The President of the Generalitat, Artur Mas underscored this afternoon from Brussels that “the grandest and most important gesture is to listen to the people and let them vote”. This is the message that the head of the Executive sent to the President of the Spanish Government, Mariano Rajoy, “assuring him that we are not asking him to declare or accept the independence of Catalonia,” but simply that “he let us vote about our political future as a country and that he recognize our right to self-determination.”
The head of the Government made this statement during the press conference held in the Delegation of the Generalitat in Brussels, in order to explain the full schedule of meetings that he had today with Community authorities and which included meetings with Vice Presidents Olli Rehn and Maros Sefcovic, as well as with the Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, Lázsló Andor.
In response to questions from the media, Artur Mas repeated that he is doing “everything possible” to have ”as open and fluid a dialog as possible” with President Rajoy and he insisted that “we will find a solution”. In that vein, Mas noted that “there are laws that would allow us to [hold a referendum]” and that “we have proposed five paths to President Rajoy, all of which are possible if there is the political will necessary”. The president added that the State must be aware that “this is not going to be able to be solved in the traditional way” and that the solution to the relationship between Catalonia and the Spanish State “must include the People of Catalonia having their say in a referendum”.
Fitting Catalonia into the European Union
In response to journalists’ questions about Catalonia’s role within the European Union, the head of the Executive was firm when he said, “the European solution is not going to be to kick out 7.5 million Europeans just because they want a different status. It will be something else.”
Artur Mas claimed that the sovereignty process that the country has begun is not being carried out in order to have a different status within the EU “but rather the same one,” and he added that “some people think we shouldn’t have that status, but they’ll have to explain to us why not”. “Because if our movement is absolutely democratic, peaceful, and enjoys a wide majority, the question is, ‘why not us?’” challenged the president.
In addition to the democratic and peaceful character that the Catalan people have demonstrated, the president also reasoned that Catalonia should be able to continue to see its future within the EU because “we have been part of the Union for more than 25 years, our citizens have acquired rights as European citizens, we follow all the EU legislative norms, and in addition we are net contributors.”
Therefore, he explained that there is no reason for the future of the country to have to change and that “we have to use common sense” since Europe enables its citizens to vote “democratically and peacefully” and once they decide on their future, “we all sit down at the table and find solutions that are mutually beneficial for everyone.” “We don’t want to be adversaries or enemies of the peoples of Spain, but rather to coexist in a different manner. And that is neither a crime nor a sin. We must find solutions within the legal framework, through dialog and negotiation,” he said.
With respect to the European Union’s position and attitude toward the Catalan process, the head of the Executive pointed out that “there are no precedents” and that, therefore, “the EU has not studied how it should proceed, because it’s never happened before.” “We don’t accept the doctrine of one group or another, because we know we are in uncharted territory,” the president insisted with respect to the latest declarations of various European Commissioners and Heads of State of other countries. Regardless, the head of the Government warned Europe that “in one moment or another it will have to thoroughly studied how this should be resolved” and for that reason encouraged the Community authorities to “study what is going on in Catalonia because there aren’t many other democratic, peaceful, grass roots movements that in this day and age awaken such feelings of hope in such a diverse cross-section of the community as in Catalonia, and this can also be a model for Europe.”
The head of the Executive underscored, in that same vein, that it’s important that both Madrid and Brussels understand that this “is a popular, democratically-based movement that enjoys widespread support across sociocultural lines throughout the community” and “this is not just a few leaders who have jumped to the front of a demonstration”.
Despite the fact that the president declared to the media present that he has not noted any greater concern among European authorities than he did a few months back with respect to the Catalan process, he did point out that it must be worrying that “this is a very strong, permanent, and solid movement, and it is not weakening, but rather strengthening and growing.” “Can you imagine 10 million people in Spain demonstrating in the streets? Wouldn’t that impress the world and Europe?” asked the president, pointing out that that is the same proportion of the population as the 1.6 million Catalans who recently demonstrated.
A visit for dealing with day to day issues
The president of the Generalitat framed his trip to the Belgian capital in terms of “the most absolute continuity and normalcy,” in order to deal with those responsible in the European institutions for “the day to day issues”. The head of the Executive underlined that since he has been president of the Generalitat, he has met with “20 of the 28 members of the European Commission” and he added that “this is the best example that this is an absolutely normal, regular activity.”
To questions from journalists about why he had not met with European Commission President José Manuel Durao Barroso, or with the president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, President Mas pointed out that he had already met with those leaders on previous visits to the Community capital. And he explained that “I didn’t mean to see the President of the CE, because I already met with him, and from that point forward, I have to work with his collaborators, which is what I’m doing” in the same way that “when there is new leadership and I go to Madrid, I first go to see the king, and then the President of the Government, and afterwards I have meetings with various ministers.” “I do the same thing in Spain as I do I the EU and it doesn’t have any more significance than that,” he concluded.
The president pointed out that the principal topics that will be dealt with in this visit, the seventh that he has made to Brussels since he became head of the Government, are youth unemployment, poverty, children, transparency, and austerity. And he added that, for that reason, he was meeting with sectorial commissioners. With respect to the sovereignty process underway in Catalonia, the president told journalists that “if one of them asks me about it, I’ll answer, of course,” but he insisted that today he had gone to Brussels to talk about the “economy, unemployment, social services and the fight against poverty” because “I have to manage everything, not just the political process but also the day to day.”
The president’s agenda in Brussels began at 9:30am with a meeting with the Commissioner of Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, Lázsló Andor. As he explained in the press conference afterwards, the head of the Government and Andor talked about the European program for youth guarantee, addressed to the unemployed under 25 years of age, to whom they wish to offer the guarantee that they can either get an internship, additional schooling, or a place of employment. The president informed the commissioner about the current employment policies of the Generalitat as well as those focused on the fight against poverty and exclusion.
At noon, the head of the Executive had a working lunch with the Economic Vice President of the EU, Olli Rehn, to whom he reported on “the operation of specialization and diversification of the Catalan economy and its opening to the exterior”. One of the principal messages that the president wished to communicate today in Brussels is that Catalonia “is the territory that is best situated to get out of the crisis because it has the most potential for linking up with international markets,” both from a commercial or tourism point of view as well as by capturing foreign investment. Artur Mas also explained the “enormous efforts” that the Generalitat has made in the last three years, in which it has reduced its budget by 20% and he asked that “it be kept in mind that there are territories, like Catalonia, that after an effort of this magnitude, have gone as far as they can in their ability to cut spending.”