Friday

19th Jan 2018

Catalan leaders ponder risks of independence

  • "In this moment that we have arrived at the definitive step it is clear that there is a certain vertigo among the more moderate supporters," said a political scientist. (Photo: Matthias Oesterle/ZUMA Wire/dpa)

The president of the government of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, has until Tuesday (10 October) at 6PM, when he will address the regional parliament, to decide whether Catalonia will unilaterally declare independence.

So far, Puigdemont has said he will speak in a plenary session to discuss the "current political situation" in the wake of the 1 October independence referendum that was declared illegal by the Spanish authorities.

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  • Catalan leader Puigdemont will address the regional parliament on Tuesday.

CUP, a radical left and pro-separatist party that helps to secure the Catalan government's absolute majority in the regional parliament, wants to take the jump.

"It is now time for the next step - declare independence," said CUP parliamentarian Carles Riera in a press conference on Friday.

But some, even within the government, are worried that the consequences of declaring independence might be too big and that a better solution would be to mediate with Madrid.

"The alternative to a dialogue and an agreement - which is what we in Catalonia have been looking for for some time - is conflict and its economic consequences for Catalonia and the whole of Spain, which we have started to notice," said Catalan minister for business and knowledge, Santi Vila.

"Although a possible declaration of independence by the parliament would be humanly and politically well understood, based on the cautionary warnings received from the world community, the trade unions, and the companies, it is important to reflect on its benefits and consequences," Vila said in an open letter in the ARA newspaper.

"The priority must be to give dialogue a last chance and to commit to it for a while before any of the two sides take new unilateral decisions," he added.

Artur Mas, Puigdemont's predecessor as Catalan leader and Vila's political associate in the Catalan European Democratic Party (PDECat), also called for caution on Friday.

"We have won the right to be an independent country. To be independent we need a few things we still do not have," he told the Financial Times.

Mas said that Catalonia still needed control of infrastructure and borders and that people paid tax to a Catalan tax authority. He noted that "until this is not operational, independence is not real."

"In this moment that we have arrived at the definitive step it is clear that there is a certain vertigo among the more moderate supporters" of independence, Oriol Bartomeus, a political science professor at Barcelona's Autonomous University, told EUobserver.

"In general people are very worried. Everywhere you hear people talking about the independence process," Xavier Arbòs, a professor in constitutional law at the University of Barcelona, noted.

He told this website that he would not be surprised if not all pro-independence lawmakers would vote in favour of a unilateral declaration of independence on Tuesday.

Relationship 'like ice'

"In the last few days a few have raised their voices against it as there is an increased fear of what the central state could do," he said.

Madrid has repeatedly said that there will be no dialogue before Barcelona dropped its call for independence.

"The Spanish government wants to win 10-0," noted Arbs, adding that if there is a relationship between Barcelona and Madrid "it must be like ice".

"I think that for internal cultural political reasons, the Spanish government wants to win rather than solve the problem," he said.

Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy is under pressure from former PM Jose Maria Aznar, a colleague in the conservative Popular Party, to increase use of force against Catalonia or to call for elections, while Ciudadanos, centrist party, is calling on Rajoy to use article 155 of the Spanish constitution.

The article, which has never been invoked before, allows for direct rule from Madrid in Spain's autonomous regions in case a region "acts in a manner that gravely attacked the general interest of Spain".

Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera believes the article is necessary to block a possible unilateral declaration of independence in Catalonia and to be able to call for a new regional election.

Sedition allegations

Judicial pressure is also mounting on Catalan separatists.

A Catalan parliament session planned on Monday to discuss the result of the referendum was suspended by the Spanish constitutional court before it had even been convened by the parliament.

In Madrid, the head of the Mossos d'Esquadre, the Catalan police, Josep Lluis Trapero, appeared in court along with two leading figures in the Catalan independence movement to answer on allegations of sedition.

Spanish authorities believe Trapero's police force did not do enough to prevent Sunday's vote from taking place.

The Spanish government has prolonged the stay of the almost 6,000 Spanish police officers and military police agents that were sent on duty to Catalonia ahead of the referendum until at least 18 October, it announced on Friday.

In Catalonia there has been an increased call for dialogue to avoid a final clash between Barcelona and Madrid. A lawyers' association supported by several institutions and organisations met with Puigdemont and other government officials on Friday afternoon. However, an expected press conference following the event never took place.

Meanwhile, the Catalan authorities are facing economic difficulties.

On Friday, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said that "prolonged tensions and uncertainties regarding Catalonia could weigh on confidence and investment decisions."

Thirty years of crisis

In the last two days, several listed companies - Energy supplier Gas Natural Fenosa, Cava producers Freixenet and Cordoniu, as well as Caixa and Sabadell banks - have said they will move their headquarters out of Catalonia.

The Spanish government approved a decree on Friday to make it easier for companies to leave Catalonia, allowing the board of directors decide on the change of base without having to call a shareholders' meeting.

"We have a really bad situation now," Bartomeus said.

He explained that Spain was in a much stronger position than Catalonia, "judicially, economically, internationally" and because it had the full support of the king, Felipe VI.

"The Catalan government does not have more cards to play. They have already played the self-determination card by holding the referendum," Bartomeus said, adding that the outcome was big but not that impressive either.

"I am very worried," he added.

"We are facing 30 years of institutional, economic, political, and coexistence crisis in Catalonia. And we are facing 30 years of fierce revenge from the Spanish state," he said.

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.

Catalan leader sends mixed message on independence

In a speech on Wednesday evening, Carles Puigdemont gave no concrete indication of his intentions as his plan to declare Catalonia's independence from Spain has met strong opposition in Europe.

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.

Defenders of Spain's unity fight back

Hundreds of thousands demonstrated over the weekend against Catalonia's independence and for a dialogue between Madrid and Barcelona, while pressure is mounting on Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont not to declare independence.

Bulgaria's corruption problem mars EU presidency start

A dispute between the government and the president over an anti-corruption law has put the spotlight on one of the Bulgaria's main problems - just as it is trying to showcase its economic and social progress.

SPD wants EU at heart of German coalition talks

Germany's three mainstream parties have begun their discussions for a new grand coalition, more than three months after the September election which saw them all lose seats.

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