Carles Puigdemont, Catalonia’s president, arrives to speak at the Catalan parliament in Barcelona, Spain. (Photographer: Angel Garcia/Bloomberg)

Chaos in Catalonia as Separatist Leader Runs Into a Dead End

(Bloomberg) -- Catalan separatists rebelled against their leader’s plan to draw back from declaring independence as Spanish authorities finalize plans to oust his insurgent administration.

After a day of confusion in Barcelona, President Carles Puigdemont said in a televised address that he had considered calling regional elections, but he didn’t get the concessions he sought from officials in Madrid. He said it’s now up to the Catalan parliament to decide what to do next.

Chaos in Catalonia as Separatist Leader Runs Into a Dead End

Regional lawmakers began a plenary session at around 6 p.m. to debate their response as Spanish senators push ahead with legislation to hand Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy wide-ranging powers to remove the Catalan leadership under Article 155 of the constitution. As Puigdemont held out for a conciliatory gesture from Madrid that never came, two lawmakers quit his party in frustration that he was climbing down and demonstrators gathered outside his office shouting "traitor." 

"I tried to get the guarantees to carry out these elections, but didn’t get a responsible answer,” Puigdemont said. “It’s up to the parliament to move ahead with what the majority decides in relation to the consequences of the application of Article 155 against Catalonia.”

Barcelona is on a knife edge during a critical 48 hours for the biggest constitutional crisis the country has seen since an attempted coup in 1981. An election would have marked a capitulation by the separatist leadership after weeks brinkmanship that left Puigdemont facing a make-or-break decision that could either ease tensions or see him unilaterally declare Catalonia a sovereign republic.

"Events have slipped from his control," said Angel Talavera, an analyst at Oxford Economics in London. "Today has been farcical."


Spanish shares rallied, with the IBEX Index rising 1.9 percent, though it was up as much as 2.7 percent earlier in the day on reports the separatists would capitulate. The spread between Spain’s 10-year government bonds and German bunds narrowed by 4 basis points to 112 basis points.

In a speech to during the senate debate on Article 155, Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Soraya said the simple truth is that the Catalans have no support.

"They have not brought the promised land and they have not found any recognition from any corner of the earth,” she said. “They don’t have the support of any serious country nor the comprehension of the European Union.”

Election Plan

Rajoy has sought to maintain political air cover for his hard line approach as the opposition Socialist Party balked at backing the Catalans into a corner.

The Socialists floated the idea that a snap regional election in Catalonia would be enough to stop Article 155 from being implemented. Barcelona-based newspaper La Vanguardia reported that Rajoy has accepted an amendment that would see Article 155 being suspended should a vote be called by Puigdemont.

Catalan pro-independence parties have clashed with Spain regularly, though not to this extent. In 2014, former President Artur Mas called a consultation vote before moving to a regional election. He lost his job.

Elections this time might not be enough to appease the 2 million or so supporters the independence campaign now claims to have.

The main activist group ratcheted up expectations of a dramatic statement on Friday. The Catalan National Assembly has called its members to surround the regional parliament from noon, a human shield against Rajoy’s authorities.

Puigdemont may be running out of options to bring them back onside. 

"It’s such a fragile coalition and it only works as long as he is pushing forwards," said Talavera, the analyst. "If he takes any step back, they eat him alive.”

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.