The Spanish government has vowed to block a reform approved by Catalan pro-independence parties which seeks to allow exiled former regional president Carles Puigdemont to be reinstated and govern from abroad.
On Friday, the Catalan parliament voted in favour of a motion changing the law to allow candidates for president to take part in investiture ceremonies – and then govern – without being present in the parliament.
The reform would mean that Mr Puigdemont, who is in Germany awaiting a decision on Spain's request to extradite him, could be sworn in as president by video link or by using a colleague to represent him in the chamber.
Mr Puigdemont’s Together for Catalonia (JxCat), the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) and the Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) approved the reform, with 70 votes, against the 64 votes of unionist parties. But the law is unlikely to come into effect, because the Spanish government has said it will appeal against it before the constitutional court, ensuring its suspension.
The same court barred Mr Puigdemont from attempting to be invested as president earlier this year and the courts have blocked the candidacies of two other pro-independence politicians, both of who are in prison, on legal grounds.
Despite the law’s anticipated failure, Mr Puigdemont’s supporters were defiant. “We won’t give up because we won’t give up in the prisons, in exile or in parliament or in elections,” said Albert Batet, of JxCat.
Unionist parties criticised the law and the way in which it was pushed through parliament, which saw secessionist parties ignore a recommendation from the regional constitutional body.
‘Fugitive from justice’
“It’s a law for a fugitive from justice, it’s illegal in form and content,” said Inés Arrimadas, leader of the right-wing Ciudadanos party in Catalonia.
With the Catalan parliament unable to form a new government since elections in December, Madrid continues to govern the region having introduced direct rule since a failed independence bid last autumn.
If a new regional administration is not in place by May 22nd, elections will be called for July.
On Saturday, Mr Puigdemont is due to meet in Germany with parliamentary members of his coalition to discuss the stalemate and the prospect of a repeat of the election. The Spanish supreme court wants to try him for rebellion and misuse of public funds, although the German judiciary recently ruled out extraditing him on the first, more serious, charge.
There are reports that, in a bid to avert an election, pro-independence parties will propose a less controversial candidate for president, such as Elsa Artadi of JxCat.
Meanwhile, the Spanish education ministry is investigating complaints of pro-independence indoctrination at 24 schools in Catalonia.
In one school in the town of Vall-Llobrega, a mother complained that her eight-year-old daughter was told by her teacher that "Spain steals from Catalonia and that is very wrong." According to the same parent, children were taught to make ballot boxes and vote "yes" in them, simulating last October's outlawed independence referendum.
In a separate case, a public prosecutor in Barcelona is attempting to investigate nine teachers from the same school who have been accused of pointing out and humiliating in their classrooms the children of civil guards who attempted to prevent last year’s referendum.