The prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, made the first move on Thursday to disrupt the Catalan parliament's plans to propose Carles Puigdemont as regional president again.
In an appeal launched to the national Consejo de Estado, (council of state), the government asked members to declare that the new speaker of the Catalan parliament, Roger Torrent, cannot officially propose Puigdemont because he “doesn't have freedom of movement”.
Carles Puigdemont is in Belgium and will be arrested as soon as he touches Spanish soil.
As the unusual case of Puigdemont's absence hasn't arisen before and was unforeseen in the constitution, the government needs the council's ruling first in order to complain to the country's constitutional court.
Junts per Catalunya, Puigdemont's political group, immediately called Madrid's action “a coup” and the separatist ERC party said that the government had crossed a red line.
On Wednesday regional speaker Roger Torrent had travelled to Brussels to meet with Puigdemont as his only proposed candidate.
It still wasn't clear after that meeting how Puigdemont would be invested if he won a vote, as he will be arrested if he returns and parliamentary lawyers say a remote vote would be invalid, or at the very least impractical long term.
Catalan MPs are due to meet next Tuesday, 30 January, to debate Puigdemont's candidacy.