Spain’s main national parties are scrambling to offer a political response to the crisis triggered by a Catalan plan to declare independence.
Prime minister Mariano Rajoy is hoping to create an anti-independence front with the support of the Socialists, the main opposition party, and Ciudadanos, which is in third place in opinion polls. Mr Rajoy met on Wednesday with Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez and he is scheduled to meet on Friday with Albert Rivera, of Ciudadanos, who described the initiative as an "alliance of democrats".
“With our discrepancies, we have to sit down and create a strategy to defend democratic values that contains all our ideological differences, because that is what unites us,” said Mr Rivera.
The decision to build the anti-independence front around the PP, the socialists and Ciudadanos has angered other parties, particularly the anti-austerity Podemos, which is polling in fourth place.
"We are the best guarantee of the unity of Spain, of understanding the territorial conflict," Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias said. Following his complaint, Mr Iglesias was also invited to discuss the issue with the prime minister on Friday. Podemos is calling for Madrid and Catalonia to negotiate the terms of an official referendum on independence.
After three years of mounting tensions between Catalonia and Madrid, on Tuesday separatist parties presented a nine-point resolution, declaring the beginning of secession, to the north-eastern region’s parliament. The statement of intent outlined a “democratic disconnection” from Spain and said Catalonia’s parliament would not obey Spanish institutions.
Last month, pro-independence parties won the most seats in a Catalan regional election, which nationalist premier Artur Mas used as a plebiscite on independence. However, they won only 48 percent of votes.
The Catalan parliament has not yet approved the resolution, which envisages an independent state within 18 months. Ciudadanos and the socialists are seeking to delay its debate in the chamber.
Mr Rajoy gave an immediate televised riposte to the separatists’ plan, in which he insisted he will use the law to guarantee Spain’s unity.
However, despite the determination of Spain’s three main anti-independence parties to unite against secession, they must overcome their own differences, especially with a general election on December 20th. While Mr Rajoy’s Popular Party (PP) takes a similarly rigid line to Ciudadanos on the issue, the socialists advocate a “third way” which would reform Spain’s regional system and give Catalans increased autonomy.
“We won’t allow divisive feelings to dominate those of union and coexistence,” Mr Sánchez said on Wednesday, as he unveiled details of his party’s constitutional reform. “And we will ensure that we are not led into a negative and absurd clash of identities, or into conflict and splits.”
Although the three other anti-independence parties have said they plan to use the law to thwart secession, it is not clear exactly what steps they will take. There has been speculation that Mr Rajoy will eventually use article 155 of the constitution, which would allow him to re-centralise certain powers from Catalonia. However, in a radio interview this week, he said he “would not like to have to apply” the clause.