Today’s meeting between the Catalan president Artur Mas and his Spanish counterpart Mariano Rajoy was a major development after almost two years since they last met. Its outcome, however, wasn’t as newsworthy as the event itself: Rajoy repeated once again that “the referendum is illegal, and therefore, it can’t and it won’t be held”:
Mi posición como presidente del Gobierno es clara: la consulta es ilegal y, por lo tanto, ni se puede ni se va a celebrar
— Mariano Rajoy Brey (@marianorajoy) July 30, 2014
Artur Mas said that the independence vote “will go ahead”:
The Local | ‘Independence vote will go ahead’: Catalan boss
“We have the determination and the political strength, but we would like to hold (the vote) in a legal manner and with the backing of the State, British-style,” he said, in reference to an upcoming vote in the UK on the issue of independence for Scotland.
“This is still not possible yet but we will keep. We don’t have an agreement but the climate of dialogue is now open,” the Catalan leader added.
Artur Mas declared in a following press conference –Rajoy refused to attend the media– that he had expected an “alternative proposal” from the Spanish leader, but also said that there is a willingness on both sides to keep talking, and that today’s meeting “wasn’t the end of anything, and that in itself is quite positive”.
The Guardian | Spanish PM and Catalonia leader hold talks over referendum plan
In the absence of any alternative proposal from Rajoy, Mas said he would continue to push for the central government to allow the referendum to be held legally. “We want to do it within a legal framework, like the British vote,” he said.
Polls show that more than 70% of Catalonia’s 7.5 million residents would like to hold a referendum. Those who would vote to sever ties with Spain hovers at around half.
However, the two-and-a-half hour talk was not limited to the referendum: the Catalan president delivered a document featuring a series of relevant subjects in Catalonia-Spain relations:
AP | Leaders of Spain, Catalonia Hold Secession Talks
Mas said he also presented Rajoy with 23 economic and social issues that affected the daily lives of Catalans. He said that, among other things, he asked Rajoy to reconsider government plans for cutbacks in funding for social services and education reforms.
Those issues could open the way for Rajoy to make political concessions to the Catalans without granting an independence referendum.
The story was also covered by The New York Times [Spanish, Catalan Leaders Stand Ground in Independence Tussle], The Wall Street Journal [Catalan Leader Vows to Press Ahead with Referendum], Bloomberg [Mas Looking for Rajoy to Propose a Plan for Catalan Concerns] and Le Monde [Référendum en Catalogne : statu quo après une rencontre au sommet], among others.
Finally, if you’re interested in how Artur Mas’ press conference developed, the American writer @lizcastro live-tweeted it: