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Catalan leader defends claim to independence, defying Spain

Catalan leader defends claim to independence, defying Spain

3 min. 16.10.2017 From our online archive
In a letter to Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Catalan President Carles Puigdemont said his focus for the next two months will be dialogue and called for a face-to-face meeting as soon as possible.

(Bloomberg) Catalonia’s President Carles Puigdemont defended the region’s claim to independence, a move that may see the Spanish government move ahead with the process of suspending self-rule within days.

In a letter to Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Puigdemont said his focus for the next two months will be dialogue and called for a face-to-face meeting as soon as possible, insisting the illegal referendum on Oct. 1 gives his government a mandate to found a new republic. 

The reply was not the clear yes or no that Rajoy had demanded by 10 a.m. on Monday as he sought clarification on whether Puigdemont had in fact declared independence in a speech to the Catalan parliament last week.

"More than two million Catalans gave the regional parliament a democratic mandate to declare independence," Puigdemont said in his letter. "Our proposal for dialogue is sincere, despite all that has happened, but logically it is incompatible with the actual climate of growing repression and threat."

Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria is due to make a statement at about 10:30am Madrid time. Justice Minister Rafael Catala told Efe newswire that he doesn’t consider the Catalan response is acceptable.

Spanish stocks fell, with the benchmark Ibex losing 0.3 percent at 10:11 a.m. in Madrid. The spread between Spain’s 10-year government bonds and similarly dated German bunds was little changed at 120 basis points.

Catalonia’s push for independence marks the biggest challenge to Spain’s political order since its restive regions were granted autonomy after the death of Francisco Franco in 1975.

Madrid -- backed by the European Commission -- refuses to contemplate secession by its biggest regional economy, accounting for a fifth of national output, and has ruled out any negotiations until Puigdemont accepts the authority of the Spanish courts.

Still, the Catalans’ repeated appeals for support, and the ugly scenes as Spanish police cracked down on the Oct. 1 vote, have strained the European Union support for Rajoy. 

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, who faces his own separatist movement in the richer, northern region of Flanders, said in an interview published Saturday in Le Soir that the EU may have to consider stepping in to mediate if talks between Madrid and Barcelona fail.

"Only if dialogue has been definitively shown to fail should we consider international or European mediation," Michel said.

Such a development would be anathema to Rajoy, who is due to meet his EU colleagues including Michel at a summit in Brussels starting Thursday.

"This Is Enough"

Rajoy has so far resisted demands to use Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution to take direct control of the Catalan administration and sideline Puigdemont and his team. Last week though, he said he’s prepared to take that unprecedented step unless Puigdemont backs down.

The written warning issued to Puigdemont is one of the preliminary steps the Constitution requires before a regional government can be suspended. 

Under the time frame Rajoy set out, the Catalan government has another three days to rectify its position before authorities in Madrid take their next step. If Rajoy does take direct control of Catalonia, he will eventually have to call regional elections to facilitate a return to normality.

"This is enough for Rajoy to justify applying Article 155," said Antonio Barroso, a political-risk analyst at Teneo Intelligence in London. "When he does we can expect a high degree of mobilization on the streets as the independence movement tries to claim that the central government is moving ahead in a repressive way and resisting dialogue."

Hardliners within the separatist campaign have drawn up plans to picket major economic infrastructure like the main airport and the port if Madrid moves to take direct control. They have also considered targeting foreign companies operating in the region in a bid to force other EU leaders such as Germany’s Angela Merkel to step in and help break the impasse.

Saenz de Santamaria on Friday said the uncertainty in Catalonia is starting to affect the region’s economy and the government may have to review its 2018 estimate for economic growth if the crisis isn’t resolved soon. 

At least 531 companies have transferred their legal bases out of Catalonia to other parts of Spain since the regional government held a referendum on Oct. 1, El Mundo reported, citing data from Spain’s College of Registrars.