Protestors wave Catalan Estelada flags and hold up a faux ballot box as they await the arrival of former Catalan President Artur Mas outside court in Barcelona, Spain, February 6, 2017. REUTERS/Albert Gea(reuters_tickers)
By Alexander Smith
LONDON (Reuters) - Catalonia is organising the logistics for a referendum on independence from Spain it plans to hold by the end of September, even if it goes against the wishes of the national government, the Catalan government's foreign policy chief said.
"We are now preparing the referendum because ... either in an agreed way or not, we need to be ready," Raul Romeva said on Thursday at the Catalan regional government's representative office in London.
The wealthy northeastern region, which has its own language and culture, is home to a strong separatist movement, which has been intensified by high unemployment and austerity cuts in Spain. But attempts to hold a Scottish-style referendum on independence have been blocked in the courts by Madrid.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's centre-right government has said any referendum on secession is illegal and against the constitution, a stance supported by the judiciary.
Catalan pro-independence campaigners held a symbolic vote two years ago in which nearly two million people expressed a desire to secede, although turnout was relatively low.
Senior politicians involved in the vote, which was staffed by volunteers, have faced sanctions or trial for pursuing measures deemed illegal by the Constitutional Court.
The latest opinion poll, carried out by the regional government, showed 45.3 percent in favour of secession and 46.8 percent against.
Romeva said: "If finally this negotiation (with the Spanish government) is getting nothing and there is no agreement we are committed and we will go ahead with organising and holding a referendum and this will be before September 2017.
"The offer we have put on the table to the Spanish government is we can agree how and when we can hold the referendum."
Asked whether the Catalan government had held talks with Rajoy's government, Romeva said: "We have met, which doesn't mean that we have talked ... There is no negotiation on the substantial issue (of a referendum) because the Spanish government is just denying the fact that this needs to be addressed."
The Catalan government has not seen any offer from Madrid, despite speculation that the central government has put one on the table, Romeva said, although he would welcome one.
"We are ready and keen to negotiate."
Romeva, a former member of the European Parliament, said the Catalan government had contacts with European Union officials but did not expect to get a public response to its proposal before the result of a referendum.
"7.5 million citizens in Catalonia ... will not cease to be citizens of the European Union, regardless of the political decision which the country is taking. The question (for the EU) is how are you going to manage that?".
The European Union is only mandated to deal directly with its member states, which means any discussion of the status of Catalonia can only be with the Spanish government in Madrid.
Asked if he would be willing go to prison over his campaign to organise a referendum, Romeva said: "I am ready for anything ... If this is what happens then it shows the state is in danger."
(Editing by Janet Lawrence)