Spain’s parties struggle to find a common stance against Catalonia challenge

Parliamentary groups have different views on how to deal with a unilateral declaration of independence

Pedro Sánchez (l) and Mariano Rajoy at La Moncloa on Monday.
Pedro Sánchez (l) and Mariano Rajoy at La Moncloa on Monday.Luca Piergiovanni (EFE)
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Spain’s governing Popular Party (PP), the Socialist Party (PSOE) and center-right group Ciudadanos managed to stay united until October 1, presenting a common front against an independence referendum in Catalonia that had been ruled unconstitutional by the courts.

But there is no guarantee that this unity will survive beyond that date. This much has become evident following Monday meetings between Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and the leaders of both opposition parties.

If anybody has a proposal, let them say so now, because there’s 72 hours left before the Catalan government declares independence

Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera

What emerged from the meetings is that Spain’s pro-Constitution parties have no common solution for addressing the next steps that will predictably be taken by Catalonia’s separatist government, which has announced a unilateral declaration of independence in the coming days.

Meanwhile, the anti-establishment Podemos is defending a legal referendum for the region and is openly hostile to Rajoy, making an agreement unlikely.

PSOE: let’s talk

At their meeting, Socialist secretary general Pedro Sánchez asked Rajoy to open up an “immediate” political negotiation with Catalan authorities, and also to initiate talks with all of Spain’s parliamentary forces – including Podemos – to find a way out of the Catalan crisis.

“The secretary general of the Socialists has told Rajoy to re-establish contact and open up immediate negotiations with the head of the Generalitat [Carles Puigdemont] to establish a dialogue that is more necessary than ever today,” said the statement.

But constructive talks between the PP and Unidos Podemos, Spain’s third-largest presence in Congress, are unlikely. The latter has been highly critical of the conservative government’s handling of the secessionist challenge, and its leader Pablo Iglesias has asked Sánchez to work with Podemos instead to create a government of change that will push Rajoy out of office.

Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera after his meeting with Mariano Rajoy on Monday.
Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera after his meeting with Mariano Rajoy on Monday.Luca Piergiovanni (EFE)

Meanwhile, reform party Ciudadanos – which began life as a Catalan anti-independence party before making the jump to national politics and becoming the fourth-most-voted force in Spain – is asking Rajoy to invoke Section 155, a provision of the Spanish Constitution that could theoretically suspend home rule in Catalonia by “forcing” the region to comply with constitutional law.

“If anybody has a proposal, let them say so now, because there’s 72 hours left before [the Catalan government] declare independence, and that’s something that cannot be stopped with a registered fax from the Constitutional Court,” said Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera, alluding to the fact that most action against the referendum has so far been left in the hands of the judiciary.

Rajoy: let’s wait

The Spanish PM does not want to make any moves before knowing what Catalonia’s Puigdemont and his partners will do first. He did not tell Sánchez or Rivera about his plans, although he did concede to the latter that all options are on the table, including the possibility of invoking 155.

Rajoy wants to appear before Congress to explain what he intends to do to uphold the rule of law in Spain, something that is not likely to happen before next week.

Mafia-like behavior

On Tuesday, Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido held an emergency meeting with the heads of the National Police and Civil Guard to analyze possible measures against “the intolerable harassment” suffered by law enforcement officers at the hands of secessionist activists in Catalonia.

The government is investigating reports that hotels in several locations were pressured by local authorities into throwing out law enforcement members who were staying at their establishments, or face closure.

“This is mafia-like behavior, and we will not tolerate mafia-like behavior from town halls in Catalonia,” said Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría on Tuesday.

English version by Susana Urra.

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