Rajoy demands Catalonia show its hand or face rule from Madrid
Spain’s prime minister has opened the way for Madrid to use a constitutional “nuclear option” to suspend Catalonia’s autonomy, demanding that the regional government makes clear whether it considers itself independent.
Mariano Rajoy took the first step towards triggering Article 155 of the Spanish constitution, which would give Madrid power to take control of Catalonia’s regional government, after an emergency cabinet meeting yesterday.
Stepping up pressure on Catalonia’s government, he gave Carles Puigdemont, the Catalan president, five days to declare independence. Mr Rajoy said his formal request for clarity was “necessary when activating Article 155” and would dictate the next steps in the crisis to “offer certainty” to citizens.
Using Article 155 to suspend Catalan autonomy would deepen the crisis in Spain, which has escalated since Catalonia held a contested independence referendum on October 1. Mr Puigdemont stepped back from making a full declaration of independence on Tuesday night, calling for more dialogue with Spain to resolve the matter peacefully.
But the speech to the Catalan parliament was ambiguous. At one point Mr Puigdemont appeared to declare independence, saying he now assumed the “mandate for Catalonia to become an independent state”. But that was followed by a proposed suspension of independence for a “few weeks”.
Parliament has given Catalonia until Monday to confirm its independence. The regional government would then be given three more days to rectify its decision. Failing that, Article 155 would be triggered next Thursday.
Meanwhile, there were signs that the Madrid government was trying to defuse the situation. Pedro Sánchez, head of the opposition Socialists, said yesterday that his party and the ruling centre-right Popular party had agreed to talks to renegotiate laws governing regional autonomy to “allow for Catalonia to remain a part of Spain”.
Addressing parliament yesterday evening, Mr Rajoy called the crisis “one of the most difficult times in our recent history” and rejected offers of international mediation.
Valdis Dombrovskis, vice-president of the European Commission, said Catalonia’s separatist authorities had appealed to Brussels to help mediate with Madrid but Mr Rajoy had not sought EU help.
“The commission is following closely the situation in Spain and reiterates its earlier call for full respect of the Spanish constitutional order,” he said. Berlin said any independence declaration by Catalan institutions would be “illegal and unacceptable and would find no recognition” in Germany. Alfonso Dastis, Spain’s foreign minister, said Mr Puigdemont’s speech amounted to a “trick to say one thing and do the opposite”.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017
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