After the Catalan government declared independence earlier this week, only to suspend it moments later, the Spanish interior minister has warned that Madrid will have no choice but to take direct control of the region unless it clearly states its intentions.
On Tuesday, Catalan President Carles Puigdemont and other local leaders signed a symbolic declaration of independence, calling on “all states and international organizations to recognize the Catalan Republic as an independent and sovereign state.”
However, Catalan sovereignty appeared to be short-lived, as the declaration was suspended moments later to resume negotiations with the central government.
As Madrid says it cannot decide on any further action amid such ambiguity, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has given Puigdemont a deadline of Monday to clarify his position, or else his government will move to suspend Catalonia’s autonomous status.
“The answer must be without any ambiguity. He must say ‘yes’ or ‘no,’” Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido told Cope radio on Saturday.
“If he answers ambiguously, it means he doesn’t want dialogue and thus the Spanish government will have to take action.”
Zoido said that investment and tourism in Catalonia have both been dropping amid the recent political tensions, so a clear answer is needed soon for the sake of both the Spanish and Catalan economies. Catalonia is one of the richest regions of Spain, responsible for about one-fifth of the country’s GDP.
If Puigdemont declares independence, Spain is likely to take firm measures and invoke Article 155 of the constitution, allowing it to take direct control of a region that has broken away.
On the other hand, if the Catalan leader doesn’t confirm independence, he risks losing the support of the left-wing CUP party, which is propping up his minority government. On Friday, the CUP also asked Puigdemont to clarify his position and to push ahead for independence, along with other members of his coalition.
“We have an unequivocal and absolute commitment to fulfill the democratic mandate from October 1,” Reuters quoted coalition member Oriol Junqueras as saying.
In spite of a heavy presence of national police, which led to violence and nearly 900 injuries, over 2.2 million Catalans (roughly 43 percent of all eligible voters) still turned out to vote in the October 1 referendum on independence, which local officials claim led to a landslide (90 percent) vote in favor of splitting from Spain.
The ensuing few weeks have been characterized by protests and counter-protests, denouncements of police brutality, and a tense standoff between the Catalan government and Madrid, which considers the vote unconstitutional and void.