Spain’s political crisis faces a watershed moment on Tuesday as the Catalan president prepares to reveal whether he will make a unilateral declaration of independence following this month’s pro-secession vote.
Carles Puigdemont was in talks with advisers ahead of what could be a decisive address to Catalonia’s parliament in Barcelona at 6pm Spanish time, his first since the October 1 referendum in which the vast majority of voters cast their ballots for independence.
A claim to independence by the Catalan president would prompt a fierce response from Madrid and escalate the constitutional and political crisis that has engulfed Spain since the referendum.
Mr Puigdemont has insisted that the vote cannot be ignored and that Catalonia has the right to independence. The government of Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish prime minister, says the ballot was illegal and invalid. He vowed to use all the powers at his disposal to defend the unity of Spain.
Attention will be focused on the exact words Mr Puigdemont uses. A full declaration of independence is expected to provoke Madrid to use emergency constitutional powers to remove regional politicians from office, take control of the local police and eventually call fresh local elections.
Spain’s ruling Popular party has warned that Mr Puigdemont could be jailed if he pushes ahead with a declaration.
Mr Puigdemont might take a more moderate approach. He is under pressure from some in his party to say that Catalonia had won the right to be independent, but that more time is needed for dialogue with Madrid and the EU.
Others say he should call fresh regional elections to try to win a stronger political mandate for independence.
Marta Pascal, who heads Mr Puigdemont’s party, told the BBC that there would be a symbolic recognition of the result of the referendum, but no unilateral declaration of a new state. Santi Vila, Catalonia’s regional chief for business, has called for a “ceasefire” with Madrid and more talks.
Hardliners, however, are pushing for Mr Puigdemont to make a quick break with Spain.
The leaders of the Catalan National Assembly, a powerful pro-independence civic group, insist the president will declare independence during Tuesday’s session. The CUP, a radical party that helps provide a pro-independence majority in the Catalan parliament, is also pushing for secession.
Many of them say that the movement has come too far to back down. Others say that a fierce reaction from Madrid following a declaration of independence will only strengthen their cause, particularly if the police start arresting officials.
The international reaction to a unilateral declaration of independence is set to be clearly against Catalonia.
France’s European affairs minister said on Monday that Paris would not recognise an independent Catalonia if it decided to split from Spain. “If there were to be a declaration of independence, it would be unilateral, and it would not be recognised,” she said.
Such a declaration could also spook companies and markets, which have already been worried by the prospect of independence for the region since the referendum.
A number of large groups, including Banco de Sabadell, CaixaBank and Abertis, have said they are moving their legal headquarters out of Catalonia due to the political uncertainty. Banks are concerned that they need to keep a legal base within the EU and the eurozone, a status that would be thrown into doubt if Catalonia were independent.