The day Cataluña was a republic for a few seconds
Madrid demands 'official statement' after regional president Puigdemont confused everyone by proclaiming independence and immediately calling its suspension
By James Parkes THE INDEPENDENT republic of Cataluña was a reality for less than a minute on Tuesday evening.
Nationalist regional president Carles Puigdemont appeared in the Barcelona parliament to deliver the results of the October 1 referendum - declared illegal by the Constitutional Court - with which he stated he was legitimated to proclaim the independence of Cataluña in the form of a republic as per the regional referendum law approved in September - and also declared illegal by the maximum Spanish court.
The announcement resulted in immediate cheers from the pro-independence benches and thousands of supporters who had gathered in a nearby park to see the session on a giant screen.
But 46 seconds later, Sr Puigdemont said he requested parliament to suspend the declaration to open a 'process of dialogue'. And the smiling faces outside rapidly changed to pure disappointment and even tears of disgust.
The key role of anti-establishment party CUP - proven by the fact that Sr Puigdemont's speech scheduled for 18.00 had to be delayed until past 19.00 because CUP representatives were not in agreement with it - became clear a few minutes later when its regional MPs stated they would suspend their parliamentary activity for one month until the declaration of independence became effective.
This puts the pressure on Sr Puigdemont and his Junts Pel Si party as without the support of the CUP it loses its majority in the regional parliament.
Meanwhile, in Madrid, PM Mariano Rajoy held an urgent late-night meeting with the Socialist Pedro Sánchez, as main opposition party leader.
Sr Sánchez had previously stated his full support to central government to defend the Spanish Constitution and its unity - however, the declaration and suspension put the entire issue into yet another legal limbo.
Sr Puigdemont's call for a dialogue is intended to gain not only international support but also that of parties such as the PSOE and Podemos, who have demanded talks must be held to solve this situation.
But analysts say that the 'suspended' declaration already means that the conclusion of any talks has to be independence - so there is not much to discuss on equal terms.
Earlier on Wednesday, Catalan government spokesman Jordi Turull added further confusion by telling Cataluña Radio that Sr Puigdemont's dialogue offer was 'sincere', but then saying on Cadena Ser that 'independence was unalienable, but we want to talk'.
Central government cannot accept this as the whole process is backed by legislation declared illegal by the Constitutional Court. Futhermore, European leaders who have insisted on a dialogue between Madrid and Barcelona have also stated that the Spanish Constitution must be respected.
Now what? The truth is that Tuesday's suspended declaration simply drags on an already tense situation that is damaging Cataluña and the image of Spain internationally.
So far over 100 companies - including key Catalan banks suchs at Caixabank and Sabadell - have moved their fiscal addresses from Cataluña to other parts of Spain.
The uncertain outcome has led the British Foreign Office to advise tourists going to Cataluña to be 'cautious' due to the situation, although it has not recommended they should not travel there.
Extending this situation simply results in creating more animosity in both camps pro and anti-independance - and makes everyday life in Cataluña more complicated.
If Sr Rajoy has the support of the PSOE and Ciudadanos he could call on Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution and suspend the autonomy of Cataluña - Catalanborn Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera has repeatedly demanded this, but the Socialists are divided on the subject.
If autonomy is suspended, the consequential action would be to take over all regional institutions and eventually call a regional election. But its also means expelling the pro-independence parties from their offices and taking over command of the regional police (Mossos d'Esquadra) - a highly controversial move which pro-independence activists would answer with opposition in the streets.
Following an urgent Cabinet meeting on Wednesday morning, PM Rajoy called on Sr Puigdemont to make it absolutely clear if he 'has or not' made a declaration of independence. The Catalan leader has been given until Monday at 10.00 to deliver an official statement.
If this answer is yes, or there is no answer at all, the government will grant the regional leader until Thursday to retract. If not, this will be considered as the the legal requirement for the government to apply Article 155.
In the political tennis match, the ball now lies in the court of Sr Puigdemont, who may push forward with independence because he regards the government's requests as a trigger for Article 155. The proindpendence camp has already stated that if this is applied, then it would be clear there is 'no will to talk' on the part of central government and there would 'no alternative than to actively declare independence immediately'. PSOE support in exchange for
Constitution debate Shortly after Sr Rajoy delivered the ultimatum on Wednesday, PSOE leader Pedro Sánchez held a press conference to explain his party's support for the PP government.
Sr Sánchez said the PSOE is supporting the declaration of Article 155 on this occasion and went on to announce an agreement with Sr Rajoy to study changes to the Spanish Constitution.
Analysts say the requested constitutional reform - which has been demanded by PSOE, Podemos and Ciudadanos in recent months - has been the condition imposed by the Socialists to support the application of Article 155.
The PSOE has even set a schedule as the party has announced a 'territorial commission' that will last six months and lead to a Constitutional debate.
Both anti-establishment party CUP and Cataluña en Comu (Podemos in Cataluña) have also declared their opposition to a Constitutional amendenment.
Cheers turned to disappointment within seconds among the pro-independence camp gathered near the regional parliament on Tuesday evening.