Catalans' Day of Reckoning as Parliament Weighs IndependenceBy , , and
President Puigdemont to address assembly in Barcelona Tuesday
Prime Minister Rajoy has vowed to maintain Spanish unity
The Catalan government’s determination to break from Spain faces its moment of truth, as the regional parliament meets to consider a declaration of independence that risks an ironclad backlash from Madrid, the threat of economic meltdown and international isolation.
Catalan President Carles Puigdemont is due to address lawmakers in Barcelona at 6 p.m. on Tuesday on the outcome of the Oct. 1 referendum ruled illegal by the Spanish courts. The Catalan administration says voters defied police violence to deliver a resounding “Yes” to independence that cannot be ignored; Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has dismissed the ballot as meaningless and vowed to defend the unity of Spain using all means at his disposal.
With uncertainty over the outcome of the worst political crisis since the death of the dictator Francisco Franco, attention will focus on the form of words used by Puigdemont. Unless he backs away from a unilateral independence declaration, Rajoy has made clear that Catalonia risks intervention by security forces and the reassertion of central government control.
“This is going to be a historical day regardless of the consequences,” Alejandro Quiroga, professor of Spanish history at the University of Newcastle, England, said in a telephone interview. “The tension has reached such a point that something has to happen and if the Catalan government wants to declare independence, now is the best time, while it’s still got international attention.”
Puigdemont plans a declaration of independence Tuesday that will take effect in a progressive way and stress the need for mediation, Efe newswire reported late Monday. The Catalan police force said Barcelona’s Ciutadella Park where the regional parliament is based would remain sealed off Tuesday for security reasons.
In comments to broadcaster TVE Tuesday, Juan Carlos Girauta, a lawmaker for the anti-independence party Ciudadanos that supports Rajoy in parliament, called on him to suspend Catalonia’s autonomous government immediately to snuff out its secessionist challenge. The Catalan business lobby Foment de Treball warned of the risk of “economic insolvency” facing the region if its government moves towards making a unilateral declaration of independence.
With the risk of turmoil rippling out beyond Spain, European leaders are keeping a close watch on developments. French President Emmanuel Macron and the European Union have backed Rajoy, as has German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who reaffirmed her support for Spanish unity in a call with the prime minister at the weekend. She and Rajoy also discussed ways to strengthen dialogue between Madrid and Barcelona.
Spanish stocks and bonds slipped on Tuesday as trading got underway ahead of today’s events in Catalonia. The benchmark stock index has lost 1.9 percent since the vote in defiance of the Constitutional Court, and Catalan companies including lender CaixaBank SA and Abertis Infraestructuras SA are moving their legal bases out of the region.
Catalan secessionists have opened a second-front in their campaign against the government in Madrid, reaching out to the opposition Socialists with an offer to forge a coalition to oust Rajoy, according to two people with knowledge of the backroom efforts.
While the Catalan groups pushing the plan have already persuaded the populist Podemos party to back it, the Socialists have so far refused to sign up, the people said, asking not to be named discussing private conversations.
The Catalans are trying to bring officials in Madrid to the negotiating table. Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez has called for dialogue to calm a situation that saw police officers beating would-be voters at makeshift polling stations, but Rajoy and his minority administration have refused to engage in talks with the Catalan leaders until they accept the authority of the Spanish courts. They warn of economic disaster if Catalonia attempts to break away.
“It’s so terrible a scenario the idea of independence, that everything won’t work from the single moment from which independence is declared,” Spanish Energy Minister Alvaro Nadal said in a Bloomberg Television interview on Monday. “There will be a problem in the energy sector, there will be a problem in the telecom sector, in the financial sector of course.”
The leaders of the Catalan National Assembly, a civic group that led a series of massive pro-independence demonstrations and works closely with Puigdemont, vowed in a video posted on Twitter that Tuesday’s session will see the president declare independence. Marta Pascal, who heads Puigdemont’s party, told the BBC there will be a symbolic recognition of the result of the illegal referendum, but no unilateral declaration of a new state.
Raul Romeva, foreign affairs chief for the separatist government in Barcelona, said the Catalans “are always going to be at the negotiating table,” but need Madrid to engage.
“We need two to tango,” Romeva said in a Bloomberg Television interview on Sunday. “We need the other side to be at the table.”
— With assistance by Sharon R Smyth, Rodrigo Orihuela, Todd White, Thomas Gualtieri, and Maria Tadeo