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Catalan separatists want to declare independence on Friday

Spanish parties divided over option of halting emergency measures if Puigdemont calls early election

Catalan regional premier Carles Puigdemont.
Catalan regional premier Carles Puigdemont. EL PAÍS

While the Catalan government has yet to openly define what it plans to do in response to the impending application of Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, which entails a suspension of home rule, recent guidelines issued to deputies suggest an upcoming declaration of independence and a call for citizen mobilization.

The governing Junts pel Si (Together for Yes) separatist coalition has given its deputies some recommendations for the territorial meetings taking place in the northeastern region ahead of Friday, when the Spanish Senate is due to approve emergency measures to take control of Catalonia’s affairs.

This is not a soufflé that will collapse

PSC leader Miquel Iceta

At one of these meetings, held in Barcelona on Tuesday, a Junts pel Si lawmaker named Antoni Castella stated that “on Friday we will declare independence.” According to the Catalan daily Nació Digital, the coalition wants to declare independence unilaterally “as a defensive path” ahead of the activation of Article 155, which entails removing the entire Catalan cabinet from power and calling new elections within the next six months.

Meanwhile, separatist lawmakers are relying on two support groups, Òmnium and ANC, to mobilize citizens who support their cause as a form of street pressure against the central government’s plans.

“In order to avoid [the application of Article 155], and also to make independence effective, we will have to resist, and we cannot do this alone. We need people by our side,” reads a document that was distributed among Junts pel Si deputies headed for meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy speaking in Congress on Wednesday.
Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy speaking in Congress on Wednesday. EFE

“Independence is not only fair, it is a necessity. It is the only way out left for Catalans to protect their institutions, the population and their fundamental rights,” adds the text.

If independence is declared, it will take place during the two-day debate that the Catalan parliament has planned for Thursday and Friday – coinciding with the Spanish Senate’s own plenary session of Friday to green-light the emergency measures announced last weekend by Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

At a session of Congress on Wednesday morning, Rajoy reiterated that the government’s goal is to restore the law in the region after the Catalan government placed itself outside of it.

“Because the law has been liquidated, there is no way out other than elections,” he said, alluding to his own plans to call an election in Catalonia within six months.

Digital brain

Oscar López-Fonseca, J.S. González

The CTTI Telecommunications and Information Technologies Center will be a key target if the Senate approves Madrid’s emergency measures to take over Catalonia’s internal affairs. The central government will deploy computer experts from the National Intelligence Center (CNI), Civil Guard officers and tax inspectors to this communications hub, in a bid to stop the separatist movement from creating a parallel online government.

This “digital brain” connects to 6,652 official buildings and handles work environments for around 165,000 Catalan government workers, including their email accounts. It also runs computer applications that service the electronic toll collection system on the Catalan highways. And it handles data from the 85,000 official telephone numbers – fixed and mobile – that the Catalan executive uses.

The move to intervene a region’s self-government is unprecedented in modern Spanish history, and it is unclear just how the central government will implement measures that include taking over key agencies such as the Catalan public broadcaster or the CTTI center – the hub that handles the Catalan government’s communications and IT services.

To complicate matters further, there is the possibility that regional premier Carles Puigdemont will heed calls from Madrid and from some Catalan politicians to call an election himself before being removed from office this weekend.

If that happens, the next move will be up to Madrid. But the forces that came together to draft the emergency measures – the governing Popular Party (PP), the Socialist Party (PSOE) and Ciudadanos – are divided over what that next step should be.

The Socialists feel that if Puigdemont calls a snap election and does not declare independence at the Catalan parliament this week, this should be enough to halt Article 155 proceedings. But the government wants more reassurances.

“Things cannot be fixed with a call for elections in Catalonia. This should be accompanied by Puigdemont specifying whether he already declared independence at the (October 10) session of parliament, and whether he respects the laws and the Constitution,” said Justice Minister Rafael Catalá.

Catalá added that Puigdemont “has had many opportunities” to go back on his secessionist plans, which included the controversial passage in September of two breakaway laws in violation of existing Spanish and Catalan legislation.

A national pact

Meanwhile, the leader of the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) has asked for a sweeping national pact on Catalonia in order to deal with the region’s issues in an effective, lasting manner.

“These are issues that for too long now have not been the subject of sensible negotiation,” said PSC leader Miquel Iceta.

Iceta would like to see Puigdemont go to the Spanish Senate – where he has been asked to speak either on Thursday or Friday – and offer “a political dialogue” that would come “five years too late.” He said he wants a real negotiation on a new financial system for Catalonia, increased recognition of Spain’s linguistic plurality, and better transportation infrastructure for the region.

The PSC leader is also skeptical about the long-term value of calling new Catalan elections as a way to resolve longstanding questions regarding the region’s relationship with Spain.

“They’re not a miracle. They might change a few things, but the problem will remain exactly the same,” he said. “This is not a soufflé that will collapse, or an inflammation that will be reduced: this is not a passing symptom.”

English version by Susana Urra.

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