The ultimatum comes after yesterday’s unilateral independence declaration by Catalan president Carles Puigdemont.
In his address to parliament on Tuesday Puigdemont said that “Catalonia has won the right to be an independent state” (Catalunya s’ha guanyat el dret a ser un estat independent). However, minutes later he asked parliament to suspend the declaration of independence, pending negotiations with Madrid.
The ambiguity of Puigdemont’s statement was complicated by the fact that on the same evening he signed a written independence declaration drawn up by members of his government coalition.
Mariano Rajoy today sent an official request to Puigdemont, demanding that he clarify whether the Catalan government has proclaimed independence. “If Puigdemont respects the law we will put an end to a period of illegality and uncertainty,” Rajoy said.
Rajoy consulted the leadership of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (Partido Socialista Obrero Español, PSOE) and Ciudadanos (Citizens), the two largest anti-independence parties in the Catalan parliament. The 2015 Catalan elections saw an almost even split between pro-independence and pro-unionism parties.
In case of an independence declaration on the part of the Catalan government, Rajoy and pro-unionism parties have agreed to invoke Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution.
Article 155 stipulates that if “an autonomous community does not fulfill the obligations that the Constitution or other laws prescribe” the Spanish central government can “adopt all necessary measures required to compel it to the forcible fulfillment of said obligations or to the protection of the aforementioned general interest.”
The Spanish government cannot unilaterally activate Article 155 but needs a vote by absolute majority in the Senate. Article 155 is known as the “nuclear option” and has never been invoked before.
According to Rajoy’s ultimatum, Puigdemont must declare by Monday 16 at 10 a.m. whether he or other institutions have declared Catalonia’s independence. If that is the case, the Spanish government gives the Catalan regional authorities time until Thursday 19 at 10 a.m. to restore constitutional order. If Puigdemont fails to comply, Rajoy’s message warns that the central government will immediately activate Article 155.
The text sent to the Catalan government by Madrid characterizes Puigdemont’s October 10 speech as “deliberately confused” and says that “any reply other than a simple affirmative or negative answer will be considered a confirmation [that independence has been declared].”
If Puigdemont does not reply to the government’s request, Rajoy will send to the Senate a plan detailing the powers that he intends to take over from the Catalan authorities. The plan was agreed upon by the PSOE, which has denounced Puigdemont’s unconstitutional actions for causing a situation of “absolute ungovernability” in Catalonia.
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