CATALONIA is on course to be independent from Spain within two years, says a senior diplomat.

In an interview with The National, Albert Royo-Marine said he expected developments in the coming days to resolve the stalemate between the regional government and the central government in Madrid.

The two governments have been at loggerheads since pro- independence parties in the north-eastern region achieved a clear majority for independence in September.

Royo-Marine, secretary general of the Public Diplomacy Council of Catalonia, told The National: “There are ongoing discussions to form a government in Catalonia. There is the majority group with 62 seats and they need at least two positive votes from the other pro-independence [Alternative Left] party.

“They have 10 and at least two of them have to support [Catalonia president Artur] Mas so he can be elected president of Catalonia and be able to form a government. I’m quite optimistic that there could be an agreement in the comings days.”

Spain has imposed financial restrictions on Catalonia which effectively stop it running its own affairs. Royo-Marine pointed to one proposed law that would have helped poorer families who could not afford utility bills.

“A constitutional court ruling in 2010 effectively stripped Catalonia of its autonomy. Every time we tried to pass a new law in our competencies, the government can simply challenge it before the court and it is automatically suspended,” said the diplomat.

“One law would have stopped supplies being disconnected in winter, and is especially relevant in times of deep economic crisis – and that was suspended by the constitutional court.

“There is no proper autonomy any more. And of course this is key because without a government all this process is frozen.”

Royo-Marine said Catalonian now had a “lame-duck” government that could not propose new laws without the likelihood that they would be rejected, and which could only manage routine tasks. “They can manage daily things but they are really weak,” he said.

“We’ve seen it in reactions to all the regulations coming from Madrid – we’ve been really slow reacting because we have a lame duck government.”

He added: “We need a strong government and we need the strong majority in the parliament to work together, otherwise it will be very difficult to survive the aggression coming from central government.

“It’s a shame we don’t have a framework put in place like Scotland had for the referendum, because if Spain is a real democracy, such a poll should be possible in Catalonia.

“I think it is quite dangerous for a young democracy like Spain to keep on systematically ignoring the demand of 80 per cent of Catalans who want to hold that vote, regardless of what they will vote for.”

He added: “If we are part of the EU, we are a modern democracy and we should be able to find a way to give a proper answer to this broad demand that has been coming from the Catalan society for a long time.”

Immediately after the election results the Catalan government drew up a “road map” to independence which set up an 18-month transition period, and Royo-Marine said that was still on course.

“The road map establishes a transition period up to 18 months in which we will try to negotiate with Madrid to find the best way to implement this mandate,” he said.

“At the same time we will start negotiations with our international partners because we have to start looking for recognition.

“And we’ll also use this period to develop … so that once we proclaim independence at the end of this 18-month period we are a country that is up and running with our main institutions already in place.”

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