Spanish cabinet meets to work out response to independence declaration
Deputy PM says Catalan leader ‘doesn’t know where he is or where he is going’
Catalan president Carles Puigdemont is applauded after addressing the region’s parliament in Barcelona. Photograph: Quique Garcia/EPA
The Spanish cabinet has met to work out its response to an announcement from the head of the wealthy Catalonia region that he was proceeding with a declaration of independence, further fuelling Spain’s worst political crisis in decades. Prime minister Mariano Rajoy, who is due to address the national parliament later in the day, chaired the closed-doors meeting at the government’s headquarters in the Moncloa Palace, on the outskirts of Madrid.
Mr Puigdemont risked retribution from Madrid and the loss of part of his own support base on Tuesday when he issued a unilateral declaration of independence for his region but then called for it to be suspended.
Mr Puigdemont said the results of a referendum staged on October 1st allowed “for Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic”. However, he then said that suspending that declaration would allow several weeks for mediation to take place between his administration and that of Mr Rajoy’s.
Previously the Spanish government had not ruled out the possibility of temporarily ending the Catalan government’s autonomous powers and the government has given little indication that it is willing to talk.
Mr Puigdemont’s announcement, made in the Catalan parliament, was widely anticipated, as many of his supporters had expected an outright declaration of independence. However, it was clear in the days leading up to his appearance that there were conflicting ideas within the Catalan pro-independence front regarding how it should be worded.
A string of Catalan companies have announced they are moving their legal base out of the region due to the political uncertainty, including energy giant Gas Natural and lenders CaixaBank and Sabadell. The corporate exodus was known to be worrying many in the Catalan government, particularly in Mr Puigdemont’s Catalan Democratic Party (PDeCAT).
In his speech, Mr Puigdemont voiced long-standing grievances with the Spanish state and cited the Spanish police actions against Catalan voters in the referendum. He also presented his region’s relationship with Spain as a failed one, but insisted that the two could sit down and negotiate.
“We’ll never agree on everything but we can agree that the way to move forward can be none other than that of democracy and peace,” he said.
The central government in Madrid responded that it did not accept the declaration and did not consider the referendum or its results to be valid. Spanish deputy prime minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said the Catalan leader “doesn’t know where he is, where he is going and with whom he wants to go”. She said Mr Puigdemont had put Catalonia “in the greatest level of uncertainty seen yet”. One of the government’s options on Wednesday could be to set about applying Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, which allows the central government to take some or total control of any of its 17 regions if they do not comply with their legal obligations. This would begin with a Cabinet meeting and a warning to the regional government to fall into line. Then, the Senate could be called to approve the measure.
Although the Catholic Church and the Swiss government are among those to have been contacted with a view to possible mediation, the Rajoy government has refused Mr Puigdemont’s previous offers of talks because the possibility of an independence declaration was on the table.
Some members of the Catalan pro-independence front voiced disappointment at the speech, suggesting Mr Puigdemont could face challenges as he attempts to keep his secessionist coalition in power in the region.
Additional reporting PA