Catalonia's president to bring crisis to head in parliament

Spain awaits Carles Puigdemont’s first address to region’s MPs since referendum, to see whether he declares independence

Spain’s worst political crisis in four decades is expected to come to a head on Tuesday when the Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, reveals his plans for independence as he addresses the regional parliament for the first time since the referendum that provoked the standoff with the Spanish government.

Although Puigdemont had originally promised to make a unilateral declaration of independence within 48 hours of a victory for the secessionist campaign, he has so far held off from doing so, calling instead for mediated negotiations with the Madrid government.

It is unclear whether Puigdemont will push ahead with a formal declaration of independence or choose a less drastic option in the hope of avoiding a further escalation of tensions. He is due to appear before parliament at 6pm.

The Spanish government has repeatedly argued that the referendum was illegal and unconstitutional and has said it will use all the legal means at its disposal to prevent Catalonia from splitting from the rest of the country.

Spain’s prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, has threatened to impose direct rule on Catalonia, and a series of banks and businesses have announced plans to relocate from the region amid the enduring uncertainty.

Police are stationed outside government buildings in Barcelona and have closed off the Ciutadella park around the regional parliament on security grounds.

By mid-morning on Tuesday the park was ringed by Catalan regional police officers, the Mossos d’Esquadra, while Spanish national police vans were parked around the corner. Thousands of independence campaigners are expected to gather nearby on Tuesday afternoon to watch the parliamentary session on giant screens.

A Catalan government source dismissed suggestions that Puigdemont would opt for a merely symbolic recognition of independence, but refused to be drawn on what he might do.

“We’re still on track. We’re here to do what we’re here to do and we will do it, especially now that we know that people have voted in a referendum and the result is clear,” the source said.

“We’re not doing anything apart from what we have committed to do. It is the president’s prerogative to establish the exact parameters on which this will be done.”

A Catalan parliament official told the Associated Press that its governing board had “taken note” of the referendum results, in which 90% of participants voted in favour of independence. But the official said the board would take no action beyond acknowledging the poll results.

Spain’s economy minister, Luis de Guindos, said he hoped common sense would prevail and that the Catalan president would not declare independence.

Speaking in Luxembourg, De Guindos blamed Puigdemont’s “radical” and “irresponsible” government for the crisis and said his European counterparts were backing the Spanish government’s position.

“This is not about independence yes or no,” he said. “This is about a rebellion against the rule of law. And the rule of law is the foundation of coexistence, not only in Spain but in Europe.”

Rajoy has vowed to preserve national unity and shown himself willing to invoke article 155 of the Spanish constitution, which allows the central government to take control of an autonomous region if it “does not fulfil the obligations imposed upon it by the constitution or other laws, or acts in a way that is seriously prejudicial to the general interest of Spain”.

Invoking the article, which has never been used, would provoke an angry response in Catalonia. Tempers in the region remain high following the Spanish police’s efforts to stop the referendum on 1 October. Officers raided polling stations, beat voters and fired rubber bullets at crowds.

Rajoy has said the thousands of Guardia Civil and national police officers originally deployed in Catalonia to prevent the vote will remain there “until things return to normal”.

An anti-independence protest in Barcelona on Sunday.
An anti-independence protest in Barcelona on Sunday. Photograph: Le Pictorium/Barcroft Images

Much could rest on the response of the Mossos d’Esquadra to either a unilateral declaration of independence or the imposition of direct rule from Madrid.

Unions representing the two national forces have accused the Mossos of “clear disobedience” and an “unacceptable passivity” when it came to halting the referendum.

While the Mossos agreed to seal off polling stations during the referendum, they warned that such actions risked public order.

The head of the force, Josep Lluís Trapero, is being investigated for sedition by Spain’s national court amid accusations that the Mossos failed to assist Guardia Civil officers who raided government buildings and arrested 14 Catalan officials last month.

According to the Catalan government, 2.3 million of Catalonia’s 5.3 million registered voters cast a ballot in the referendum. A full count has been complicated by the fact that 770,000 votes were lost due to the police disruption.


Sam Jones in Barcelona

The GuardianTramp

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