Thursday 18 January 2018

Catalan move raises EU fears of more splits

Catalan president Carles Puigdemont casts his vote for independence from Spain . Photo: David Ramos/Getty Images.
Catalan president Carles Puigdemont casts his vote for independence from Spain . Photo: David Ramos/Getty Images.

James Rothwell and James Badcock Barcelona

The EU's most senior official warned last night against "more cracks" emerging in the bloc after the Catalan parliament declared independence from Spain, plunging the country into political and economic turmoil.

Madrid responded to the vote by dissolving the Catalan parliament and dismissing Carles Puigdemont as president of Catalonia, and his entire government.

Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish prime minister, announced that regional elections would be held in December and said the unprecedented act of imposing direct rule on the region was needed to "recover normality".

The national police may be deployed to ensure Catalonia is kept under Madrid's control.

Catalan independence supporters hold a rally in front of the Generalitat de Catalunya after the Catalan parliament voted to declare independence. Photo: Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
Catalan independence supporters hold a rally in front of the Generalitat de Catalunya after the Catalan parliament voted to declare independence. Photo: Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

"[The EU] doesn't need any more cracks, more splits... we shouldn't insert ourselves into what is an internal debate for Spain, but I wouldn't want the European Union to consist of 95 member states in the future," said Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president.

The crisis marks the first time that a region within an EU member state has tried to break away, though movements demanding greater independence exist in several countries.

Thousands of pro-independence activists clapped and cheered in the streets of Barcelona as the votes were counted, before breaking into a spontaneous rendition of Catalonia's regional anthem.

Many drank from bottles of cava, the sparkling wine produced in Catalonia, as they waved the region's red and yellow flag and hugged each other.

But in Madrid, the senate reacted by granting sweeping powers to Mr Rajoy, which will allow him to impose direct rule over the rogue region.

"Spain is a serious country, a great nation, and we are not going to watch while a few individuals try to liquidate our constitution," Mr Rajoy said shortly after the vote in Barcelona, as he appealed for calm and pledged to restore "legal order" in Catalonia.

"I have dissolved the parliament of Catalonia and on December 21 there will be elections in that region," he said.

"I have decided to call those free, fair and legal elections to restore democracy. We never wanted to reach this situation."

The beleaguered prime minister held a crisis cabinet meeting yesterday evening, as the US, France and Germany reiterated their support for a united Spain.

British Prime Minister Theresa May also rejected the independence vote and said it was crucial that unity in Spain was upheld. "The UK does not and will not recognise the unilateral declaration of independence made by the Catalan regional parliament. It is based on a vote that was declared illegal by the Spanish courts," she said.

"We continue to want to see the rule of law upheld, the Spanish Constitution respected, and Spanish unity preserved."

Donald Tusk, the European Council president, said Madrid "remains our only interlocutor" following the independence vote.

"I hope the Spanish government favours force of argument, not argument of force," he said.

A senior Spanish official said the justice ministry was now pursuing rebellion charges against those responsible for the vote, including Mr Puigdemont.

Under Spanish law, rebellion can be punished with up to 30 years in prison, with shorter penalties if the act of rebellion does not result in violence.

The Catalan resolution, which Madrid has dismissed as illegal, was passed by 70 votes to 10 and caused shares in Spanish companies, particularly Catalan banks, to drop sharply. (© Daily Telegraph London)

Irish Independent

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