Catalan crisis

Puigdemont pressures ally to support his bid to be sworn in from Brussels

ERC seeks legal advice on matter while Madrid says it will ask Constitutional Court to block move

Former Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont.
Former Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont.PAU BARRENA (AFP)

Catalonia’s two main pro-independence parties have hammered out part of the deal that could see them forming a new government in the region, but the question of who will become regional premier, or more precisely how, remains a sticking point in negotiations.

Representatives of PDeCAT, the party of former Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont, and the Republican Catalan Left (ERC) met on Tuesday in Brussels to draw up details of a plan that could see them control the new Catalan parliament.

The ERC now finds itself backed into a corner by an inflexible Puigdemont with the January 17 constituent session now less than a week away

The two parties jointly won 66 seats in the 135-seat regional chamber in a snap election called by Madrid for December 21 after the central government had used emergency powers under article 155 of the Spanish Constitution to dismiss the Catalan executive over its defiance of Constitutional Court rulings to unilaterally declare independence.

If the PDeCAT and the ERC can agree on a deal to share power – a deal that would also depend on the cooperation of the radical leftist CUP party, which is intent on a hardline approach to the independence issue – they will be in a position to control the regional parliament, even though the staunchly anti-independence party Ciudadanos was the most-voted party in the election.

On Tuesday in Brussels, Puigdemont and ERC secretary general Marta Rovira agreed on the terms for the parliament's Mesa (the permanent board of officers which includes the key speaker position), but talks stalled over the issue of the premiership.

Madrid says it will appeal to the Constitutional Court if pro-independence parties attempt a remote investiture

Puigdemont, whose Junts per Catalunya group picked up more seats than the ERC, is demanding to be remotely sworn in as the new premier, given that faces arrest on possible rebellion and sedition charges over his role in the recent Catalan independence push should he return to Spain.

This remote appointment could take place via video conference or by having someone speak on Puigdemont’s behalf in the regional parliament. But such a move is unprecedented and would require a change to Catalan parliamentary regulations. The ERC, for their part, have refused to discount the possibility of such a move, but have yet to approve it either. Instead, they are falling back on the need to get legal advice on the issue.

In a corner

The ERC now finds itself backed into a corner by an inflexible Puigdemont with the January 17 constituent session now less than a week away. The party feels it is being held responsible by its pro-independence ally for his reelection to the region’s top job, and so far its only defense is that its lawyers will have the final say.

On Monday, ERC deputy Roger Torrent stated that parliamentary lawyers were ultimately responsible for assessing the legality of an investiture via Skype. “There are technical and judicial aspects that it is not up to the ERC to evaluate. It is up to the lawyers to define how parliamentary laws are interpreted,” he said.

The ERC has insisted it still backs the former president’s bid for the premiership but has also stated it is unwilling to support changes to parliamentary procedures which are likely to end up being blocked by the Constitutional Court.

Madrid to appeal

The Spanish government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has said it will block any attempt to invest a Catalan premier where the candidate is not actually present in the regional parliament, regardless of whether the attempt involves video conferencing or a proxy speaking on behalf of Puigdemont.

Madrid says any moves by the ERC and PdeCAT to attempt to change parliamentary rules to allow either of the above options are not possible ,and that it will appeal to the Constitutional Court if it sees any sign of legal irregularities in the appointment of the new regional president.

But the government has ruled out the possibility of using emergency powers under Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution after earlier deeming that use of those powers to intervene in decisions of the regional chamber could be unconstitutional.

English version by George Mills.

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