Spanish PM seeks common front to block Catalan separatist drive
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy met opposition parties Friday to try to craft a united response to a plan from Catalonia's ruling separatists to launch a process that would lead to full independence from Spain.
Rajoy, criticised within his own conservative Popular Party for not doing enough to block the separatists, met the leader of new far-left party Podemos, Pablo Iglesias for the first time, as well as centre-right party Ciudadanos chief Albert Rivera.
The prime minister already held talks with the head of the main opposition Socialists, Pedro Sanchez, on Wednesday, and is scheduled to meet next week with smaller parties include some from Catalonia.
Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said the aim is to meet “with those who one way or another do not agree with this independence.”
“There is a higher purpose, which is the defence of Spain,” she told a news conference following a weekly cabinet meeting.
“What is important is that there is a pact for Spain and our constitution.”
Pro-independence parties announced Tuesday they would pass a resolution early next month in the regional Catalan parliament calling on the chamber to announce the formal start of secession from Spain and the formation of a new republican state within 18 months.
The motion calls on the regional assembly to start working on legislation within 30 days, to create a separate social security system and treasury.
It also says the process would not be subject to decisions made by the Spanish institutions, including the Constitutional Court.
No date has yet been set for the Catalan assembly to vote on the motion.
Pro-independence parties won a majority of seats in the 135-seat Catalan parliament for the first time in elections last month.
But while they topped the poll, winning 72 seats, the pro-independence camp failed to win a majority of all votes cast — a fact emphasised by the central government in Madrid, which has fiercely resisted their push for independence.
– ‘Time to extend hand’ –
While Rajoy is determined to unite anti-independence parties against secession, they must overcome their own difference on the issue with a general election looming on December 20.
Ciudadanos, which was formed in Catalonia to oppose separatism, on Friday proposed a five-point national pact that calls for the respect of “democratic laws” and the “territorial unity” of Spain. It would also ban alliances with parties that want to “break up Spain”.
The party came second in a regional election in Catalonia last month behind a coalition of separatists and polls show it could emerge as a king-maker at the national level following the year-end general election.
The Socialists advocate a reform of the constitution to make Spain a federal state and give Catalonia, which accounts for about a fifth of Spain’s economic output, greater autonomy.
While Podemos wants Catalonia to stay within Spain, it has also said it would support a referendum on the matter.
After his meeting with Rajoy, Iglesias said he told the prime minister “he was not convinced by the anti-secession fronts”.
“The time has come to extend a hand,” he said, before accusing the other parties of being in a “bunker”.
Spain has a history of reaching national pacts on key issues. Political parties have in the past joined forces in opposition to attacks by the armed Basque separatist group ETA and after the death of longtime dictator Francisco Franco in 1975 to guide the country to democracy.
Catalans’ longstanding demands for greater autonomy have intensified in recent years, in tandem with the country’s economic crisis.
The region of 7.5 million people has it its own widely spoken language and distinct culture.
Support for Catalan independence has slipped to 41 percent from 45 percent before the regional election, a poll published in top-selling daily newspaper El Pais showed Friday.