March 9, 2014
Catalonia sets referendum date next year, Spain says no
Separatist parties in Spain's Catalonia region set Nov. 9 next year as the date for a proposed independence referendum and agreed the wording, but the Spanish government immediately poured cold water on the plan.
Catalan regional government head Artur Mas said the vote, which the Spanish government says would be unconstitutional, would ask two questions: "Do you want Catalonia to be a state?" and "Do you want that state to be independent?"
Calls for independence in Catalonia, a wealthy industrial region of northeastern Spain which accounts for a fifth of the country's economic output, have grown as a prolonged Spanish recession and cuts in public spending have hit the area, creating a headache for Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.
Mas argued that there was a way for the vote to be held legally, but within minutes of his statement, Spanish Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon said the vote could not take place because Spain's constitution would not allow it.
Rajoy later reiterated that he saw no elbow room on Madrid's stance against the referendum.
"As prime minister I have sworn to uphold the constitution and the law and, because of this, I guarantee that this referendum will not happen," Rajoy said during a joint news conference with European Council President Herman Van Rompuy.
"Any discussion or debate on this is out of the question."
The ambiguous wording of the proposed first question: "Do you want to be a state?" was aimed at satisfying parties who wanted more independence from Madrid without separating altogether and at attracting as many voters as possible, political analysts said.
The Catalan government has been talking about a possible referendum since late last year and a Metroscopia poll in newspaper El Pais last month showed that 46 percent of Catalans favour separatism versus 42 percent who wish to remain within Spain.
However, the same poll also showed that Catalans, if offered more autonomy, would prefer it over outright independence.