REGIONAL POLITICS

Catalonia defies Madrid on activities of overseas representatives

Region plans to increase its foreign contacts

In defiance of the central government’s plan to clip the wings of Spanish regions conducting their own diplomatic activities, Catalonia on Tuesday said it was going to step up its overseas activity.

“We will extend our overseas activities because of the economic situation and the sovereignty political process that has been initiated in Catalonia,” Catalan government spokesman Francesc Homs told a press conference. “In a moment such as the present, to think that to look abroad is a whim is to be two centuries behind,” he added.

As part of a growing rift between Catalonia and the government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, a majority in the Catalan regional parliament has approved an independence declaration that sets the ball rolling for a referendum on leaving the Spanish state.

Catalan premier Artur Mas has threatened to curry favor abroad to advance the region’s sovereignty aspirations if stymied by Madrid. On Monday, Mas described the restrictions Madrid wants to impose on regional activities overseas as “fusty” nationalism.

Catalonia currently maintains five representative offices abroad: in Brussels, Paris, London, Berlin and New York. It also operates 35 trade centers.

A draft Foreign Service and Action Law, shortly due to go before the Cabinet, calls for ensuring “unity of action,” “institutional loyalty” and “coordination” in pursuit of the country’s foreign policy.

The government wants the three regions that have foreign offices, Catalonia, Andalusia and the Basque Country, to shut them down and transfer employees to the closest Spanish embassy in order to save money.

On Tuesday, Homs had a dig at what he perceived to be extravagance on the part of the government in spending 330,000 euros in changing the tableware at a number of embassies. “What we won’t do is spend 330,000 euros on cutlery and tablecloths,” he said.

The government cannot bar officials from promoting or representing their regions abroad, but the new draft law demands the central government be informed of such visits and cannot withhold assistance for them by Spanish embassies. Any agreements signed by regions and overseas bodies will also require the approval of Madrid.

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