Catalonia's 'declaration of sovereignty' is passed

 

The Catalan parliament has approved a “declaration of sovereignty”, which the region’s nationalists see as a major step towards their goal of independence from Spain.

The declaration asserts the regional parliament has begun “the process to bring about the exercising of the right to decide so that the citizens of Catalonia can choose their political, collective future”.

The Catalan government, led by Artur Mas, plans to hold a referendum on independence in 2014, despite Madrid’s insistence that such a move would be illegal.

The motion backing the declaration received 85 votes in the 135-seat parliament.

Mas’s CiU coalition voted in favour, as well as the more radical, left-leaning ERC, ICV and CUP parties. Asserting the “sovereign character” of the Catalan people, it lays down the foundations for the referendum.

Mr Mas described the vote as historic, adding that it “will lead the country to where the majority of us want to go”.

Catalan independence has long been an aim for nationalists in the region, but the issue started to dominate the national political agenda in September 2012, after hundreds of thousands marched through the streets of Barcelona, calling for a break with Spain.

Mr Mas has been the figurehead of the movement, although his gamble to hold early elections in November backfired when he lost a dozen seats in the regional chamber, mainly to more radically pro-independence parties. In the new legislature, his CiU needs the support of the ERC in order to legislate.

Wednesday’s debate and vote in the Catalan parliament followed weeks of wrangling between parties as they sought to draw up a declaration with the broadest support possible. With tensions also appearing within Mr Mas’s own coalition, some of the kinds of hurdles the separatist project could face have become apparent in recent days.

The declaration failed to win the backing of the Catalan Socialists, who instead have advocated a “third way” for the region, which would see it get increased autonomy but not independence.