People in Catalonia were living through possibly the tensest moment since the independence crisis began on Thursday afternoon, as the Catalan regional parliament debated whether making a rapid unilateral declaration of independence was an option ahead of Madrid intervening in the region.
Earlier in the day, in an atmosphere of constant change and uncertainty, it had appeared that regional president, Carles Puigdemont, was willing to call regional parliamentary elections.
Arranging an election had been seen as a way of stopping prime minister Mariano Rajoy imposing elements of direct control on Catalonia in the coming days, as the institutional crisis in Spain around separatist plans to create an independence republic in the region deepened by the hour.
The national Senate has this week been preparing to debate the application of Article 155 of the Constitution that allows intervention in an autonomous regional government in emergencies.
However, after delaying a lunchtime official statement, when he was expected to call for an election, and holding last minute talks with his deputy, Oriol Junqueras, Puigdemont finally appeared and spoke at 5pm before heading off to the parliamentary debate.
In his address the president said that he was leaving it for the regional parliament to decide how to respond to Article 155.“My duty is to exhaust every route to find an agreed solution through dialogue,” he began.
“I have tried to secure the guarantees to hold these elections but we haven’t been able to get a responsible answer from the PP party [ruling in Madrid] that has in fact added to the tension.”
He continued:“ There is no guarantee to justify calling regional elections. Idon’t accept the Article 155 measures as they are unjust.”
Earlier in the day it was rumoured that members of the Socialist PSOE party, who support the limited use of Article 155 to rein in the Catalan government, had been acting as brokers between Barcelona and Madrid as a last ditch effort to secure a regional vote rather than be forced to apply an element of direct rule.
Splits deepen in separatists
There had also been a long, late night meeting of the pro-independence Catalan leaders and advisers in the regional president’s offices on Wednesday, with resignations and evidence of splits emerging between ministers and advisers.
More moderate elements were favouring elections, with the more radical side calling for Puigdemont to carry through on his electoral promise to take Catalonia to independence before it was too late and the Madrid government intervened with Article 155.
In the end, on Thursday, Puigdemont opted to let the regional parliament decide. Here the separatist parties hold a majority, but, at time of going to press, as the debate continued, it wasn’t clear how MPs would decide to respond.
A vote for unilateral independence would plunge Spain into uncharted waters and speed up the intervention by central government in the region’s affairs.
Article 155 at the ready
Last Saturday ministers in Madrid decided, as planned, to table a plan to temporarily take back some devolved powers from Catalonia. The use of these powers under Article 155 was being debated by the Senate on Thursday with a vote expected on Friday on its implementation.
All main national political parties except left-wing Podemos back the move, although there was debate over the extent of the intervention. The government’s plan is to substitute Carles Puigdemont with a Catalan technocrat and call regional elections early next year after a “cooling off”period.
The climate of uncertainty continues to dominate all aspects of life in Catalonia. Pro-independence students from Barcelona university marched on the president’s offices at lunchtime to demand he see through his independence plans.
Some 2,000 companies are believed to have now moved their registered offices out of the region.