President of regional government: Artur Mas i Gavarro
In power since 2010, Artur Mas was re-elected as regional head in December 2012 after his centre-right Convergence and Union (CiU) alliance agreed an unlikely pact with the centre-left Republic Left (ERC) party.
Despite their traditional ideological differences, both pro-independence parties pledged to work towards holding a referendum on secession from Spain in November 2014. After Spanish parliament, government and court declarations that the vote would be unconstitutional, Mr Mas said in October that the vote will have non-binding nature
The pact, which falls short of a full governing coalition, came after snap elections called by Mr Mas to get voters' backing for his independence drive saw the CiU lose ground to the Republican Left, which opposes Mr Mas's spending cuts.
In January 2013, the regional parliament passed a declaration - jointly submitted by the CiU and the ERC - stating that the people of Catalonia have a democratic right to decide on their sovereignty.
Although without legally binding force, the move was aimed at paving the way for a vote on independence.
The central government in Madrid says the declaration and plans for a referendum on independence contravene the Spanish constitution and has announced it will mount a legal challenge.
Mr Mas has headed Catalonia's regional executive since December 2010, when his centre-right Convergence and Union alliance defeated the Socialist Party of his predecessor, Jose Montilla, in legislative elections.
For much of his career Mr Mas did not favour full independence, but has changed his view in recent years. Since 2007, Mr Mas has spearheaded a push to revitalise Catalan nationalism known as the 'Refoundation of Catalanism'.
Born in Barcelona in 1956, Mr Mas has an economics degree from the city's university. He served on the city council in 1987-95, and then as a minister in the regional government until 2003.
An alliance of moderately nationalist parties, his Convergence and Union governed Catalonia continuously from the re-establishment of regional autonomy in 1980 until 2003, when it lost power to the Socialists.
Catalonia's autonomy statute gives the regional authority - the Generalitat - broad powers of self-government within Spain, especially on matters such as culture, education, health, transport, public safety and commerce. It is the only Spanish region to have its own police force, the Mossos d'Esquadra.