BARCELONA: Spain’s foreign minister Wednesday warned Catalans they would lose their Spanish nationality if the region became independent and urged them against what he said would be a suicidal vote for secession.
Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo raised the pressure in tense campaigning four days ahead of a regional election that Catalan leaders are framing as an indirect vote on independence.
“When one leaves a country it is obvious that one abandons all the qualities that belonging to that country gives you,” Garcia-Margallo told reporters in Barcelona.
“They want an independent republic of 7.5 million citizens, but for all of them to have Spanish nationality? It’s a little absurd.”
The pro-independence camp insists Catalans would hold onto their Spanish nationality and have accused Madrid of trying to intimidate them as they prepare for Sunday’s vote.
Artur Mas, Catalonia’s pro-independence regional president, told Agence France-Presse in an interview earlier that “if the Spanish state does not change the constitution, we will automatically have Spanish nationality.”
In a later televised debate with pro-independence candidate Oriol Junqueras, the foreign minister added however: “These are not threats. When friends are going to jump off a bridge, what I try to do is persuade them not to jump.”
He reiterated warnings that secession would damage Catalonia’s trade relations and its financial system. Junqueras retorted that Catalonia would be economically better off with its own government.
Garcia-Margallo estimated that creating a border between Spain and Catalonia would lead to the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs in Catalonia and would drive unemployment up to 37 percent while cutting pensions by hundreds of euros a month.
Junqueras dismissed his warnings as “apocalyptic prophesies which are at odds with reality”.
He said 70 percent of Spain’s exports to Europe pass through Catalonia so it was in Spain’s interests for Catalonia to stay in the EU.
Most Catalans ‘want to stay Spanish’
Nationalist leaders of the wealthy northeastern region have vowed to declare Catalonia independent within as little as 18 months if they win a majority of seats in the regional assembly in Sunday’s polls.
The latest opinion polls show separatist parties could win a majority in the 135-seat Catalan regional parliament.
Pro-independence leaders insist that if Catalonia seceded, Catalans would be able to hold double Spanish-Catalan nationality as the constitution guarantees that no Spanish natives can have their nationality withdrawn.
But Garcia-Margallo said that when Latin American countries declared independence from Spain, “they lost Spanish nationality; when Algeria, which was a French province and was part of the European Economic Community, became independent, Algerians lost French nationality and European citizenship.”
Junqueras pointed out however that an agreement struck between France and Algeria allowed for Algerians born before 1963, independence year, to keep their French nationality.
For residents of Cuba, a former colony of Spain which gained independence in 1898, there were also special provisions for those born in Spain.
Garcia-Margallo’s comments came a day after Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy warned that an independent Catalonia would mean a loss of EU membership, and that any attempt to break away “would have no legal value”.
Most Catalans would like to keep their Spanish nationality if Catalonia breaks away from Spain, according to a poll published Sunday in newspaper El Pais.