Spain’s government defiantly rejected on Thursday (5 October) calls for mediation from the Catalan government over its push for independence, as the two factions headed towards another showdown.
In the last hours, pressure is growing from the EU to restart the broken dialogue between Madrid and Barcelona. The Generalitat, Catalonia’s regional government, wants a mediator at least to restore the situation and pave the way for a political dialogue between the two sides.
“The government will not negotiate over anything illegal and will not accept blackmail,” said a statement from Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s office.
“Negotiation in democracy only has one way, the way of the law.”
Meanwhile, Catalan leaders said they could unilaterally declare independence as early as Monday.
The tone of the crisis sharpened with Catalonia’s president denouncing the king’s intervention and the central government rejecting any possible talks.
The dispute is Spain’s worst political crisis in decades and images of police beating unarmed Catalans taking part in Sunday’s banned independence vote have sparked global concern.
In a televised speech on Wednesday evening, Catalonia’s president Carles Puigdemont called the central government’s policies “disastrous” as the region’s leaders pushed on with its bid to break away from Spain, angering Madrid and raising the risk of further unrest.
“Political risk is back on the agenda in Europe,” NFS Macro analyst Nick Stamenkovic told AFP.
The political turmoil provoked sharp declines in Spain’s stock market, affecting especially Catalan banks. Sabadell, one of the financial institutions, was expected to decide later on Thursday whether it moves its headquarters outside Catalonia.
After meetings in the regional parliament on Wednesday, pro-independence lawmakers called a full session next Monday to debate the final results of the vote.
“According to how the session goes, independence could be declared,” a regional government source told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Mireia Boya of the radical leftwing separatist CUP said it would be “a plenary to proclaim the republic” of independent Catalonia.
King Felipe VI on Tuesday branded the independence drive illegal and undemocratic, throwing his weight behind the national government. Accusing Catalan leaders of “disloyalty”, the king said the state had to “ensure constitutional order”.
“Their irresponsible conduct could put at risk the economic and social stability of Catalonia and all of Spain”, he said.
Puigdemont angrily rejected this in his address: “The king has adopted the (national) government’s position and policies which have been disastrous with regard to Catalonia. He is deliberately ignoring millions of Catalans.”
A declaration of independence would significantly worsen the situation. Madrid could suspend the semi-autonomous status that Catalonia currently enjoys under Spain’s system of regional governments.
That would further enrage Catalan protesters, who took to the streets after the referendum held on 1 October, considered illegal by Spain’s Constitution.
The European Commission and MEPs urged both sides to move from confrontation to dialogue. Commission ViceVice-President Frans Timmermans said on Wednesday it was “time to talk, finding a way out of the impasse, working within the constitutional order of Spain”.
For the Catalan government, a breakthrough could come only if a mediator helps in building trust again between the two sides.
But the central government statement late Wednesday said there could be no mediation unless Puigdemont backs down.
Adding to tensions, the courts on Wednesday placed Catalonia’s regional police chief Josep Lluis Trapero and three other suspects under investigation for an alleged “crime of sedition”.
The force has been accused of failing to rein in pro-independence protesters during disturbances in Barcelona last month and of not impeding the referendum vote last Sunday.
The Generalitat said 42 percent of the electorate had voted on Sunday, with 90 percent of those backing independence. But polls indicate Catalans are split on the issue.
The vote was held without regular electoral lists or observers.