Pressure Mounts On Catalan Leader Carles Puigdemont

Speaking before the Catalan Parliament on October 10, Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont briefly appeared to declare independence from Spain.

“I assume the mandate of the people for Catalonia to become an independent state in the shape of a republic,” he said, before quickly adding that he and his government would “ask Parliament to suspend the effects of the declaration of independence so that in the coming weeks we can undertake a dialogue.”

However, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy seems to have ruled out negotiation on the issue. Spain has given Puigdemont’s administration until Thursday to either withdraw the declaration or face the prospect of direct rule from Madrid. Pressure is mounting on the Catalan leader as the deadline rapidly approaches with little word from his government.

The current tensions stem from Catalonia’s independence referendum on October 1, which The Constitutional Court of Spain had previously suspended. Reuters reported more than 840 injured as federal police attempted stop the referendum—forcibly entering polling stations and confiscating voting materials. According to the Government of Catalonia, 92 percent voted in favor of independence, but turnout was just 43 percent, further throwing the referendum’s legitimacy into question.

In response to the Spanish government’s action, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called for an impartial investigation into the violence. Zeid stressed in a statement that the situation should be solved through political dialogue. This has so far proven to be elusive.

Puigdemont’s ambiguous position has satisfied neither Madrid nor the committed separatists in the Catalan Parliament. He is walking on a political tightrope for this reason: declare independence outright, and Spain will impose direct rule; seek negotiation without taking steps towards secession, and alienate key coalition partners. In a move that further squeezes the Catalan leader, the EU has made clear that should Catalonia declare independence, it would no longer be a member of the union.

After meeting with his cabinet last Wednesday, Rajoy accused Puigdemont of creating “deliberate confusion”, arguing that his deadline to the Catalonian Administration would restore “certainty”.

“This call—ahead of any of the measures that the government may adopt under Article 155 of our constitution—seeks to offer citizens the clarity and security that a question of such importance requires,” he said.

Article 155 of the Spanish constitution allows the government, with senate approval, to impose central government control over regional administrations, and Rajoy’s People’s Party has a majority in the senate. Given the injuries sustained during the referendum, such a takeover would likely lead to violence, and further alienate pro-autonomy Catalans.

There remains, however, a chance for dialogue. Pedro Sanchez, leader of the opposition Socialist Party, told media that the government agreed to consider constitutional reform as a potential solution to the crisis. He stressed that this would concentrate on “how Catalonia remains in Spain, and not how it leaves.” It remains unclear if either side will be willing to back down. For Catalonia and Spain, the next days and weeks will be uncertain and potentially dangerous.