Catalan leader to clarify ‘declaration of independence’
Spanish government issues ultimatum as pro-independence forces remain split
Catalan president Carles Puigdemont (second left) takes part in a floral tribute in Barcelona on Sunday to mark the anniversary of the death of former Catalan regional president Lluís Companys, who was executed by Franco’s forces in 1940. Photograph: Marta Perez/EPA
Catalan president Carles Puigdemont is expected to clarify his recent secessionist declaration on Monday, with the threat of a drastic response by the Spanish government hanging in the air and reports of division among his allies.
Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy has given the Catalan leader until 10am local time on Monday to confirm whether or not he issued a unilateral declaration of independence on October 10th.
On that day, Mr Puigdemont told the Catalan parliament that the results of an October 1st referendum had allowed “Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic”. Seconds later he suspended the effects of the declaration to allow for dialogue with Madrid, in a move which left many observers bemused.
If Mr Puigdemont confirms today that he did indeed issue a declaration of independence, he has until Thursday to retract it, according to the Spanish government’s timeframe.
A failure either to deny having declared independence or to withdraw that declaration is expected to lead to Madrid triggering Article 155 of the constitution, allowing it to take control of Catalan institutions and call a regional election. The opposition Socialists and Ciudadanos party both support taking this unprecedented step.
Meanwhile, pro-independence forces are split over how to respond.
Factions within the Junts pel Sí coalition, which governs Catalonia, are reportedly in favour of reiterating Mr Puigdemont’s ambiguously worded statement as a way of keeping the possibility of dialogue open without renouncing the aim of independence. With over 500 Catalan companies moving their legal base out of the region in recent weeks due to the political uncertainty, the resolve of many in the pro-independence camp has been tested.
However, the Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), an anti-capitalist party whose support allows Junts pel Sí to govern, wants to see an uncompromising answer confirming that independence has been declared.
“We demand that the response be clearly affirmative,” said the CUP’s Núria Gibert.
If the anti-capitalists are dissatisfied by Mr Puigdemont’s answer, it is likely they will withdraw support for the governing coalition, making elections necessary.
Many within the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), an influential secessionist civic group, take a similar view to the CUP.
However, there are concerns that anything less than a U-turn by the Catalan president could not only accelerate the corporate exodus, but lead to an escalation of tensions and civil unrest.
“The situation is very delicate,” noted La Vanguardia newspaper, which called on the Catalan leader to step back from declaring independence in an editorial.
“What those who are calling for independence to be activated right now really want is to deepen the conflict . . . It would mean shifting the conflict from the parliaments to the streets.”
International pressure has also been building on the Catalan government, with several European leaders voicing opposition to the independence project.
In addition, US secretary of state Rex Tillerson repeated last week Washington’s support for a “strong and united Spain”.
Meanwhile, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, who has previously spoken out against Catalan secessionism from an institutional standpoint, offered a personal view on Friday.
“If we allow, but it’s not our business, that Catalonia becomes independent, others will do the same and I wouldn’t like that,” he said.