomy. Rajoy rejected Mas's demand to allow Catalonia to levy its own taxes.

Fiscal autonomy for Catalonia has been Mas's leading policy platform during his two years at the helm of the regional government, the Generalitat.

Spain's economic crisis has enflamed separatist sentiment in Catalonia and a victory by separatist parties in the election could present Rajoy with a constitutional crisis.

The leading Catalonian party, Convergencia i Unio, which Mas heads, has communicated its desire to "consult the will of the Catalonian people" about the possible creation of an independent state, El Pais reported. It is unclear what form such a consultation would take.

Earlier this month, an estimated 1.5 million protestors gathered in Barcelona to demand an end to austerity and greater freedom from Madrid. Some held signs demanding separation from Spain.

Catalonia represents one-fifth of Spain's economic output and has long complained that, aside from its cultural differences with the rest of Spain, it contributes much more to the central government than it gets back.

Mas's government recently requested a E5 billion bridge loan from an E18 billion fund Madrid has established to help the country's indebted regions. Catalonia sends 9% of its GDP to the central government for redistribution to other regions of Spain, and it argues that is the reason for its current financial predicament.

Catalonia, which has its own language and culture, has long feuded with Madrid. The dictator Francisco Franco outlawed the Catalonian language and other expressions of national identity for nearly four decades following the end of the Spanish Civil War. Many Catalonians resent Rajoy for his centralizing tendencies and his suspicion of cultural and linguistic autonomy.

After Franco's death, Catalonia won a fair degree of autonomy and the right to use its language in schools and official business. The Convergencia i Unio party has traditionally favored nationalist expression within the context of a unified Spain.

The party's prominent and widely respected former leader, Jordi Pujol, who headed the Catalonian government from 1980 to 2003, was renowned as a bastion against Catalonian separatism. But he told the Financial Times in a recent interview: "We don't fit anymore inside Spain."

--Paris newsroom, +33142715540;; jduffy@marketnews.com

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