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Spanish minister: Constitution is way to handle Catalonia

June 9, 2018

FILE - In this Friday, June 8, 2018 file photo, Spain's new government's Ministers pose for the media after their first Cabinet meeting at the Moncloa palace in Madrid with Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, foreground centre and Territorial Administration Minister Meritxell Batet, second row right. The new Spanish government minister tasked with managing the Catalonia region's secession movement said Saturday, June 9, 2018 that constitutional reform would help end the country's worst political crisis in nearly four decades. Batet, a Catalan lawmaker sworn in Thursday as Spain's minister of public administration, told a Socialist party event in Barcelona that the ruling Socialists want to amend the Spanish Constitution to move toward a "federal model." (AP Photo/Francisco Seco, File)

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — The new Spanish government minister tasked with managing the Catalonia region’s secession movement said Saturday that constitutional reform would help end the country’s worst political crisis in nearly four decades.

Meritxell Batet, a Catalan lawmaker sworn in Thursday as Spain’s minister of public administration, said the ruling Socialists want to amend the Spanish Constitution to move toward a “federal model.”

Batet said at a Socialist party event in Barcelona that Spain’s current structure of regional “autonomous communities” that have varying degrees of self-governance “has been successful until now, but it needs a renovation.” The constitutional change under consideration would apparently give more authority to regional governments.

The separatist-led regional government in Catalonia, which tried and failed to declare independence last year, is the most pressing problem facing Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.

Sanchez was sworn into office a week ago after he led a no-confidence vote in Parliament to oust conservative predecessor Mariano Rajoy, whose Popular Party was tarnished by a recent corruption case involving some high-ranking members.

Amending Spain’s Constitution, however, requires a two-thirds majority of the Congress of Deputies in Madrid. Sanchez’s government is in the minority and will likely face stiff resistance to any move to appease the secessionists in Catalonia from both the Popular Party and the center-right Citizens party.

Spain was plunged into an institutional crisis when the separatist majority in Catalonia’s Parliament issued an illegal— and ineffective— declaration of independence in October. Rajoy’s government, with the backing of then-opposition leader Sanchez, fired Catalonia’s government and took over the running of the region’s affairs.

Madrid’s takeover ended last weekend when Catalonia’s new leader, Quim Torra, named a regional Cabinet. To rebuild the frayed relations between national and regional leaders, Sanchez on Friday lifted additional financial controls imposed by Rajoy on Catalonia.

Sanchez and Torra also spoke by telephone Friday. Batet said the conversation was “cordial” but a date has not been set for them to meet in person.

“It’s important to emphasize that the attitude of the Spanish government is to listen, to have a dialogue and to reach agreements,” Batet said about Sanchez’s stance with Torra. “We hope that the attitude of the other institutions will be the same.”

Batet said Sanchez’s government could consider agreeing to other demands from Catalonia, including increased infrastructure spending and working to restore parts of a charter law that Spain’s Constitutional Court struck down in 2010. The court ruling is often cited as the source of a spike in pro-secession sentiment that culminated in last year’s crisis.

Catalan president Torra was quick to respond that his government would not renounce its designs on carving out a new country out of Spain. He repeated the claim that Catalonia’s separatists were given a mandate to push for independence when the “yes” vote won an ad-hoc referendum on secession in October.

The vote was held despite a court order suspending it. Political parties in favor of Spanish unity boycotted the referendum, resulting in a lopsided win for the secessionists.

Polls and election results show that Catalonia’s 7.5 million residents are roughly split down the middle by the question of secession.

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