• Spanish premier ready to act, but won't rush into next move
  • Catalan separatists file motion to start secession process

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy floated the prospect of suspending the powers of Catalonia’s regional government as separatists advance with their plan to break away from Spain weeks before a general election.

Rajoy said his government has all the “legal tools” necessary to stop Catalonia from seceding after separatists groups filed a proposal in the regional parliament to begin the process of secession. Rajoy hopes he’d be able to avoid becoming the first prime minister to use article 155 of the Constitution to take direct control of the region, he said.

Mariano Rajoy, Spain's prime minister
Mariano Rajoy, Spain's prime minister
Photographer: Pau Barrena/Bloomberg

“We won’t act anxiously or rush it,” Rajoy said in an interview with Cadena Ser radio. “I wouldn’t like to get to article 155, frankly. I’ll work so that we don’t get to that situation.”

Separatists groups that won a majority in the Catalan parliament in September filed a proposal to regional lawmakers on Tuesday that would formally start work on secession if approved. Rajoy said that after the document was filed he held talks with King Felipe and the leaders of the Socialist Party and Ciudadanos, the main national parties, which also oppose independence for Catalonia alongside the governing People’s Party

Catalan separatists are stepping up their push as Spain prepares for a general election on Dec. 20. Polls show the PP outpacing the Socialists, its main traditional rival, followed by Ciudadanos, currently in third place. Ciudadanos has seen a boost in its support since it placed second in Catalonia’s regional ballot in September, when it displaced the PP as the main party for those opposed to independence.

Separatist leaders are also coming under legal pressure from Spanish courts investigating graft allegations against party colleagues of regional President Artur Mas.

The treasurer of Mas’s party and the regional government’s head of infrastructure were among at least 10 people arrested last week as part of an investigation into bribery allegations. The former Catalan president Jordi Pujol’s house was searched as part of a separate court investigation about alleged illegal commissions.

Rajoy meanwhile has come under intense pressure from the opposition and his own party over his leadership, variously accused of being weak over Catalonia and not going far enough with his economic reforms. His predecessor Jose Maria Aznar criticized the party’s performance after losses in May’s regional elections and Budget Minister Cristobal Montoro said many of his colleagues in government “feel ashamed” of the party.

Rajoy said his leadership has not been questioned and there is no dissent within the party over his candidacy, insisting he’s well placed to win the vote.

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