Sunday 22 October 2017

Catalonia given independence deadline as Spain plans direct rule

Separatists react to proceedings in Catalonia's regional parliament on screens in Barcelona Photo: REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado
Separatists react to proceedings in Catalonia's regional parliament on screens in Barcelona Photo: REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

James Badcock and James Crisp

Spain has told Catalonia to clarify whether or not it has declared independence by Monday and threatened direct rule over the region.

Mariano Rajoy, Spain's prime minister, initiated a never-before-used constitutional mechanism that would allow the government to take control. He called for "certainty" for Spanish citizens.

Spain prime minister Mariano Rajoy in parliament yesterday Photo: REUTERS/Sergio Perez
Spain prime minister Mariano Rajoy in parliament yesterday Photo: REUTERS/Sergio Perez

His comments followed a cabinet meeting after Carles Puigdemont, the Catalan president, had proclaimed the region's right to secede but stopped short of actually declaring its independence.

Mr Rajoy said that unless Mr Puigdemont "expresses his will to respect legality" the government in Madrid would adopt measures under article 155 of Spain's constitution.

Dubbed the "nuclear button", this allows the central government to take some or total control of any of its 17 regions if they don't comply with their legal obligations.

"There is no mediation possible between democratic law and disobedience, illegality," Mr Rajoy told Spain's parliament, dismissing Mr Puigdemont's independence plan as a "fairy tale".

Mr Rajoy has gained the backing of the main opposition Socialist party (PSOE) to deploy article 155.

But the government also agreed to the creation of an inter-party commission to propose a territorial reform package within six months. The object is to find long-term solutions for "Catalonia's place within the Spanish state", Pedro Sanchez, the leader of the opposition said.

Experts warn, however, that the conflict resulting from what Mr Puigdemont calls a "mandate" for independence, based on an October 1 referendum that had been declared illegal by Spanish courts, is unlikely to be resolved in a quick and simple manner.

"The ball is now in Mr Puigdemont's court, but he is likely to say, 'No, we haven't declared independence but laid down a basis for dialogue,'" said Dr Simon Toubeau, an assistant professor in politics at the University of Nottingham.

The anti-capitalist CUP party, which props up Catalonia's government, said a time limit should be imposed on the suspension of independence if no substantive negotiations begin.

"The Catalan government will say they are the ones who want dialogue, to make the application of article 155 be seen as something restrictive and authoritarian," said Pablo Simon, a political expert from Madrid's Carlos III University.

Yesterday Mr Puigdemont urged Spain's government to enter "dialogue without conditions".

The European Union has so far refused to be dragged into the conflict. A senior EU official said the EU was treading carefully in an effort to avoid upsetting the legitimate government of a member state.

He added: "Could the UK imagine the EU mediating between London and Scotland? We trust the democracy of Spain." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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