War of words still raging as Catalonia remains defiant

Region’s president Carles Puigdemont due to make widely anticipated address today

Tensions between Barcelona and Madrid showed little sign of slackening ahead of a widely anticipated appearance in the northeastern region's parliament by Catalan president Carles Puigdemont today.

With the results of Catalonia’s October 1st referendum confirmed on Friday – which overwhelmingly favoured secession – Mr Puigdemont had suggested he would front a declaration of independence within days. But there have been reports he will stop short of such a step.

As uncertainty surrounded the content of his scheduled address to the Catalan parliament this evening, his supporters and political partners were defiant.

“We are in a situation that is similar to that prior to October 1st, when the [Spanish] state said that it had the tools to stop [the referendum],” said Sergi Sabrià, of the Catalan Republican Left (ERC), which governs alongside with Mr Puigdemont’s Catalan Democratic Party (PDeCAT).

“They threaten to suspend our freedoms but what they are not going to do with their threats is stop us.”

Controversial

Spanish deputy prime minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría on Monday refused to rule out the government’s use of a controversial clause in the constitution, Article 155, which would allow it to intervene in Catalonia’s powers and suspend its autonomy. Some observers believe the central government might use that mechanism to trigger Catalan elections.

“A lot of people in the Catalan government are scared because neither businesses nor Europe are backing them, they have faced up to their own lies,” she said.

Responding to the recent turmoil, several major Catalan companies have announced they are moving their legal base out of the region since last week, including lenders Sabadell and Caixabank and energy giant Gas Natural. On Monday, infrastructure company Abertis and property firm Colonial decided to transfer their offices from Barcelona to Madrid.

Meanwhile, Barcelona’s leftist mayor Ada Colau called on both sides to back down and embark on negotiations. Ms Colau, who has taken an ambivalent stance on the recent vote, said “it is time to leave the trenches and begin a dialogue” and said the referendum had not given Catalonia a mandate to secede.

Mediation

The Catalan government has invited mediation in the dispute and the Catholic Church and Swiss government are among those who have volunteered to get involved. However, the central administration of Mariano Rajoy has ruled out talks unless Mr Puigdemont removes the threat of an independence declaration.

On Monday there was a new controversy. Pablo Casado, of Mr Rajoy’s conservative Popular Party (PP), warned that the Catalan president and others “could end up like” Lluís Companys, who led a short-lived Catalan republic in the 1930s before being imprisoned and, several years later, executed.

Pablo Iglesias, leader of the leftist Podemos party, responded by describing Mr Casado as "either ignorant or an irresponsible provocateur".

Meanwhile, the leader of the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC), Miguel Iceta, reiterated his party’s proposed solution to the problem. “You don’t have to be all that bright to work out how this will end,” he said. “An agreement for more [Catalan] autonomy, better financing and a federal state.”