On the morning of September 12th, Artur Mas offered a short press conference from the Pati Gòtic of the Palau de la Generalitat in which, without actually mentioning the word independence, he assumed leadership of the process and, as he had said before the demonstration, made the demands of the Catalan people his own.
"We have offered the world the image of the best of Catalonia ... a powerful message expressing a desire for freedom and of wanting to be seen as a normal people amongst the other countries and nations of the world ... This helps the process to be seen as a project charged with optimism ... Yesterday's message was very clear and also very normal .. We are a people who, in order to continue in existence and carry on progressing, are simply asking for a state of our own."
"Catalonia has spent 30 years dedicating a large part of its energy to improving Spain as a whole. The hope was that Spain would be more respectful towards Catalonia's aspirations but recently there has been a change of direction, which at the beginning of my term of office I attempted to describe as national transition. Spain made its own transition towards democracy and Europe 35 years ago but now it's Catalonia's turn to go through its own transition. In this new period, we need to dedicate the majority of our energy to the Catalan process and the people of Catalonia and the political institutions need to do this together, hand in hand."
"Catalonia had never been so close to national fulfilment in its desires, aspirations and objectives and after yesterday we are even closer. Yesterday wasn't something of minimal importance, it was an important step forward."
"Nothing will be easy but everything is possible. Nothing will be easy because at the present time, Catalonia doesn't have the majority of structures of a normal state available to it. We have to create them and this can't be done overnight. It won't be easy because the Spanish state won't make it easy. It won't be easy because Catalonia will be the first sovereignty process to place within the European Union."
"But even though there are obstacles, even though there are difficulties, even though there are few precedents for our situation, even though the Spanish state will view this process with hostility and strong opposition, everything is possible if there is the will, strong majorities and the capacity to resist."
"Despite the difficulties we're going through at the moment, yesterday's demonstration wasn't attended by people who were annoyed, hostile or rude. They were people with a great civic and patriotic sense. They were people who love their country, are prepared to defend it and simply want for Catalonia what so many other countries already have. So let me say that I feel profoundly proud to be president of this country in the moment we're going through now."
In his answers to the questions, Mas reiterated that the desire to arrive at a tax agreement with central government still remained the priority. The so-called fiscal pact, which had been ratified by the Catalan Parliament the previous July, was perfectly consistent with the demands of the previous day's demonstration. It wasn't a question of either continuing with the process or coming to an agreement on the fiscal pact.
Demands for fiscal sovereignty equivalent to the Basque Country and Navarre's concert economic were perfectly consistent with the process that Catalonia was undertaking. "In this process of national transition and sovereignty, fiscal sovereignty is essential." In fact the creation of a Catalan Treasury capable of collecting taxes was an essential step in the process.
Everything depended on his forthcoming meeting with Spanish President Mariano Rajoy on September 20th. He would only know how to move forward once he had received an answer. His advice to Mariano Rajoy would be "Don't just listen to me, don't just listen to Convergència i Unió, don't just listen to the Catalan political parties, listen to the Catalan people."
After about half an hour Mas was forced to cut the press conference short as he had official business in Tarragona and then would be taking the train to Madrid, where he was giving a talk to Spanish business leaders at the Fórum Europa the following morning.
Artur Mas was received politely by the businessmen at Fórum Europa and
began his talk by pointing out that he was fully aware of the
sensitivity moment. With a wry smile, he reminded the audience that it
was a good idea to maintain normal relations and channels of dialogue.
That was why he was here today, that was why he would be meeting with
Rajoy on September 20th and that was why he would be participating in
the meeting of Presidents of the Autonomous Communities, which was also
going to be in Madrid at the start of October.
Mas began his talk with an overview of the economic situation from a Catalan point of view, which was an opportunity to mention some home truths to the Madrid business community. Despite the effects of the crisis, Mas affirmed his confidence in Catalonia's capacity for recovery and stressed the importance of foreign projection with Catalan exports and tourism continuing to grow. He also said he was optimistic about Spain's chances but essentially he had little control over the matter.
His central argument was that Catalonia comprised 6% of the Spanish territory, 16% of the population and produced 27% of exports so the Principality was one of Spain's motors for economic growth. This, he argued, was where investment should be made if Spain wanted to get out of the crisis.
However, this was not the case. For example, the new container terminal in the Port of Barcelona funded by Chinese investors, who would be investing €500 million in two phases and which would turn Barcelona into the most important container port in southern Europe, was going ahead on the condition that central government would build a railway line connecting the new terminal with the freight lines going north into France. Work hadn't even started and the Catalan government had had to build provisional lines to keep the Chinese investors happy.
The next topic was the Spain's debt and as a member of the Eurozone, this meant Spain had to abide by the rules and apply austerity policies in order to bring the economy into line. He alluded to the new French government under François Hollande, who in the election campaign had promised a relaxation of measures but had applied austerity measures as soon as it got in power. He also mentioned the problems the cuts has created in Holland and pointed out that Spain has been given time to make adjustments.
However, the 1% conceded by Brussels to Spain, which meant €10,000,000,000, had been kept in its entirety by the central Spanish administration. This meant that the Autonomous Communities, who administer Health, Education, Social Services etc, had no extra resources with which to manage the crisis. "Central government asks for time and is given it but when central government is asked for time it doesn't concede it." He said that this situation would worsen in 2013, which will stretch the system of Autonomous Communities to the limit.
