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Spain Warns It Will Block Independence Vote in Catalonia

Source: WSJ - Tue 16th Sep 2014
Spain Warns It Will Block Independence Vote in Catalonia

Spain said it would use "the full force of the law" to block a planned nonbinding referendum on independence in Catalonia, including a suspension of the regional government's ruling authority if necessary.

The warning Tuesday by Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo was one of strongest by the Madrid government against a proposed Nov. 9 vote in the wealthy industrial region. It was made as Catalan leaders debated a backup plan should the vote be blocked-an early election of the region's parliament that would test support for political parties seeking independence.

Mr. Garcia Margallo was asked specifically whether the central government's options in dealing with the separatists included invoking article 155 of the Spanish constitution, which allows Madrid to supersede the authority of a regional government that is acting outside the law.

"Include what has to be included so that the referendum isn't held," Mr. Garcia Margallo responded, at an event hosted by the Europa Press Agency. He said Catalonia couldn't unilaterally take a decision that affected the country as a whole. "Each and every Spaniard is the owner of each and every square centimeter of the country," he said.

Mr. García Margallo spoke two days before an independence referendum in Scotland, where the strength of the separatist campaign is buoying separatists in Catalonia and unsettling the Spanish government. Polls indicate the Scottish contest is tightening, prompting the government in London to offer the Scots concessions permitting greater home rule.

By contrast, the Spanish government has adopted a more adversarial stance with Catalonia, saying it would sue to block the referendum in Spain's Constitutional Court and declining to offer the region inducements to stay in Spain. Catalan secessionists say the central government drains all of its resources. Madrid maintains the region is treated fairly and benefits from the union.

Mr. García Margallo said a vote for independence in Scotland would be "an awful precedent" and "a precedent for Balkanization, which goes against the process of union."

"Honestly, I think [Scottish independence] is bad for Scotland, bad for the United Kingdom and bad for the European Union," he added.

Speaking in Catalonia's parliament Tuesday, regional president Artur Mas said he was unfazed by the foreign minister's remarks.

"They shouldn't think that with this they will stop the course of history," he said.

A spokesman for Mr. Mas's Convergence and Union coalition asked rhetorically whether Madrid was ready to prosecute 1.8 million Catalans-a reference to the estimated number of pro-referendum demonstrators who lined up in a giant V, for Vote, at a rally in Barcelona last Thursday.

During the two-day parliamentary session, Mr. Mas said he would call early elections, which he said would have the force of a referendum, if the Nov. 9 vote is blocked by the Constitutional Court. There is a risk the referendum would lack international credibility if conducted outside the law, he added. "What concerns me is that the answer, when the people are asked to vote, is unquestionable, within our own house and in Spain and Europe," Mr. Mas said.

Oriol Junqueras, leader of the pro-independence Republican Left of Catalonia, urged Mr. Mas to go ahead with the Nov. 9 vote and said his party was willing to join the government to "safeguard" the referendum. The Republican Left has supported the Mas government in parliament and on the referendum push, but had previously declined to accept a direct role in Mr. Mas's administration.

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* Could a Scotland "yes" vote derail Spain's fragile recovery ?