Catalonia’s new leader sharpens secession pitch, Spain talks tough

Carles Puigdemont

The secessionist movement in Catalonia, an autonomous province of Spain known for its picturesque resorts, has acquired a fresh impetus with the appointment of Carles Puigdemont as the new leader of the movement, ending the three-month feud between the separatist parties. He has replaced Artur Mas, president of the region since 2010 who has played a crucial role in escalating the clash with Spain.

This decision by Catalonia’s parliament was taken hours before the deadline for the appointment of the leader, which was to expire on January 11. The regional parliamentary elections were last held in in September 2015. Junts pe Si (Together for Yes) had presented a united pro-independence front and won the elections. But the coalition was unable to form the government as there were various disagreements within the party regarding the new leader. The minority party in coalition, Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), had been against the appointment of Artur Mas, whom it faults for imposing austerity cuts and a failure to address corruption in the party.

Mr Puigdemont, the mayor of the city of Girona and a former journalist, plans to carry out the framework of secession and separate the region successfully from the rest of the Spain. He told the regional parliament, “I am fully aware that we are starting a process that is far from easy and far from comfortable, but we will put into it value and courage.” “This isn’t a time for cowards, nor for rashness, nor for renunciations,” he added, sharpening the rhetoric for an independent Catalonia. His job is cut out for him: over the next 18 months he plans to set a new state within a state by creating a central bank, tax system, and an independent social security system.

Mr Mas put on a brave front, saying that making way for his successor does not mean an exit from politics for him.

Madrid has carefully taken note of latest statements made by the New First Minister, as the leader of Catalonia under the Spanish constitution, and look set to foil plans of the secessionist movement. “The government won’t allow a single act that could harm the unity and sovereignty of Spain,” said Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. He made is clear that Spain is against “any action that would contravene the unity and sovereignty and that goes against the law and the decisions of the courts.”

Catalonia is one of Spain’s semi-autonomous regions with its unique culture, language and customs. It currently enjoys some independent laws in the health and education sector, but is not happy with the tax system of Madrid.  Catalonia, the tourist hub of Spain and home to famous surrealist painter Salvador Dali, contends that it provides more than what it gets back economically from the rest of Spain and would like more autonomy.

The road to independence for Catalonia is fraught with challenges.   Spain, the fifth largest economy in the EU, would do everything in its power to stop the secession, and if Catalonia succeeds in separating, Spain would hinder its integration in the European Union and the United Nations.

(Rubaina Sangha contributed inputs for this article)

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