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Madrid ready to act if Catalonia takes final step toward referendum

PM Mariano Rajoy will call an emergency Cabinet meeting this weekend to prepare an appeal

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Mariano Rajoy and Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo have discussed several referendum scenarios.

The Spanish government plans to hold an extraordinary Cabinet meeting this weekend if Catalan authorities finally pass legislation on Friday sanctioning the celebration of a referendum on self-rule.

Although Catalan nationalists have stated for months that the vote will be held on November 9, the regional parliament still needs to formally approve a bill drafted specifically for this purpose. After that, Catalan premier Artur Mas may officially announce the referendum date.

Madrid has repeatedly warned that it will appeal this law in the Constitutional Court as soon as it is passed, on the grounds that regions cannot unilaterally hold popular referendums, as per article 92 of the Spanish Constitution.

ERC wants to see the vote take place regardless of what Madrid or the courts may say

If the Catalan bill gets fast-track passage this Friday or Saturday, Madrid will convene its Cabinet on Saturday or Sunday to put the finishing touches to an appeal whose main text has already been drafted, government sources said. This document would be sent to the State Council for review and be filed with the Constitutional Court as early as next Tuesday.

The center-right government of Mariano Rajoy, of the Popular Party (PP), wants to send out a clear message — not just to Spain but also abroad — that it is in control of the situation and will act swiftly and decisively against any attempts to break the law, and ultimately to break up the country.

As the prime minister has often said, he wants to show the world that Spain is “a serious country” that takes respect for the law seriously.

But the reality is that few people know when Mas will make his next move in this ongoing political tug-of-war. Despite his repeated assurances that the vote will be held, this week the leader of the CiU bloc suggested the possibility of calling early elections in the region if the referendum is ultimately canceled due to a lack of “full democratic guarantees,” an apparent reference to the Constitutional Court’s eventual ruling.

Madrid has warned many times that it will appeal this law in the Constitutional Court

Mas also turned down an offer of political support from ERC (Catalan Republican Left), a small but influential Catalan party that is a very active independence campaigner and wants to see the vote take place regardless of what Madrid or the courts may say.

The central government is convinced that Mas will not take the ballot boxes out in the end, although pressure from ERC is strong. Further complicating matters is a tax fraud scandal involving Jordi Pujol, the founder of Convergència (one half of the ruling CiU bloc) and considered the father of modern Catalan nationalism. Artur Mas has described Pujol, who ruled the region for 23 years, as “my political father.” Now ERC is threatening to push for an investigative committee in the Catalan parliament to delve deeper into all the ramifications of the Pujol case.

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