Madrid – Catalonia’s regional government must clarify whether it has formally declared independence, demanded Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy Wednesday, as he mulls whether Madrid needs to take stops to take over control of the autonomous region.
Rajoy’s demand relayed the position of the Spanish Council of Ministers, which met in emergency session to respond to the political crisis prompted by Catalonia’s aspirations for independence.
Rajoy’s statement was a response to Tuesday’s announcement by Catalonian President Carles Puigdemont of a suspension of the region’s independence declaration.
Call for dialogue
There had been speculation before Puigdemont spoke that he might unilaterally declare independence after overwhelming support for a break from Spain in a sparsely attended October 1 referendum. Catalonia’s push towards cutting ties with Spain – and Madrid’s response – has sparked a political crisis across the country.
Puigdemont on Tuesday called for dialogue as part of Catalonia’s path toward secession from Spain.
Puigdemont said the disputed referendum gave his government a mandate to turn Catalonia into “an independent state,” but the process should be frozen pending further talks.
On Wednesday, Rajoy criticized the Catalan leadership for creating “deliberate confusion” surrounding the independence declaration.
Rajoy is due to speak again in front of Spanish parliament in Madrid at 4 pm (1400 GMT) to offer further comments on the crisis and set out the measures to be taken.
Many in the international community are relieved that Catalonia refrained from a unilateral declaration of independence on Tuesday. Many thought Puigdemont would formally announce a secession bid.
Former Swedish prime minister and co-chair of the European Council on Foreign Relations, Carl Bildt, told dpa, “it’s good [that they didn’t declare independence], otherwise it would have been very messy very fast, and I think they recognize that … Let’s hope that there will be a reflection period and a dialogue period.”
“Respect for the Constitution”
The October 1 poll found 90 per cent of participants in favour of independence. Voter turnout was 42 per cent, in large part because most of those opposed to independence did not participate.
The vote took place despite being prohibited by Spain’s Constitutional Court and despite Madrid’s express condemnation. Rajoy’s government sent in police to disrupt voting on the day of the referendum, leading to hundreds of injuries and widespread public outcry.
Spain’s attention will now turn back to Barcelona to see whether Puigdemont will offer the clarification requested by Rajoy.
European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said the bloc is watching the matter.
“The commission is following closely the situation in Spain and reiterates its earlier call for full respect of the Spanish constitutional order.
“We are supporting the efforts to overcome division and fragmentation to ensure unity and respect for the Spanish constitution.”