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Spain's Rajoy Rails Against Catalan Bid for Independence

Source: WSJ - Sat 29th Nov 2014
Spain's Rajoy Rails Against Catalan Bid for Independence

Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy, in his first appearance in Catalonia since the region held a symbolic vote on independence, tried on Saturday to rally unionists while dismissing the regional leader's 18-month road map for secession as a "trip to nowhere."

In unusually pointed language, Mr. Rajoy said he wouldn't make any political pact to resolve the Catalan crisis outside what the Spanish constitution allowed. He said independence advocates were a minority, and attacked Catalan leader Artur Mas for neglecting day-to-day governance while conducting a series of votes related to secession. "Never in history has a leader wasted so much time, generated so much confusion and provoked such instability," he said.

Mr. Rajoy appeared with several cabinet members at a meeting of the governing Popular Party. The conservative prime minister has vowed a more activist approach toward the restive region in the wake of the Nov. 9 symbolic vote, in which more than 80% of 2.3 million Catalans participating voted in favor of a split with Spain. Mr. Mas held the vote in defiance of a constitutional court injunction and now faces contempt charges.

MORE ON CATALONIA

Mr. Rajoy derided the symbolic ballot as "a sham" and "a farce." He said the fact that roughly two-thirds of possible voters didn't turn out was a sign of the independence movement's weakness, and accused Mr. Mas of falsely presenting the vote as an endorsement of secession. "No one has the right to speak in the name of all of Catalonia. No one," Mr. Rajoy said. "Least of all, a leader who has decided to ignore two out of three Catalans."

Catalan separatists say the central government fails to give it a fair return on its taxes, while meddling in linguistic and cultural affairs. On Tuesday, Mr. Mas laid out the next phase of the independence push, a plan for early parliamentary elections next year, which he said would serve as a plebiscite on secession. Mr. Mas said the vote, which could lead to independence by 2016, would be contingent on an agreement among independence forces on a single list of candidates, a proposal that is now the subject of intense negotiations among parties here.

Mr. Rajoy blasted the proposal as a power grab by Mr. Mas. "Catalonia can't be a country of single lists, single parties and single policies at the service of a single cause," he said.

Catalonia, he said, "suffers from a deficit of governance" and repeatedly tried to draw contrasts between his priorities and those of Mr. Mas. The prime minister, who took office nearly 3 years ago, recounted his actions to stave off an economic collapse in Spain and return the country to growth, while accusing Mr. Mas of putting all of his energy into independence activism.

Mr. Rajoy said that Catalans benefit from being part of a country that he said has posted one of the world's highest increases in per-capita income over the past 40 years while expanding the social safety net. During the European economic crisis of recent years, Mr. Rajoy said, Spain's central government had provided liquidity to Catalonia's government when it was cut off from financial markets and had helped it make payments to suppliers. "If together we have written this formidable success story, why do some want to end it now?" he asked.

Catalonia's vice president, Joana Ortega, said it was lamentable that Mr. Rajoy had spoken dismissively of the symbolic vote, which she characterized as "an exemplary process of democracy and transparency." She said Mr. Rajoy should have come to Catalonia to listen to its people rather than to "hold a rally" and impose his views. Ms. Ortega and the Catalan education minister, like Mr. Mas, face criminal charges for their role in the Nov. 9 ballot.

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