LONDON (Reuters) - Catalonia will stick to its timetable for independence from Spain despite the national political stalemate and the Madrid government’s refusal to negotiate, the region’s foreign policy chief said on Wednesday.
Raul Romeva said that independence for Catalonia was now inevitable, with or without Madrid’s blessing.
“The turning point has already been crossed, it is going to happen. When is the question,” he said in an interview at the Catalan delegation in London. “We are not going to be waiting forever.”
Spain has been in political limbo since an inconclusive election last December in which no party gained a majority.
The issue of whether to grant Catalonia a binding referendum on independence was one stumbling block as parties tried to form a coalition. Their failure to do so means that Spaniards will now go to the polls again on June 26.
“We cannot be prisoners of this,” Romeva said.
Romeva was ordered to drop his title of Catalan foreign minister by Spain’s constitutional court in February on the grounds that only the state could have a formal foreign policy, an indication of the depth of sensibilities.
The central government and a majority of Spaniards have long opposed independence for the wealthy, industrialized northeastern region, which is home to 7.5 million, or about a sixth of Spain’s population.
Acting premier Mariano Rajoy, in a meeting last week with Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, again refused to contemplate a referendum.
Romeva said a new dynamic had come into play since a pro-independence regional government won power in a Catalan vote last year, claiming it had a democratic mandate to go ahead.
Critics dismiss this view however because the pro-secession camp, while winning a majority of seats, fell short of winning a majority of votes in the election.
An 18-month timetable from last September still held despite the national stalemate. During that time, the regional government would create basic laws, a tax system and a state structure, he said.
Asked what would happen if Madrid refused to budge, he said: “We have put a deadline on this. If here is no response, then we will have to move ahead.”
There would be no unilateral declaration of independence, he said, but most likely another vote.
“That’s not the scenario we want, to do it without negotiation, but to negotiate we need the other side to be negotiating. But so far nobody is picking up the phone.”
“Some people in Spain believe that doing nothing, that is already the solution for them. But doing nothing has costs. Trust is being broken, there is a risk in economical terms.”
Catalonia was anxious to resolve the issue in a legal way, he said and the Scottish referendum in 2014 was a model. Scots voted to stay inside the United Kingdom, but had it gone the other way, London would have allowed secession.
Asked how an independent Catalonia would handle issues that the Scottish independence movement had faced, such as which currency to use and whether it could remain in the European Union, Romeva said these would not be problems.
Catalonia would continue to use the euro. Nor would it face automatic expulsion from the EU, he said. That would be a matter for negotiation.
“In whose interests is it that Catalonia should be outside of the EU?” Romeva said.
Editing by Julien Toyer and Giles Elgood