New law planned to clip regions' diplomatic wings

Government wants to approve foreign visits by premiers

The Spanish government wants to keep tabs on what regional authorities do outside national borders. A draft Foreign Service and Action Law is set to reach the Cabinet in the coming weeks, with the overarching goal of ensuring "unity of action," "institutional loyalty" and "coordination."

The ruling Popular Party (PP) aims to ensure that foreign policy remains a prerogative of the central government at a time when Catalonia is threatening to seek international support for its independence drive. Catalan premier Artur Mas has unveiled plans to "internationalize the conflict" if either Madrid or the courts prevent him from holding a sovereignty referendum.

Catalonia is also one of just three regions, along with Andalusia and the Basque Country, which have refused to shut down their foreign offices and transfer employees to the nearest Spanish embassy in order to save money. The government of Catalonia keeps delegations in cities such as New York, where it has sponsored art shows at MoMA and organized Catalan poetry readings by the likes of Lou Reed and Patti Smith.

But this foreign offensive could soon be scaled back. While the Foreign Ministry cannot prevent a regional leader from traveling abroad on an official visit, it will demand to be informed and "recommendations" will be issued regarding the convenience of the trip. Should the recommendation be disregarded, the government could withhold assistance from the relevant Spanish embassy. Any treaties or agreements between Spanish regions and foreign bodies will have to be first approved by Madrid to ensure they do not overstep regional powers of self-rule.


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