The president of the Catalan government, Artur Mas, stated in Madrid today that “Catalonia needs a state”. According to President Mas, Catalonia has spent decades attempting to “transform the Spanish State in order to make it our own, but this has proved impossible”. Now, “Catalonia needs the instrument of a State, as this is something that any nation can achieve”. According to the head of the Catalan executive, “this is what the people in the street called for, expressing themselves peacefully, democratically and in hope”.
Quoting Durão Barroso, moreover, Mas reminded those present at the meeting that “the future of Europe belongs to the States that represent nations”. The Catalan leader went on to stress his country’s European leanings throughout its thousand-year history. “We have not gone mad; when Catalans demand the instruments of State, they do so, obviously, within the framework of the European Union”, he insisted.
Artur Mas made these declarations this morning at a breakfast conference organised in Madrid by the New Economy Forum. Great expectation surrounded the Catalan leader’s address, and the hotel venue for the event was full. Those in attendance included many representatives from the international media.
“Don’t minimise what is happening in Catalonia”
President Mas also used his address today to urge Spain’s central government “not to make the grave error of minimising what is happening in Catalonia” or to think of it as symptoms of “late-summer fever”. Mas further pointed out that, proportionally speaking, 1.5 million Catalans out of a total population of 7.5 million demonstrating is as if 9 million people did so in Spain as a whole. In his view, the people took to the street because they feel that “Catalonia cannot continue along the same path as before, but needs to formulate its own project”.
On this point, Artur Mas considered that there is “a mandate from the people that cannot be ignored, but should be listened to and understood” because “the worst thing a government can do is to curtail a people’s hopes”. The president insisted that he feels identified with “the people’s demands”, because Catalonia “has always tried to go down the path of union, but the truth will out, and it has come to this because no one is listening”.
In his speech, the head of the Catalan government also analysed relations between Catalonia and Spain, suggesting that there is a “feeling of mutual fatigue” because of the opinion in Catalonia “that we contribute and help a lot, but are not understood or respected as we are”, and that in Spain many believe that “Catalonia is always making demands and always complaining”. Mas compared this “mutual fatigue” with the way in which “northern and southern Europe have grown weary of one another”.
At another point in his address, the Catalan president suggested that, in order for relations between Catalonia and Spain to become “friendlier”, these relations should be “on an equal basis”, and that “we might then be in for some surprises”.
At a loss to find the reasons that have led to the present state of relations between Catalonia and Spain, President Mas listed his country’s contributions to the construction of the State, including the Constitution, the Moncloa pacts, entry into the European Community and joining the euro. Mas also reminded the forum that Catalonia has supported Spanish governments when both the conservative PP and the socialist PSOE have governed in minority but, in return has suffered “permanent invasions of our powers by all central governments”.
At several points in his address, moreover, the Catalan president deplored the fiscal deficit, which has remained “unmovable” for nearly 30 years, remaining steady at around 16,000 million euros a year. Despite this fiscal deficit, Mas protested, Catalonia is still seen as a “beggar” region. “It makes no sense for those that generate resources to have all the problems”, said the president, adding that “it seems that it never rains but it pours, but in the end people will take no more”.
The solution, according to President Mas, is for Catalonia to leave the Common Regime established by LOFCA (the Organic Act on the Financing of the Autonomous Communities), and he stressed the importance of reaching a fiscal compact, “along the lines of fiscal sovereignty”. However, he insisted that “currents of solidarity will be maintained, though in a revised form”. The head of the Catalan executive further lamented that “30 years of redistribution policies have not served to give the State uniform capacity to create wealth”.
On this point, Mas promised that, in his upcoming interview with Spanish President Rajoy on September 20, he would vigorously defend the proposal for a fiscal compact approved by the Catalan Parliament.
An equal share of the burden
President Mas further insisted that the burdens and sacrifices that the State as a whole has to bear should be divided in an “equitable and balanced way”. Austerity policies, he said, “should be applied over a reasonable period of time, but without breaking the internal cohesion of society”.
In this regard, Mas was critical of the fact that “when Spain requests more time, Europe gives it” whilst, on the other hand, when the autonomous communities ask the State for more time, this request is refused. Artur Mas reminded the assembly that Spain was authorised to run up a deficit of 5.3 per cent this year, but had reached 6.3 per cent, a difference of 10,000 million euros. The Catalan president criticised the fact that, when it comes to dividing up resources, the State General Administration keeps this 10,000 million euros for itself, whilst the autonomous communities, which account for 35 per cent of public spending, and 50 per cent if pensions are excluded, are “required to do all the work”, describing this state of affairs as “diabolical”.
In the president’s view, this situation “causes enormous mistrust”, because “we either believe in the State of the autonomies and act in consequence or, if not, we change it”. However, he concluded, “no one changes anything and unfair actions continue”. This “lack of proportionality”, Mas assured the meeting, has a “boomerang effect”.
No plans to call early elections
During the question and answer session that followed his address, President Mas was asked about the likelihood of an early election. The Catalan leader replied that he had no intention of dissolving Parliament in the short-term, but noted that “these are such exceptional times that governments have to act in ways that it is impossible to interpret as an attempt to gain time – these are moments when we have to take risks”.
In reply to the question of whether or not Catalonia is a nation, Mas proposed polling the Catalan people on the issue, because “that is the best method in a democracy”.