CRISIS IN CATALONIA

Catalan leader will not appear before Senate, following flurry of agenda changes

Regional parliament speaker sets new time for debate and denies early reports about Puigdemont’s plans

The Spanish Senate Committee on Article 155.
The Spanish Senate Committee on Article 155.Samuel Sanchez

First it was a yes, then it was a no. Following midday reports that Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont would appear before the Spanish Senate on Thursday afternoon to argue against the application of emergency measures in his region, the speaker of the Catalan parliament told political groups that Puigdemont will not be attending after all.

At 4.30pm, the Catalan government confirmed the news, and said that Puigdemont will not travel to Madrid either Thursday or Friday, when the Senate is due to give final approval to the measures. “The (Spanish) government has already decided to apply 155,” said a Catalan government source to justify the absence.

Madrid and Barcelona are vying for control of time in this protracted crisis

Speaker Carme Forcadell has also announced a new start time for the session of parliament that will discuss Catalonia’s response to Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution: instead of 10am, it will begin at 4pm. The debate will stretch over two days, after which lawmakers will vote on a common response, said sources at the Catalan European Democratic Party (PDeCat), which governs the region as part of a coalition called Junts pel Si (Together for Yes).

Puigdemont had originally been scheduled to appear before a Senate committee in Madrid at 5pm, although this had not been officially confirmed. But his party has underscored that the “priority” for Puigdemont is the debate inside the Catalan parliament, not the Senate appearance.

Control of time

The flurry of coinciding debates and last-minute schedule switches illustrates how Madrid and Barcelona are vying for control of time in a protracted crisis that seems to reach a new climax every other day.

Last weekend, the nation watched anxiously as Rajoy made a public appearance to announce the measures that he would put to the Senate in order to “restore the law” in the breakaway region. On October 10, Puigdemont had made a widely followed appearance of his own in which he declared independence, then immediately placed it on hold, leaving many people scratching their heads. And in between those dates, Madrid issued two deadlines requesting clarification of Catalonia’s status, neither of which was clearly answered.

Catalan parliament speaker Carme Forcadell announced a change in the debate start time.
Catalan parliament speaker Carme Forcadell announced a change in the debate start time.Manu Fernandez / AP

The question marks do not end there. Pro-independence forces, which include PDeCat, the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) and the far-left CUP, are divided over the best way to deal with Article 155, which allows the central government to impose direct rule in a region where officials are in breach of the law.

The options range from declaring outright independence on Friday – following the symbolic declaration of October 10 – to calling early elections in the region within the framework of Spanish legislation.

The more radical CUP wants an independence declaration and the proclamation of a Catalan republic, and has vowed to oppose a regular election “because this is the nuclear weapon designed to end the Catalan independence process,” according to CUP deputy Carles Riera.

Some voices within Puigdemont’s more conservative PDeCat support an early election. If the Catalan leader agrees to this, it just might halt the application of emergency rules that will see Puigdemont and his entire team removed from office this coming weekend.

Then again, it might not. The Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) says that if Puigdemont calls early elections and refrains from declaring independence on Friday, this should be enough to halt Article 155 proceedings. But the Popular Party (PP) government wants more reassurances.

“Things cannot be fixed with a call for elections in Catalonia. This should be accompanied by Puigdemont specifying whether he already declared independence at the (October 10) session of parliament, and whether he respects the laws and the Constitution,” said Justice Minister Rafael Catalá.

Meanwhile, Catalan government sources confirmed that Puigdemont met on Wednesday with José Montilla, a former regional premier with the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC), who has stated in public that he desires “neither Article 155 nor a unilateral declaration of independence.”

So when, then?

In a further twist, sources at the Senate noted that the upper house’s approval of Article 155 on Friday will only “authorize” its use, but will not force the Spanish government to actually implement it. This opens up a whole new time frame for activating measures that would prove very hard to implement on the ground, as one high-ranking Spanish official has admitted.

The only binding deadline after Friday would be the need to organize new elections in Catalonia within six months. But this date could be extended further if the executive requests it.

English version by Susana Urra.

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