By Angus Berwick and Tomás Cobos
MADRID (Reuters) – Catalonia will hold a referendum on independence from Spain next year whether or not the central government in Madrid agrees to one, the region’s head Carles Puigdemont said on Wednesday.
Puigdemont told the Catalan parliament that he was willing to discuss the terms of a referendum with Madrid, which has steadfastly opposed any such vote in the northeastern region, but that otherwise he would hold one next September.
Spain’s Constitutional Court in August annulled a resolution by Catalonia’s assembly to press ahead with independence, sharpening the stand-off between the separatists and the central government of the conservative People’s Party (PP).
“There is an enormous consensus that the ideal formula is a referendum agreed with the Spanish state,” Puigdemont told parliament. He said he would discuss the wording of the question in a vote and its date.
“But if by July there has been no positive response (from the central government), we will be prepared to climb the last step and call a referendum for the second fortnight of September next year,” he said.
Support for Catalan independence has grown in recent months, with almost 48 percent of Catalans supporting it in a poll in July, as Spain’s national parties have failed to break a deadlock over the formation of a central government.
Puigdemont, who was sworn in as leader in January, said the Catalan parliament would approve all of the laws needed for an independent state by the end of July next year, when an 18-month roadmap for his government’s planned transition finishes.
On Thursday Puigdemont faces a vote of confidence in his government that he called to test whether he still had the support of an anti-capitalist party which had rejected an annual budget bill in June. He is expected to pass that vote.
Acting Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has refused to consider any measures that could help Catalonia, which accounts for almost a fifth of Spanish economic output, to hold a legally binding referendum. His government said in July it would seek criminal charges against the speaker of the Catalan parliament for allowing its lawmakers to vote for independence.
Rajoy’s consistent anti-regionalism has alienated other conservative parties in Catalonia and other regions such as the Basque country that in the past have helped form national governments in exchange for more favorable terms on regional issues.
(Editing by Jesus Aguado and)