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Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish Prime Minister has spoken before parliament in response to Catalan President Carles Puigdemont’s declaration from yesterday, in which he issued Catalonia’s intention to declare itself an independent republic, but only after a period of dialogue with Madrid and other intentional partners.
Today, Rajoy admitted his own confusion as to the meaning of Carles Puigdemont’s statement, while demanding clarification form Catalonia about its position.
Rajoy then offered his much repeated remarks stating that the 1st October referendum in Catalonia violates Madrid’s constitution. He maintained the position that the referendum was illegal and that there will be no dialogue with Madrid about a referendum whose basis for independence Rajoy referred to as a “fairytale and myth”.
He then spoke of his support for Spanish police whom have been accused, even by supporters of Madrid, of engaging in violence and brutality against unarmed, peaceful Catalan voters. He then criticised allegedly low voter turnout in the referendum, while failing to acknowledge that police and state intimidation played a factor in the turnout of 43% of all Catalans during the referendum. He however failed to mention that the voter turnout was higher than the 2012 US midterm elections and only slightly lower the last 10 US Presidential elections.
While Rajoy blamed the current crisis on the leaders in Barcelona, saying that contrary to the expressed views of millions of Catalans, Catalonia has more “freedom and self-determination” today than at anytime in the past, he then shifted his tone, albeit only slightly.
The Spanish leader stated that he and his government are willing to engage in a process of dialogue with Catalonia, so long as this dialogue does not relate to the results of the independence referendum.
Instead, Rajoy stated that he is willing to engage in dialogue about all other issues, including revising Spain’s deeply controversial 1978 constitution.
The only conclusion that one can reach is that while Catalonia wants to discuss the referendum’s results and while Madrid is suddenly willing to discuss anything but the referendum, what will almost certainly transpire is a test of will on both sides.
Should Catalonia’s leaders climb-down and work with Madrid on constitutional reform issues which may give Catalonia further autonomy within Spain, the independence issue might be official put to bed. However, such a phenomenon would disappoint many Catalan voters, for whom nothing short of independence will be seen as satisfactory.
Inversely, if Catalonia’s President Carles Puigdemont insists on maintaining his pledge to work towards a peaceful creation of an independent republic, Madrid may be forced either to discuss the referendum results head-on, or else face permanent deadlock that may require external intervention from the EU and barring that, possibly from the United Nations.
While deadlock may have temporarily set in, in the very near term, both Madrid and Barcelona may be locked into a fight which neither will be able to solve alone.