In a ceremony charged with political overtones and subliminal messages, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and Catalonia regional premier Artur Mas on Tuesday inaugurated the high-speed AVE rail line connecting Barcelona with Girona and Figueres, which will eventually link with the French high-speed railway system.
It was their first public meeting since Mas pledged last month that he will hold a sovereignty vote on independence in Catalonia next year. Rajoy, according to government sources, had tried to offer an olive branch to the fiery Catalan CiU nationalist bloc leader and encourage a dialogue to head off his plan, but Mas cut him short. The speeches given at the public ceremony were a reflection of how both leaders are still at loggerheads over the issue.
“The AVE is a path to understanding, and only through these paths can we go further,” the prime minister said. “Catalonia should continue to be the backbone of Spain, as [historian] Jaume Vicens Vives once said.”
But Mas gave Rajoy a blunt answer. “During this time of debate over many characteristics between Catalonia and the rest of the country, this connection demonstrates Catalonia’s own European aspiration. We shouldn’t look for market unity with traditional government but instead with the rest of Europe,” he said, adding that the long awaited AVE route, which was opened 20 years after the Madrid-Seville route, “is an act of justice.”
Rajoy and Mas, along with Prince Felipe, who gave part of his speech in Catalan, boarded the train for her maiden trip to Figueres. Public Works Minister Ana Pastor also sat with them. Despite the messages in their speeches, Rajoy and Mas spoke amicably for the cameras as they sat face to face in the train car.