The Spanish government crackdown on Catalan separatists has intensified this week, with a judge jailing two of the movements leaders and the country’s constitutional court officially declaring the region’s Oct. 1 referendum to be illegal. However, after confusing the Spanish government with his independence (non) declaration, regional leader Carles Puigdemont is refusing to back down ahead of tomorrow's second, and final, Spanish ultimatum.
According to Reuters, Puigdemont told a meeting of his party on Wednesday he would formally declare independence Thursday morning if Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy follows through with his threat to invoke the so-called "nuclear option" of Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, and suspend Catalonia’s regional autonomy - a decision that would likely lead to the arrest of Puigdemont and his government, followed by another violent crackdown on separatists.
Madrid has set a second and final deadline of 10 am local time Thursday for the Catalonian government to recant and officially revoke its symbolic declaration of independence, which Puigdemont suspended last week while hoping to negotiate with the Spanish government, Reuters reported.
Puigdemont has urged the European Union to mediate between Barcelona and Madrid, but EU member states have so far been reluctant to intervene, while Madrid has refused to even engage in any diplomatic contact. In what some interpreted as an attempt to stall until international concern intensified, Puigdemont delivered a confusing speech in which he neglected to clearly explain his government’s planned course of action, and also refused to clarify whether his government had in fact declared independence, a strategy he employed again on Monday when Barcelona blew through Madrid’s original deadline for withdrawing its independence bid.
As the standoff enters its third, and perhaps final week, many believe the tensions have already had a negative impact on the Spanish economy. On Monday, Spain cut its economic forecast for 2018 as the costs of the Catalan crisis began to mount. And Spain’s threats to (peacefullly or otherwise) suspend home rule has sent Spanish spreads a little wider as investors brace for a disruptive Thursday morning confrontation, as short-term yields on Catalan on Spanish debt ticked higher.
If Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy moves to apply direct rule on Thursday, it would take between three and five days for regional autonomy to be effectively suspended. If that happens, expect a replay of the violent scenes that marred the region’s independence referendum, which inspired nearly 90% of the more than 2 million Catalans who successfully voted to choose independence.
Indeed, in a preview of what may happen next, Mike Krieger wrote overnight the following:
If you think you’ve seen enough, brace yourselves because it may get far more chaotic in the days ahead. If Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy goes through with his threat to invoke Article 155 on Thursday should Catalonia refuse to clarify its position on independence (it won’t), it’ll be the equivalent of a political nuclear bomb going off in Europe.
Should the Spanish government activate Article 155, it’ll mark the culmination of a perfectly played independence movement by the Catalans. This isn’t to say that the road to independence, or more autonomy, will be smooth or easy from that point forward, but it will create a sense of increased solidarity amongst the Catalan people that wasn’t as widespread before October 1st. Many of those who opposed independence before, or were on the fence, will come around to standing with their friends and neighbors in the face of unacceptable aggression from Madrid. The road may be a long one, but invoking Article 155 will mark the beginning of the end for Madrid.