Europe faces an unprecedented attempt by two regions to form new states in 2014 after politicians in Catalonia reached an agreement to call a referendum in the same year that Scots will be asked whether they want independence.December 13, 2012 By Giles Tremlett Article from The Guardian
A basic agreement between nationalist Catalan president Artur Mas and the separatist Catalan Republican Left (ERC) party will result in the latter propping up Mas’s new minority government.
The price for support is the setting of a time limit on a self-determination referendum. Mas had promised to hold one by 2017 but ERC has forced him to commit to 2014, according to Spanish press reports citing those involved in negotiations. The agreement with ERC will allow Mas, who remains in power despite losing parliamentary seats in elections last month, to form a new government shortly, according to the reports.
Officials in Mas’s office declined to confirm or deny the deal with ERC, but the move looks likely to increase confrontation with Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy’s conservative People’s party (PP) government, which has said it would make sure that courts banned a unilateral referendum in advance. If Mas ignored a ban imposed by the constitutional court, he could face trial and be barred from public office.
The decision to hold the Catalan referendum in the same year as the Scottish vote creates a double headache for the EU. Officials have so far maintained that newly independent countries must apply for EU membership – which normally takes many years and can be vetoed by a single member state.
Mas’s Convergence and Union (CiU) nationalist coalition is split on whether Catalonia, a wealthy and populous region in north-east Spain, should seek full independence. Mas and most others want secession, but a significant minority worry that this could damage Catalonia’s economic interests.
Mas called a snap election last month hoping to ride a wave of enthusiasm for independence and persuade Catalans he was the man to lead them towards separation from Spain. CiU won, but with its worst result since 1980 as voters punished it for the austerity measures it has imposed on welfare, education and health services in a region that already enjoys considerable autonomy. Hardcore separatists voted for ERC and those opposing independence, many of whom would not normally vote at regional elections, backed Rajoy’s PP or other anti-separatists – producing a fragmented parliament.
Mas’s alliance with ERC, which doubled its number of deputies to become the second biggest party, means pressure for independence will now increase.
Polls show 57% of Catalans say they would back separation, though analysts believe that would drop significantly in a real referendum where fears about damage to Catalonia’s economy would become sharper.
In the Basque country, the northern Spanish region where independence is often debated, a new nationalist-led government began to take shape on Thursday.
Iñigo Urkullu, of the Basque Nationalist party, was appointed regional prime minister and looked likely to head a minority government that will also need the support of separatists. Urkullu has said his priority is the economy, but the separatist Bildu coalition that includes former members of the political front of terrorist group Eta, will try to push him down the road towards independence.
Urkullu was expected to keep a close eye on events in Catalonia and Scotland before deciding whether to push for independence.