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Catalonia Lawmakers Approve Resolution for Secession Process From Spain

Regional lawmakers in Catalonia approved a resolution to move toward independence from Spain, saying they would no longer be bound by the central government's edicts and setting up a test of wills with the prime minister.

The proposal to begin a "democratic disconnection" from Spanish institutions passed 72-63 in the Catalan parliament on Monday after a two-hour debate.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who has said Catalonia's separatist push represents the country's major challenge ahead of Dec. 20 national elections, pledged to use all of the authority of his office to stop it.

"I understand the anxiety that many Catalans can feel, but to all of them I say you can rest easy," Mr. Rajoy said. "Catalonia isn't separating from anywhere, nor will there be any rupture."

Mr. Rajoy said his government would petition Spain's Constitutional Court this week to have the resolution declared void. Legal experts say the court would almost certainly bar Catalonia from taking any steps to put it into effect.

That could result in a political standoff, as the resolution singles out the Constitutional Court--which has blocked the wealthy industrial region's previous attempts to gain more autonomy--as being "delegitimized and without authority."

Mr. Rajoy's center-right government has been preparing new judicial measures to deploy against the separatists. In October, without support of major opposition parties, it passed a law that allows for tough sanctions, including fines and suspension from holding office, against public officials who defy Constitutional Court rulings.

Despite the strong rhetoric in the resolution, Catalan separatists are hindered by internal divisions as they try to agree on a regional president following elections in September.

The largest pro-independence bloc supports re-electing the current Catalan leader, Artur Mas, but he faces fierce opposition from a small, far-left secessionist party that finds itself in an unlikely role as kingmaker.

The split in the separatists' camp becomes more embarrassing the longer it drags on and could eventually hamper their legislative agenda.

The nine-point resolution calls on Catalonia's parliament to start within 30 days to prepare laws to create independent social security and tax authorities. Pro-independence parties have said they hope to complete the separation process within 18 months.

For Mr. Rajoy, his response to the Catalan gambit could affect his ability to stave off challenges from the rival Socialist Party, as well as two upstart parties, and win re-election.

"It's a very delicate situation that requires a deft balance," said Carlos Flores Juberías, a constitutional law professor and political analyst at the University of Valencia "He has to show firmness, but any action he takes must be surgically targeted" to avoid more people rallying around the separatist camp.

Popular Party deputies, with their leader Xavier Garcia Albiol, display the Spanish and Catalonian flags as Catalonia's regional government reacts after voting in favor of a resolution to split from Spain in Barcelona. ENLARGE

Popular Party deputies, with their leader Xavier Garcia Albiol, display the Spanish and Catalonian flags as Catalonia's regional government reacts after voting in favor of a resolution to split from Spain in Barcelona. Photo: Albert Gea/Reuters

Support for independence in Catalonia began to move into the mainstream after the Constitutional Court in 2010 struck down key provisions of a regional autonomy agreement that had been approved by Catalan voters and the national and Catalan legislatures.

Catalan separatists complain that Madrid drains the region of taxes without respecting its distinctive culture. Madrid says that Catalonia has benefited from the union, and is being led astray by Mr. Mas and a corrupt governing elite.

Separatist leaders cast the September regional election as a plebiscite on secession. The secessionist slates won a narrow parliamentary majority, but just under 48% of the popular vote.

The Catalan government says the only thing that might stop the independence push would be an agreement by the central government to allow a binding referendum on independence of the sort Scotland held last year with the blessing of the U.K. government. Mr. Rajoy says such a referendum would be unconstitutional, and rejects it out of hand.

During Monday's debate in Barcelona, secessionist politician Raul Romeva said independence offered an opportunity to create "a modern and just state. With this declaration that we are presenting today, we want to mark a 'before' and 'after' in the political condition of this parliament and of Catalan institutions."

Xavier García Albiol, leader of the Popular Party in Catalonia's parliament, said the secessionists were acting undemocratically. "Despite the fact that you have a parliamentary majority, you don't have a solid majority," of the population, he said. "Don't force people to choose between Catalonia and Spain."

While the resolution was aimed at displaying Catalan resolve, another debate on re-electing Mr. Mas as regional president revealed fractures within the independence movement.

Mr. Mas ran in September with the pro-independence Together for Yes coalition, which won 62 of 135 seats. To be re-elected, he needs the support of the Popular Unity Candidacy or CUP, another pro-independence party that won 10 seats on an anticapitalist platform.

The CUP insists that Mr. Mas is unfit to be president, citing the austerity policies his government has implemented and the corruption allegations dogging his own Democratic Convergence party.

Catalan officials have said the debate could drag on into January. Meanwhile, Mr. Mas remains as acting president.

[Source: By Matt Moffett, The Wall Street Journal, London, 09Nov15]

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