Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy gives a speech during an electoral rally held in Barcelona, Spain, 02 December 2017. Catalan elections are scheduled for 21 December 2017. EPA-EFE pic

MADRID: Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy pledged Saturday that the country’s economic growth could reach three per cent next year, well ahead of forecasts, if Catalonia returns to “normalcy” after the region’s secessionist drive.

At the height of the Catalan independence drive in mid-October, the central government in Madrid had lowered its 2018 growth forecast to 2.3 per cent from 2.6 per cent, a marked decline from the 3.1 per cent expected for 2017.

“If we recover normalcy, stability and calm, this 2.3 per cent growth will be three percent next year,” Rajoy said at a meeting of his conservative Popular Party (PP) in Mataro, near Barcelona.

Madrid has ordered new regional elections for Catalonia on December 21 after ousting the government of former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and suspending the parliament over the independence bid.

International agencies including the IMF and the OECD have warned of the financial fallout of the crisis for the eurozone’s fourth-largest economy.

Catalonia generates about 20 per cent of Spain’s GDP, and tourism along with retail and new car sales slowed in October after the parliament’s declaration of independence.

The campaign for the new elections officially opens on Tuesday and opinion polls show that pro- and anti-independence forces are running neck and neck, an outcome which could make it difficult to form a viable regional government.

During the last elections in 2015, Rajoy’s PP obtained just 11 of the 135 seats in the Catalan parliament. — AFP

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