The Spanish government has declared an ultimatum: Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont has until 10:00 am Thursday morning to clarify his intentions.
“It’s not a hard question we have asked, it’s not a hard question to respond to,” complained Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría after Madrid pushed Puigdemont’s deadline from Monday to Thursday.
The Spanish government condemned Catalonia’s vote on independence before it even occurred, ruling it illegal and unleashing thousands of police to keep people from voting. Despite their best efforts, the vote took place and 90% of voters chose independence.
In an uncharacteristic announcement, King Felipe VI called the referendum “totally outside law and democracy” and accused the separatists of trying to fracture Spain. “They have infringed the system of legally approved rules with their decisions, showing an unacceptable disloyalty towards the power of the state.”
Puigdemont insists the vote is valid and has stated that he has been handed a clear mandate to move towards independence. Despite signing a Catalan declaration of independence, Puigdemont postponed the official declaration to give Madrid the opportunity to negotiate.
“For the next two months, our main objective is to bring you to dialogue,” wrote Puigdemont in a letter to the central government. “Let’s not let the situation deteriorate further. With good will, recognizing the problem and facing it head on, I am sure we can find the path to a solution.”
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has shut down all of Puigdemont’s attempts to negotiate, instead threatening to use the “nuclear option” to bring Catalan to heel.
As I wrote in a previous article, Rajoy could use Article 155 to take full control of Catalonia if the impasse persists. Rajoy says he is ready to do this if Puigdemont does not make his position clear by the deadline on Thursday.
Invoking Article 155 would give Rajoy the power to sack regional the government and replace Catalan police with other Spanish cops.
“While it is difficult to predict the exact contours of its implementation, we foresee that in due time a new regional election will be called in an attempt to restore the normal institutional setup,” says JPMorgan economist Marco Protopapa.
Meanwhile, the push for independence has weakened somewhat after a handful of key Catalan businesses threatened to relocate out of the region. Catalonia’s two largest banks have already moved their headquarters out of the region.
The future of Catalonia – and Spain – rests solely on the shoulders of Carles Puigdemont, who is facing pressure from the central government and the EU on one side and from his separatist allies on the other.
Author’s Note: It is my prediction that Puigdemont will follow in the footsteps of Brexit and Kurdistan and declare independence.
But Spain cannot recover from the financial crisis without Catalonia, therefore Rajoy will be forced to use the “nuclear option” to restore order – marking the first time in history Spain has used Article 155.
Considering the fact that less than 50% of Catalonia’s 5.3 million voters participated in the referendum, I believe Rajoy will call for new regional elections and that they will be successful in restoring order in Catalonia.