Pro-independence Catalans began to
gather on the streets of Barcelona Tuesday ahead of a hotly anticipated
speech by the region’s leader on the status of the restive province.
Carles Puigdemont, the President of
Catalonia, is under intense pressure to back down from plans to declare
independence from Spain following a disputed referendum.
Puigdemont is due to address a specially convened session of the region’s parliament that begins at t 12pm ET.
The Parc de la Ciutadella, which houses
the Catalan parliament building, was sealed off to the public for safety
reasons, with the Catalan police Mossos guarding the entrances and
exits. National police and the Guardia Civil kept a low profile, according to CNN reporters.
Officers of Catalonia’s regional police force stand guard outside the Parliament of Catalonia. European Council President Donald Tusk
urged Puigdemont to back down. “The force of arguments is always better
than the argument of force,” he said in Brussels.
“Today I ask you to respect in your
attentions the constitutional order and not announce a decision that
would make such a conversation impossible,” he said. “Diversity should
not lead to conflict whose consequences would be bad for Catalonia,
Spain and the whole of Europe.”
Mayor of Barcelona Ada Colau, an
influential figure who has been critical of both sides, called for
de-escalation. She urged Puigdemont not to make a unilateral declaration
of independence, and also called on the government of Prime Minister
Mariano Rajoy not to impose direct rule from Madrid. “Now is the time
for dialogue,” she said in address from in Barcelona.
Barcelona mayor Ada Colau delivers a speech at the City Council in Barcelona. Colau said Spain was experiencing its
“worst institutional crisis since democracy began” and said Spain’s
political elected representatives should “find a solution that is
inclusive and up to standards we have been living.”
Neighboring France said Monday it would
not recognize an independent Catalonia — and independence would result
in automatic expulsion from the European Union.
However thousands of supporters of
independence are expected to show up at the parliament in Barcelona to
show support for the plan, and to call on Puigdemont to honor his
commitments to the separatist movement.
The political uncertainty began with a
divisive and controversial referendum on October 1 that found a majority
of Catalan voters in favor of independence for the wealthy,
northeastern region of Spain.
Madrid declared the referendum illegal
and Spanish police tried to shut the vote down by firing rubber bullets
and pulling voters from polling booths in scenes that shocked many
Catalonia:We want to talk, ‘nobody’ listening 08:36
Catalonia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs,
Raul Romeva Rueda, told CNN’s Nima Elbagir that the Catalan side has
long wanted to negotiate a fair bargain with the Spanish state.
“What we have always demanded is a
political dialogue. The opportunity to (practice) democracy, to allow
everybody to express themselves … We want to talk, we need to negotiate.
The problem is nobody’s listening from the Spanish state side.”
He said that the Catalan government has invited international mediation and called for dialogue. “We say, ‘we are ready, we want to go to
the negotiating table. We are ready to start talks’ … If (the central
government has) an offer to make we are very much keen to listen to
PM: ‘Spain will not be divided’
Prime Minister Rajoy is determined to prevent a breakaway by the northeastern province in the wake of the October 1 vote.
“Spain will not be divided, and the
national unity will be preserved. To this end we will employ all the
means we have within the law. It is up to the government to make
decisions, and to do so at the right moment,” Rajoy said in an interview
with German newspaper Die Welt on Monday.
Catalan authorities said 90% of voters
chose independence from Madrid, but the result was not as decisive as it
appeared — turnout was only 43%.What’s at stake?
The stakes are high for both Spain and Europe if Catalonia chooses to break away.
Catalonia accounts for nearly a fifth of
Spain’s economy, and leads all regions in producing 25% of the
country’s exports, CNNMoney reports. It contributes much more in taxes
(21% of the country’s total) than it gets back from the central
The prospect of an independent Catalonia
has already prompted two major banks and some other businesses to move
their registered headquarters to other parts of Spain.
There is more at stake for Madrid than
losing wealth. The country has 17 regions with varying degrees of
autonomy, and losing one may inspire others to begin, or revive,
separatist movements. But there are many other unanswered questions, including continued membership in the European Union.
If forced to apply independently for EU
membership, Catalonia would have to convince all of the bloc’s current
members, including Spain, to agree.
And if Catalonia became an independent
state, it would not automatically be a World Trade Organization member,
so would likely face stiff trade barriers that would hurt its economy.