Catalan leader issues and suspends independence declaration
‘We are not criminals, we’re not crazy, we’re not coupmongers ... we are normal people and we want to vote’
Pro-independence supporters react as they watch Catalan president Carles Puigdemont on broadcast screens outside the Catalan parliament. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Catalonia president Carles Puigdemont gives his address to the Catalan parliament on Tuesday. Photograph: David Ramos/Getty Images
Catalan president Carles Puigdemont issued a declaration of independence on Tuesday, but said it should not come into immediate effect in order to allow for mediation to take place in Spain’s constitutional crisis.
In one of the most anticipated speeches by a politician in modern Spanish history, Mr Puigdemont addressed the Catalan parliament in order to report on “the current political situation”, following an October 1st independence referendum. The result of the referendum favoured secession and he was known to be considering issuing a unilateral declaration of independence.
However, with the Spanish authorities poised to intervene in Catalonia’s autonomous powers and concerns about a corporate exodus from the north-eastern region, Mr Puigdemont’s speech fell short of the fully effective declaration of independence many of his supporters had wanted.
“I present the results of the referendum and the mandate of Catalans allowing for Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic,” he said.
He then proposed to the parliament that it “suspend the effects of the declaration so that, in the coming weeks, we can begin a dialogue” with Madrid.
Just over two million Catalans voted on October 1st, in a referendum the Spanish government deemed unconstitutional and whose legal status was suspended by the constitutional court. According to the results presented by Catalan authorities, 90 per cent voted in favour of independence, with a turnout of 43 percent.
Spanish police were deployed to disrupt that vote and their often violent actions damaged the relationship between Catalonia and Madrid even further.
“It has to be acknowledged and denounced that these actions by the state have introduced tension and unease in society,” he told the parliament.
Mr Puigdemont detailed a series of other grievances the Catalan region has with the Spanish state, including its economic relationship with Madrid and a new statute of autonomy which was stripped of several articles by the constitutional court in 2010.
“We are not criminals, we’re not crazy, we’re not coupmongers,” he said, speaking briefly in the Spanish language. “We are normal people and we want to vote.”
Security was tight around the Catalan parliament ahead of the address, with the Ciutadella Park surrounding it closed for the day and heavily guarded by police. Thousands of pro-independence supporters gathered near the parliament building ahead of the session. It was delayed by over an hour, apparently due to frantic last-minute negotiations within Mr Puigdemont’s governing coalition regarding the wording of his announcement.
The Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), an anti-capitalist party whose support ensures a pro-independence coalition can govern in Catalonia, was critical of the announcement.
“The only communication possible with the Spanish state is the Catalan republic,” the CUP’s Anna Gabriel said.
If the CUP withdraws its support, that would bring down the Catalan government and trigger elections.Meanwhile, unionists were also critical. Inés Arrimadas, leader of the Ciudadanos party in Catalonia, replied to the announcement by telling Mr Puigdemont that he was leading “the worst kind of nationalism in Europe” and that the independence project was “the chronicle of a coup foretold.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Spain’s deputy prime minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría admitted that the country was “in one of the most difficult moments ever since Spaniards decided to live in democracy”.
The Spanish government was monitoring Mr Puigdemont’s statement closely, ready to take immediate action if it deemed his words threatened Spain’s unity. Madrid has been considering implementing Article 155 of the constitution, which would allow it to suspend the Catalan government’s powers and call a regional election, if it wanted to.
Prime minister Mariano Rajoy was examining his options on Tuesday night, with media reporting that he saw Mr Puigdemont’s offer of talks as “blackmail”.
Mr Tusk said he had contacted Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy recently, asking him to open up a dialogue with the Catalan government, “because the force of argument is always better than the argument of force”.
“Today I ask you to respect in your intentions the constitutional order and not to announce a decision that would make such a dialogue impossible,” said Mr Tusk, speaking in Brussels.