Voters in the Spanish region of Catalonia have given their backing to nationalist parties but have punished the regional president who called an early election.
The governing centre-right CiU led by Catalan President Artur Mas remains the largest party, winning 50 seats out of 135, down from 62 last time.
The left-wing separatist ERC party came second with 21 seats.
Both parties want to hold a referendum on independence from Spain.
Mr Mas told the BBC he would consult the people on independence within the next four years.
“I am happy with tonight’s results,” he said, “but not as happy as I could have been.”
Mr Mas called early elections after a funding row with the central government in Madrid.
It has accused him of trying to exploit the economic crisis, saying Catalan nationalists were looking for excuses after nearly running out of money.
Mr Mas says the wealthy and influential north-eastern region gets a raw funding deal from the central government. His centre-right Catalan Nationalist Coalition (CiU) argues a Catalan state would fare better as a member of the EU than a province of Spain.
The ERC, the nationalist Republican Left party, has more than doubled its previous share of seats – up from 10 in 2010 to 21 this time.
The European flag was prominent at Mr Mas’s campaign rallies, and he says an independent Catalonia would quickly gain membership of the 27-member bloc.
The CiU ousted the Socialist party in elections in November 2010.
The road to independence is far from straightforward, says the BBC’s Tom Burridge, in the Catalan regional capital Barcelona.
A referendum would be illegal under the current Spanish constitution, and Spain’s ruling Popular Party is likely to block any attempts for constitutional change.
Other parties, such as the nationalist Ciutadans, the Popular Party of Catalonia and the Socialist Party of Catalonia are all opposed to Catalonia’s independence bid.