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Drop November vote and we can talk, Rajoy tells Catalan nationalists

Prime Minister unveils Popular Party policy guidelines for European elections in a Senate address

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy after delivering his address to the Senate. Ampliar foto
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy after delivering his address to the Senate.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on Tuesday discarded the possibility of sitting down any time soon with Catalan nationalists to talk over the impasse regarding their independence drive.

Negotiations are not an option, at least not for as long as the referendum on sovereignty scheduled for November 9 remains on the Catalan government’s agenda.

Rajoy stressed this point during a Senate address to present the Popular Party (PP)’s main policy guidelines for the weeks leading up to the European elections on May 25 and beyond.

The cruxes of the guidelines are repeated references to the idea that Spain is pulling out of the economic crisis, and firm opposition to any territorial breakup – and thus to the independence drive being promoted by Catalan premier Artur Mas.

There was nothing new about Rajoy’s speech, except for his increasingly weary tone 

The PP has a lot at stake in Catalonia and Andalusia in the European vote. In the southern region, which is run by a leftist coalition led by the Socialists, conservatives are highlighting the recent corruption scandals involving the administration's alleged misuse of public money, such as the ERE labor fund case and the job training fraud.

In Catalonia, which is governed by the nationalist CiU coalition, the PP is stressing its defense of national unity.

There was nothing particularly new about Rajoy’s speech, except for the increasingly weary tone in which he delivered it. In comparison with his April 8 address in Congress, where deputies overwhelmingly voted down a request by Catalan nationalists for a transfer of powers that would have enabled them to legally hold the referendum, Rajoy was more forceful this time round in his demand that the November poll be canceled before he will sit down to talks.

“Of course we want dialogue, but let us not forget that neither the Constitutional Court nor parliament accept this referendum because it is illegal, and thus it is up to you to say what you want us to do next,” the prime minister told the CiU senator.

Adopting a clear strategy of leaving the ball in the nationalists’ court, Rajoy asked the Mas government for “imagination” to find another way to discuss solutions to the territorial conflict.

The Spanish prime minister also highlighted the facts that Catalonia had never in its history enjoyed as much self-government as it has now, and that no other country is as heavily decentralized as Spain. He told Catalan nationalists that “they do not realize which way the world is heading.”