Saturday

23rd Mar 2019

Spanish and Catalan leaders continue stand-off

  • The original Catalan independence referendum was deemed "illegal" under Spain's constitution (Photo: Matthias Oesterle/ZUMA Wire/dpa)

In an exchange of letters, Mariano Rajoy and Carles Puigdemont called on each other to make the first step to defuse the crisis over Catalonia's independence.

The Spanish and Catalan leaders stuck to their guns on Monday (16 October) while buying time before escalating the crisis over Catalonia's push for independence.

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In a letter to Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy in the morning, Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont presented a "sincere and honest" offer for dialogue during the next two months.

Puigdemont did not however clearly answer the Spanish government's question, asked last week, over whether he really declared independence last week.

He said that the 1 October referendum "entrusted to the [Catalan] parliament the democratic mandate to declare independence" and that he has "suspended" the mandate.

On 10 October, Puigdemont signed a declaration of independence, but gave no date for its implementation.

In his letter on Monday, he reiterated that he wanted to "find a solution to the relationship between the Spanish state and Catalonia which has been in a state of deadlock."

In a reply letter, Rajoy said that he "deeply regret[s]" that Puigdemont did not provide the "absolutely necessary clarification".

He gave the Catalan leader until Thursday at 10AM to answer "with the clarity that all citizens demand and the law demands".

He warned that failing to revoke the declaration of independence and return to the Spanish legal framework would result in the "procedure established in Article 155 of the constitution".

The procedure "doesn't mean the suspension of self-government, but the restoration of the autonomy and legality," Rajoy insisted.

Article 155 allows the government to "take all measures necessary to compel" a Spanish region to "meet its obligations" or to "protect [Spain's] general interest."

Rajoy added that "to prolong this situation of uncertainty only favours those who pretend to liquidate the civil concord and impose a radical project and an impoverishment for Catalonia."

Ominous silence?

The Spanish leader did not mention, as he did in parliament last week, that he would be ready to open a discussion on the country's system of autonomy if Puigdemont stepped back.

But he invited Puigdemont "once again to come to the parliament and present his demands to the legitimate representatives of the national sovereignty, who are the only ones who can listen to them."

In a response to Puigdemont's reference to EU calls for dialogue, Rajoy noted that EU institutions and member states "have clearly expressed their opposition to independence and the break with the principle of legality".

He added that Puigdemont's calls for dialogue were "not credible."

He warned that if Puigdemont failed to obey, he "will be only responsible for the application of the constitution."

Rajoy received the support of the Socialist Party, the main opposition party, which implied that Puigdemont left little alternative beyond forcing Madrid to trigger Article 155.

"We wonder whether Mr Puigdemont, with his attitude, will leave another issue that the application of Article 155," a party spokesman said.

In the meantime, Spanish prosecutors put more pressure on the Catalan government, by requesting a prison sentence for Josep Lluis Trapero, the chief of the Mossos d'Esquadra, the region's police.

Trapero is under investigation for sedition for not having implemented Spanish judges' decision to prevent the 1 October independence referendum from taking place.

Catalan leader postpones independence

Carles Puigdemont said that Catalonia "has won the right to be independent" but suspended any unilateral declaration of independence in a plea for dialogue.

Spanish PM opens small window for talks

Rajoy opened up to a possible reform of Spain's regional system, while threatening to suspend Catalonia's autonomy if the region's leaders confirm Wednesday's declaration of independence.

Spain points at elections as exit to Catalan crisis

Spanish political leaders called on Catalan separatists to organise regional elections as a way to avoid emergency measures due to be taken on Thursday. That's "not on the table", a Catalan official replied.

Opinion

Commission employs double standards in Spain

The European Commission seems to accept Madrid's line on judicial independence and the constitution - whilst pushing Poland hard on the same issue.

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