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THE CATALAN QUESTION

Mas will stay on as Catalan premier after deal with leftist nationalists

The key to pact between conservative CiU and ERC is a referendum on self-rule for the region in 2014

The leader of the CiU center-right nationalist bloc, Artur Mas, and the head of the Catalan Republican Left (ERC), Oriol Junqueras, on Wednesday signed an agreement that allows Mas to continue as premier of Catalonia.

CiU won the regional elections held last month but did not have enough seats in the Catalan assembly to govern on its own. ERC was the second most voted party in the poll.

The pact was reached after both groups agreed to hold a public consultation on self-rule for the region in 2014 alongside a fiscal deal that includes significant tax hikes in order to reduce spending cuts that must be made in order for the region to meet the deficit target set for it by the central government. Both parties had campaigned on an independence agenda.

Mas and Junqueras appeared together in the assembly before the 50 lawmakers of the CiU and the 21 deputies of ERC. The Catalan leader said the pact was the first step toward home rule. “The moment has come,” he said.

We want to put the future of Catalonia in the hands of its citizens"

In his address, Junqueras blamed the failure of the central government to meet its commitments for the economic crisis facing Catalonia. “We want to put the future of Catalonia in the hands of its citizens and in order to do so we want to consult them democratically,” he said. “Here, we give birth to the will to carry out the vote unless circumstances dictate that this is not possible. We have an extraordinary opportunity before us.”

Mas said the CiU had won a clear mandate in the election. “The message of the polls was that we had to reach an agreement [with ERC] because without doubt the people of Catalonia want to decide their collective future.”

In response, Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría reiterated the central government’s threat to freeze any “illegal” referendum by bringing the issue to the Constitutional Court.

“Artur Mas has made one mistake after another, but with this [pact], I fear it will not guarantee stability; rather it is a clear step toward instability in Catalonia, which is the last thing Catalans need,” she added.

The agreement between the CiU and ERC appeared to cause something of rift between the two parties that make up the CiU coalition. The leader of the junior partner, the Unió Democràtica de Catalunya, Josep Antoni Duran i Lleida, who is also the spokesman for the CiU in the national Congress, said in reference to the pact that “nothing is sealed until it has been sealed,” suggesting that finding a legal formula for the referendum might be difficult.

“The referendum in any case has to be legal,” he said. “The referendum is legal or it is not a referendum.”

The main opposition Socialist Party also took exception to the pact. The party’s congressional spokeswoman, Soraya Rodríguez, said it offered a solution to the leaders of the two parties but did not guarantee the stability Catalonia needs.