Catalonia set to lose devolved powers after chaotic day in crisis

Regional parliament debates firm response to introduction of direct rule by Spain

Thousands of protesting students march on the Catalan government palace in Barcelona for a pro-independence rally. Video: Reuters


Catalonia appeared to be on course to lose its self-rule powers on Thursday evening after its president, Carles Puigdemont, said he did not have the guarantees he needed from Madrid to call a snap election. Meanwhile, speculation is mounting that the Catalan parliament will issue a declaration of independence on Friday.

The Spanish senate is expected to approve the use of article 155 of the constitution on Friday, allowing intervention in the devolved Catalan administration in an effort to halt the regional government’s bid for independence. Under proposals set out by the Spanish government of Mariano Rajoy, the entire Catalan government will be removed and Madrid will take over the running of the region.

In a statement made in the Catalan government headquarters in Barcelona, Mr Puigdemont described the use of article 155 in this case as unlawful and the Spanish state’s motives in applying it as “vengeful”.

The calling of elections by Mr Puigdemont was widely seen as a potential, albeit short-term, solution to the Catalan crisis. With the Spanish government having said it wants to see a regional election held within six months as part of its direct rule plan, it would have been a conciliatory move by the Catalan leader.

Mr Puigdemont had turned down the chance to appear in the Spanish senate this week in order to argue against the use of article 155, but on Thursday he said that he had tried and failed to get last-minute concessions from Madrid on its application.

“I have attempted to obtain the guarantees in order to stage these elections but I haven’t got a responsible answer from the [governing] Popular Party, which has taken advantage of the situation to increase the tension,” he said.

October 1st referendum

The current stalemate has revolved around a chaotic independence referendum on October 1st which the Catalan government organised in defiance of the central government and constitutional court. With a turnout reportedly of 43 per cent, organisers said that 90 per cent of participants voted for independence, although most pro-union voters stayed away.

There was confusion earlier on Thursday, when Mr Puigdemont scheduled and then cancelled an official announcement, amid reports he was planning to issue an independence declaration. But shortly after the appearance was called off, Spanish media started reporting that he had changed his mind and would instead call elections.

Within minutes of those latter reports, there were signs of dissent in the secessionist camp, where many had been hoping for an independence declaration. Jordi Cuminal and Albert Batalla even announced on Twitter their resignations from Mr Puigdemont’s Catalan Democratic Party (PDeCAT) in protest at the apparently imminent election announcement.

With Mr Puigdemont’s statement, when it finally came, proposing neither independence nor elections, the Catalan parliament started debating its response to Madrid’s use of direct rule.

Snap election appeal

During the debate, Inés Arrimadas, leader of the unionist Ciudadanos party in Catalonia, called on Mr Puigdemont to reconsider the snap election option.

“Calling elections was a dignified, democratic, clean solution,” she said. “You only have a few hours left, but we have the hope you will still do it.”

Lluís Rabell, of the leftist Catalonia Yes We Can (CSQP) party, also appealed to Mr Puigdemont to reconsider the election option.

“Let’s not go to sleep dreaming of Scotland only to wake up in Ulster,” he said, in reference to the Scottish independence referendum of 2014.

Another parliamentary session is due to take place on Friday, when a vote is likely to take place. With article 155 expected to be in effect by Saturday, there is speculation that the parliament will issue an independence declaration.

“We are no more than the people of Catalonia and we propose that in the face of the attack that article 155 represents we continue applying the mandate of the Catalan people,” said Lluís Corominas, of the region’s governing Junts pel Sí coalition.

Meanwhile, in the senate, deputy prime minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamría addressed the commission studying the implementation of article 155.

“They have thrown the finest Catalonia of our history in the dirt and now we must rescue it,” she said.