Artur Mas, the head of the autonomous Catalan government in Spain, is at the forefront of a campaign to hold a referendum on independence from Spain on November 9.
The government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in Madrid opposes independence for Catalonia and has rejected the idea of a referendum.
The Spanish parliament is set to vote against the plebiscite in a debate on April 8.
Artur Mas, who is backed by secessionists and the Greens, spoke to euronews’ Vicenc Batalla in Barcelona about this key question for all of Europe.
euronews Artur Mas, what are the chances of an independence referendum taking place on November 9 and that Catalonia will become independent one day.
Artur Mas There are possibilities. The Catalan government and myself will do the maximum to ensure that this referendum, for which there is a large consensus in Catalonia, will go ahead as agreed on November 9 2014. We’re putting in place all the conditions needed to make it possible. And I expect that there won’t be any categorical or radical opposition on the part of the Spanish institutions that would seek to prevent the peaceful and democratic staging of this referendum, or consultation, which, by the way, will be held legally, in agreement with a law, a Spanish law or a Catalan law. That’s what we’re in the process of clarifying at the moment.
euronews Why do you think David Cameron agreed to a referendum on Scottish independence while Mariano Rajoy would not accept one for Catalonia?.
Artur Mas Probably in the UK there’s a more profound democratic will than in Spain. I regret that because I would love to say that in Spain there is the same talent for democracy or the same feeling for democracy, or democratic will. Spain is undoubtedly a democracy. But it doesn’t have the same depth as British democracy. That’s the reality.
I think that Prime Minister Cameron recognised that in Scotland a parliament had been voted in with a popular mandate to hold a referendum. He democratically accepted the verdict of the Scottish. He never thought of denying that Scotland was a nation. In Spain it’s denied that Catalonia is a nation. That’s the first big mistake because that vision is contrary to what history tells us, as we can see from the walls of this palace (where the interview is taking place) dating from the beginning of the 15th century and which has always been the seat of the Catalan government when we’ve won freedom and democracy. This vision is also against the will of the majority of Catalan citizens.
euronews The question of whether Catalonia stays within the EU or not if it becomes independent is going to heavily influence voters’ opinion. The European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso says an independent Scotland, like Catalonia, would have to leave the Union and ask to be re-admitted.
Artur Mas Yes, but in saying that they didn’t say what the precedents were, because there are none. They didn’t say that in the EU treaties, and more precisely in the Lisbon Treaty, there’s no consideration of such a case. It’s not been considered simply because they never thought that one day it would come about. Consequently, there’s nothing in writing. They don’t say what will happen to the rights of citizenship held for many many years by Scottish citizens or Catalans; citizenship rights that can’t be annulled or swept aside overnight.
And, above all, one thing they didn’t say; in the case of an exit, under what conditions can we be reintegrated? Do we come back as countries that were never part of the European Union and that have never put in place the Union’s norms and rules? Under what conditions? Or will there be totally different conditions, negotiated and with an agreement for citizens who are already in the Union and submit to all the rules? And for those who, like Catalonia, are net contributors to the EU and want to stay inside it?
euronews Is an independent Catalonia economically possible? Are business leaders asking you to push ahead with the process or rather, in fact, go backwards?
Artur Mas Both, actually. And you’d expect that. There are entrepreneurs who have interests all over Spain and those who have less. The more interests you have in all of Spain, the more the process is a conflict for you. Entrepreneurs who have fewer interests, who export more and are less dependent on the Spanish market have a different view.
Who fears this process? No one should be afraid! It’s true that some are trying to instill fear from the outside. Many! And particularly some media in Madrid who never stop this campaign of fear. They never stop! But in Catalonia, we see much more emotional detachment because we can see that all they’re trying to do is divide us and break up the majority for the referendum.
euronews In your search for allies in Europe, France could play an important role because there’s a part of France where they speak Catalan, at Perpignon. What do you think the French reaction would be if independence is achieved in Catalonia?
Artur Mas I don’t know! I can’t tell you. You know very well that France is above all a centralist state. That is a principle that’s broadly accepted in France. Not by everybody, but the majority. In Spain it’s different, very different. In Spain there are two or three national realities, which don’t exist in the same way in France. These are realities that have always been resisted here.
Moreover – and this is very important – what’s happening in Catalonia is not destined to be replicated in other parts of Europe. There’s the situation in Scotland, but that too is very particular. There are not a lot of European nationality issues that can be compared to what’s happening in Catalonia. And certainly no such situation exists in France. From that point of view I think France has nothing to fear because the Catalan process is very particular. It’s a very specific process. And, I stress, there are no similar situations in the majority of the territories on the continent of Europe.
euronews At the moment there’s a very significant and potentially violent situation in Crimea between Russia and Ukraine. When the Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia Margallo made a negative comparison between the situation in Crimea and Catalonia what did you think? And also, what do you think when Russian TV refers to Catalonia to justify the referendum organised in Crimea?
Artur Mas Look, the comparisons used in Russia are part of a scenario because they need all kinds of justifications to be able justify what’s been happening there. They make kinds of comparisons!
What surprised me most, was what the Spanish minister of foreign affairs said. For me, it’s crazy to make a comparison between Catalonia and Crimea.
I think it’s crazy because they are totally different situations. In Crimea there wasn’t a government elected with a mandate to convene a referendum. In Catalonia, yes.
In Crimea, there is no lack of pressure. And, in Catalonia, there is no kind of pressure. In Catalonia, there is a total pacifism, real democracy, an elected government with a mandate to convene a democratic consultation. Really, there’s no comparison.