The Catalan president, Artur Mas, assured this afternoon that his visit to Brussels today, and more generally, the relations maintained with the European Union “are a perfectly normal aspect of the government’s activities”. The head of government also stressed “the regularity and continuity” of these relations, pointing out that since he took office, he has met with 18 of the 27 European Commissioners.
The President made these statements during a press conference at the Catalan Government’s delegation to the European Union. On his sixth trip to Brussels as president of the Generalitat, Artur Mas met with the commissioner for Home Affairs, Cecilia Malmström, and the commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilinguism and Youth, Androulla Vassiliou. Later, he joined the Flemish prime minister, Kris Peeters, and spoke with Energy commissioner Günther Oettinger.
As for the content of these talks, the President revealed that during his meeting with commissioner Vassiliou they discussed the Catalan linguistic model. He reminded that the model of linguistic immersion has been endorsed by various European reports and observed that “at times, we find more consideration in Europe for the system of linguistic immersion than with the Spanish courts or State institutions”. The head of government emphasized the “capacity for integration and social cohesion” of the Catalan linguistic model. The President and the Commissioner also addressed the issue of the use of the Catalan language within the European institutions, an area where, according to Mas, “the situation leaves much to be desired”.
Among the other issues discussed during the meeting was the ranking of European universities the EU is promoting allowing students to compare and pick the universities. President Mas noted that at this moment four Catalan universities are collaborating with this programme.
Improved police access to European information resources
During the meeting with the commissioner for Home Affairs, they discussed the possibilities of improving access of the Catalan police to European statistics, files and data bases on security matters. They also spoke about the possibility of offering Catalonia better access to the new programmes on security and migration policies that will be implemented in Europe starting in 2014, as well as about the protection of the victims of human trafficking. The President noted how Catalonia is working on a protocol on the latter.
With regard to the meeting he will have this afternoon with the Energy commissioner, Artur Mas stated that they intend to discuss the Energy Plan 2012-2020, as well as the gas and high-voltage power connections between Catalonia and France. Regarding this last issue, the President stated that the final electrical interconnection “is in a very advanced stage”, and will probably be established at the end of this year.
Talks with European leaders
The head of the Catalan government pointed out that the day’s meetings in Brussels were all “very specific and sector-oriented, concerning practical issues”. In response to questions by journalists on whether he discussed the Catalan process of self-determination, the President said that, in contrast to other visits, this was not the objective of today's visit. Artur Mas, however, indicated that, in the same way as he has done with political leaders from Madrid, he did not rule out also having “discreet talks" with European leaders in the future.
The president of the Generalitat wanted to highlight, though, the "great respect” with which the Catalan process of self-determination is considered at the European and international level, as something “completely normal”. Artur Mas compared this attitude with that of the Spanish state institutions, observing that while in Europe “they open the door and listen, in Madrid until now the doors have remained shut and hardly anyone is willing to listen”.
A fairer distribution of deficit targets
Asked about the Spanish public deficit and the deficit targets for this year, the President stated that “although we cannot expect Brussels to give more leeway directly to the autonomous communities in Spain, we can try to ensure that it has information on the situation in the regions” and make the Spanish central government see that the "huge” fiscal pressure the regions have been subjected to over the past two years “is unsustainable”. The President warned that if the health and education sector, the social services and public investment are put under pressure and “we continue to cut as we are being obliged to cut, these systems, that are already suffering, will suffer even more”. “And we are not willing to do that”, he added.
In this respect, president Mas said that “our main battle is to be fought in Madrid, not in Brussels” as far as the easing of the deficit objectives is concerned, in order to avoid that austerity policies “end up asphyxiating everything, especially public services which serve basic needs”. The head of government revealed that during his meetings with president Rajoy and Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba over the past weeks, a lot of time was spent on this issue.
Budget for 2013
Regarding the approval of this year's budget, President Mas stated that in the course of May he expects the Spanish government to communicate to all the autonomous communities how the deficit targets will be distributed. Once the deficit objectives are known, according to Mas “we will quickly submit the budget to Parliament, where, after one and half or two months, it should be approved”.
President Mas insisted that the deficit margin of the regions should be third of the total Spanish target. "It’s the central government who should tighten its belt and adjust more at this moment, because we are unable to do so”, the Catalan president warned, because “this would put at risk the basic structures and the backbone of the welfare state”.
In this regard, the President reminded that in 2012 Catalonia, which represents 6% of total public spending, carried out 17% of total adjustments, “three times our corresponding debt”. Mas regretted that the Catalan government this year will not be able to pay the entire holiday and Christmas allowance to its employees, while the central government will do so, in spite of maintaining a yearly fiscal deficit with Catalonia of 16 billion euros. “With a more reduced fiscal deficit and a slightly better financing system, we would not be so hard-pressed and would not be forced to make these decisions, which are clearly unfair”, he concluded.