Similarly, Catalonia was placed in the incongruous situation of having fiscal deficit by which it paid €16 billion more in taxes to central government than it received in investment yet had to ask for a €5 billion bailout in order to maintain its health and education system. This is even more ridiculous when you consider that Spain was a net receiver of funding within the EU whilst Catalonia was a net contributor.
This naturally led him onto the Diada demonstration of two days earlier and the evident strain on the relationship between Catalonia and Spain. "Catalonia is tired of not being able to progress in the way it wants and Spain is tired of the way Catalonia behaves. Catalonia believes that it contributes a lot but doesn't receive the respect with regard to how it is whilst Spain thinks that Catalonia is always demanding and always complaining."
Mas listed instances such as the constitution, 23-F, the joining of the common market and even support against terrorism in which Catalonia had given its support to central government but in return the Generalitat's competences had been invaded and both statutes of autonomy had been restricted.
As he was speaking to the business community, Mas talked economics. Catalonia had had to suffer a fiscal deficit of around 8% of its GDP for the last 30 years. At 11%, the amount of investment wasn't just below the GDP of 19% but below the population of 16%. It had even been recognised by the previous Spanish government that investment in Catalonia equivalent to its GDP would be required for a few years to put the Principality on a par with the rest of Spain. However, promises hadn't been fulfilled and central government was still in debt to Catalonia for investments included in the budget but never put into practice.
If you added to all these complaints the fact that Catalan language didn't receive the respect it deserves from the rest of Spain and was under continual attack from the government and the Spanish media, it was no surprise that Catalans were a little tired of Spain. He advised Spain not to minimise what was happening in Catalonia. 1.5 million people in the streets of Barcelona would be equivalent to 9 million of the Spanish population.
To close, Mas mentioned his meeting with Rajoy the following week in which he planned to ask for fiscal sovereignty without breaking agreements on solidarity with Spain's poorer regions. He complained that after 30 years of Catalan and European money certain regions still hadn't created the means of producing their own wealth. He stressed that it didn't make sense from a Catalan point of view to be responsible for part of the expenditure whilst not being responsible for part of the investment.
The mandate came not only from the Parliament of Catalonia but principally from the Catalan people, who should not be ignored. Mas reiterated that he identified with the Catalan people's demands for the reasons stated. The intention of Catalonia throughout 30 years had always been to transform the Spanish state so that there was a place for Catalonia's national, linguistic and economic aspirations but this hadn't worked. Catalonia now needed a sovereign state of its own.
the Madrid press and political and business communities had questions
to ask. When questioned on the immediate future, Artur Mas said he
couldn't predict exactly how things would go because any process had its
ups and downs. He once again defined the Catalan process as one of
national transition and mentioned the bumpy ride of Spain's own
transition to democracy. The first objective was his meeting with Rajoy
on the fiscal pact.
Regarding whether Catalonia would remain in the EU because it wouldn't be recognised as a nation, Mas accepted that Spain had never recognised Catalonia as a nation and that this was the root of the problem. Catalonia had almost been recognised during the drawing up of the Constitution in 1978 and in the subsequent system of Autonomous Communities that distinguished between regions and nationalities but then the "café para todos" system was applied. His suggestion was to ask the Catalan people whether they considered themselves a nation or not. "Let's try consultations authorised by the institutions of the Spanish state ... What's happening in Catalonia is like a river that has been diverted trying to return to its natural course."
There had been no precedent of an EU member state going through a similar separation process but it was a situation that Europe would have to face at some point in the future. He made the point that in the 9th century, Catalonia as the Spanish March was the only part of the Iberian peninsula that formed part of the European Carolingian Empire. Catalonia's European DNA goes back over a thousand years.
Unwilling to commit himself on whether he would call early elections, Mas said that with more than two years of the legislature remaining, he would only do so if he considered them necessary. This might be if the situation became ungovernable or the talks on the fiscal pact failed. In response to the threat of suspension of Catalan autonomy, Mas wondered whether this would solve the Catalan situation.
His answer on a possible federal solution was that the problem was that nobody in the rest of Spain believed in federalism. A great example is that in 35 years the Senate has never been converted into the territorial chamber. He compared Spain with the US and Germany and also put his faith in finding a democratic solution. He trusted that whatever happened the relationship between Catalonia and Spain would remain close apart from anything else because many Catalans have Spanish roots.
One of the most revealing moments was when he was asked how he would like to go down in history. Mas laughingly said that he didn't want to end up like Lluís Companys, the President of the Generalitat, who had been executed by the Franco regime in 1940. "I'm brave but I don't want to be a martyr," he laughed.
Artur Mas's ideal was a combination of Enric Prat de la Riba, President of the Mancomunitat in 1914, and Francesc Macià, first President of the restored Generalitat under the Spanish Republic just prior to the Civil War. "Enric Prat de la Riba was a builder of Catalonia with very few resources but a great deal of quality. What those people did with very few resources was an enormous job that still lasts to this day a hundred years later. So the constructor, and Francesc Macià, the man of ideas but most of all, of ideals. A combination of a good job and ideals and consequently a project, and ideals in capital letters."
He also stressed that he was the 129th President of the Generalitat of Catalonia and reminded the audience of the importance of the position. Tarradellas was reinstated as President of the Generalitat in 1977 a year before the Spanish Constitution was passed and this should have been sufficient for Catalonia to have received the treatment it deserved over the last 35 years.
In their write ups the following day, the Catalan newspapers commented that no members of the Spanish government had been present, which was another indication of the breakdown of relations. In fact, the highest ranking Spanish official was Rafael Spottorno, head of protocol of the royal household. Obviously, the Spanish royal family were more in touch with Catalonia than central government.