Tuesday 20 March 2018

Opposition offers support as direct rule in Catalonia moves step closer

Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy arrives at a European Union leaders summit in Brussels. Picture: Reuters
Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy arrives at a European Union leaders summit in Brussels. Picture: Reuters

Sonya Dowset

The Spanish government has secured opposition support for dissolving Catalonia's parliament and holding new elections there in January in its bid to defuse the regional government's push for independence.

The Socialists, the main opposition, said yesterday they would back special measures to impose central rule on the region to thwart the secessionist-minded Catalan government and end a crisis that has unsettled the euro and hurt confidence in the eurozone's fourth-largest economy.

Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who wants opposition support to be able to present a united front in the crisis, has called an emergency cabinet meeting today to pave the way for Madrid establishing central control in the region.

The government would not confirm whether January elections formed a part of the package, with Mr Rajoy saying only that the measures would be announced today.

However, a government spokesman saw regional elections as likely.

"The logical end to this process would be new elections established within the law," said government spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo at a weekly government press conference.

It will be the first time in Spain's four decades of democracy that Madrid has invoked the constitution to effectively sack a regional government and call new elections.

Madrid yesterday stressed the move was not about taking autonomy away from Catalonia but temporarily imposing direct rule until a government was elected that would act within the law.

Mr Rajoy wants as broad a consensus as soon as possible before taking the step, which has raised the prospect of more large-scale protests in Catalonia, where pro-independence groups have been able to bring more than one million people out onto the streets.

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, a former journalist who is spearheading the secession campaign, has refused to renounce independence, citing an overwhelming vote in favour of secession at a referendum on October 1.

Catalan authorities said around 90pc voted for independence though only 43pc of voters participated. Opponents of secession mostly stayed home. Spanish courts have ruled the referendum unconstitutional, but Mr Puigdemont says the result is binding and must be obeyed.

After Mr Rajoy announces the direct control measures, Spain's upper house will have to approve them in a session that could take place on Friday, a Senate spokeswoman said.

Actions could range from dismissing the Catalan parliament and government, to a softer approach of removing specific heads of department.

The uncertainty surrounding the future of the region has rattled the euro. European Union leaders this week offered their support for Mr Rajoy at an EU leaders summit in Brussels.

But the EU says it will not act as a mediator and the crisis is for Madrid and Barcelona to resolve.

Irish Independent

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