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18th Aug 2019

Catalan leader sends mixed message on independence

  • (Photo: Carles Puigdemon/Flickr)

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont on Wednesday (5 October) criticised the Spanish king but gave no concrete indication of his independence intentions, as his plan to declare Catalonia's independence from Spain has met strong opposition in Europe.

Felipe VI was "deliberately ignoring millions of Catalans," Puigdemont said in a TV address, 24 hours after the king said the Catalan separatists were "irresponsible" and threatening Spain's stability.

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"The king praises the discourse and policies of [Spanish prime minister Mariano] Rajoy's government which have been catastrophic in relation to Catalonia, and deliberately ignore the millions of Catalans who do not think like them," Puigdemont said.

Three days after Sunday's referendum, which was declared illegal by the Spanish Constitutional Tribunal, the Catalan leader said only that "in the coming days", the region's institutions will "implement the results of the referendum."

Puigdemont however did not specify how this would be done and did not mention the word independence.

According to first results published on Monday, the 'Yes for independence' won with 90 percent on a 42-percent turnout. But no official voting roll has been published and there is no independent electoral commission.

In an interview to the BBC, which was recorded before the king's speech and broadcasted on Wednesday, Puigdemont had said Catalonia would "declare independence 48 hours after all the official results are counted."

He said that counting would "probably finish when we have the votes from abroad at end of the week".

"Therefore we will act over the weekend or early next week," he said.

On Wednesday, the Junt pel Si (Together for the Yes), the Catalan ruling coalition, and CUP, a far-left separatist party, filed a petition to the regional parliament to proclaim independence next Monday (9 October).

In his evening address, Puigdemont instead renewed calls for a dialogue.

"This moment calls for mediation", he said. He added that he had "received several proposals in the last hours" but no "positive response from the state."

The Spanish government rejected what it said was "blackmail".

'Go back to the law'

"If Mr Puigdemont wants to talk or negotiate, or wants to send mediators, he knows perfectly what he first needs to do: go back to the law," Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy said in statement.

Rajoy's deputy, Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, said that the Catalan leader was "completely detached from reality" and that his speech was "embarrassing".

Spanish sources insisted, before Puigdemont's speech, that the Catalan leader has gone very far in the violation of Spanish and Catalan laws and that it was becoming increasingly difficult to consider him as a valid interlocutor.

The view in Madrid was that new elections in Catalonia may be the only way to get back to legality and find a new interlocutor.

Puigdemont's mixed messages over his next steps came as the EU said clearly that the separatists would not get the support they expected.

In Strasbourg, European Commission first vice president Frans Timmermans urged Rajoy and Puigdemont to starting talking - but he was clear that the Catalan separatists were in the wrong.

"If the law doesn't give you what you want, you can oppose the law, you can work to change the law, but you cannot ignore the law," he during a debate on the Catalan crisis in the European Parliament.

"It is a duty to any government to uphold the rule of law and this sometimes requires proportionate use of force," he added.

In the months and weeks ahead of the referendum, Puigdemont and his allies insisted that an independent Catalonia would "automatically" join the EU, because it was already part of the bloc as a Spanish region.

But the Commission has been clear, before and after Sunday's vote, that "if a referendum were to be organised in line with the Spanish Constitution it would mean that the territory leaving would find itself outside of the European Union."

'Totally irresponsible'

An independent Catalonia would leave the EU, the single market, the Schengen area and the eurozone, insisted Manfred Weber, the leader of the centre-right EPP group in the EU Parliament.

"Is it really the Catalans' best interest?" he asked.

Other political leaders also insisted that Sunday's referendum was illegal and warned against declaring the region's independence.

"Unilateral decisions, including declarations of independence from a sovereign state, are contrary to the European legal order and bound to provoke dangerous divisions," said European Parliament president Antonio Tajani.

"A unilateral declaration of independence can only lead to further conflicts, to further disasters," warned the social-democrat leader Gianni Pittella.

"This referendum simply lacked basic democratic legitimacy," added the liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt. "To declare independence based on the outcome of a defective referendum is totally irresponsible."

While all MEPs supported dialogue to find a solution to the crisis, only a minority back calls for an EU mediation.

Green MEP Ska Keller argued that the EU Commission was the guardian of the treaties and therefore had a "duty to get involved and offer help in solving the conflict."

Disappointing EU

The EU's lack of support to the Catalan separatists is "very disappointing", Puigdemont told the BBC.

He said that the Catalan people "won the right to be heard" but that the EU leaders "never want to listen to us".

"If Europe continues believing Madrid's narrative and deny reality, they could get this completely wrong," he warned.

He also noted that Rajoy, by refusing to talk about the referendum and by sending the police, made the pro-independence movement "stronger".

Depending on what Puigdemont and his allies do next, the Spanish government has prepared several plans, including a progressive application of Article 155 of the Spanish constitution, which allows Madrid to take over the autonomous regional government.

"Taking over our administration or arresting members of the government, including me, this could be the ultimate mistake," Puigdemont said.

EU urges Spanish and Catalan leaders to talk

MEPs and the European Commission have called on Mariano Rajoy and Carles Puigdemont to "sit together" and find a way out of the crisis over the push for the region's independence, and ruled out any mediation.

Catalonia to declare independence in a few days

Spain's king, Felipe VI, said Catalonia's leaders were breaking up the country's unity as hundreds of thousands of Catalans rallied against police violence at Sunday's referendum.

Catalonia's separatists claim victory after violent day

"The citizens of Catalonia have won the right to an independent state," the region's leader, Carles Puigdemont, said at the end of a day marked by Spanish police violence inside and outside polling stations.

Catalan separatists under pressure from business

Catalonia's independence plans have come under more pressure from the financial sector, with banks deciding to move their HQ and ratings agencies downgrading the region's notation.

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