Spain minister proposes more powers for Catalonia
Spain's foreign minister opened the door Thursday to talks on constitutional reform and greater fiscal powers for Catalonia after a looming regional election billed as a de facto independence referendum.
The proposal came on the eve of a massive rally of Catalan nationalists Friday in Barcelona which will kick off campaigning for the September 27 poll.
Catalan nationalism has reached new heights during Spain's long economic downturn as Catalans reject austerity cuts enforced by the central government and want more autonomy over taxes.
"The government has since the very beginning wanted to start a dialogue that would solve this problem. And it probably involves a constitutional reform and a different system of regional financing," Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said.
Spain's existing system to finance its regions is "unfair" on regions such as Catalonia, he told journalists, politicians and businessmen in Barcelona, the Catalan capital.
A reform of Spain's constitution that improves the system of financing and recognises Catalonia's distinct language and culture is "absolutely possible, viable and desirable," the minister said.
The new financing system could cede control of some taxes, such as those levied on alcohol and tobacco, to regions while reserving for the central government control over corporate tax and value added tax, he said.
Pro-independence leaders argue that Catalonia, which is home to some 7.5 million people and accounts for a fifth of Spain's economic output, pays a disproportionate level of taxes to Madrid compared to the central funding it receives.
Before embracing separatism, Catalan president Artur Mas in 2012 asked for greater fiscal independence for the region but Spain's conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy rejected his demands.
Talks on constitutional reform and a new financing system should only take place after the Catalan regional elections, the foreign minister said.
Polls show pro-secession parties are on course to win a slim majority of seats in the Catalan regional assembly.
Mas has said that if they do he will push through an 18-month roadmap for secession for the wealthy northeastern region.
© 2015 AFP