The next twelve hours might prove to be the most critical period of time in Spain’s history since the nation returned to democratic rule in the late 70s. Catalan regional leader Carles Puigdemont has until 1000 hours tomorrow morning CEST (0400 here in the eastern US) to retract the equivocal declaration of independence he made last week. Otherwise Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy will suspend the region’s autonomy and impose direct rule in Catalonia. Earlier today (bear in mind it is still Wednesday on this side of the Atlantic) Puigdemont informed members of his Catalan Democratic Party that he will issue a formal declaration of independence if Rajoy moves ahead with his threat to suspend Catalonia’s political autonomy.
Rajoy has the power of the 1978 constitution behind him. Article 155 gives him the power to take control of a region if it violates Spanish law. The current situation in Catalonia certainly fits the bill perfectly. Taking control of a region, however, requires the approval of parliament and it would be at least a few days before the Spanish government could move decisively to impose direct rule. This potentially gives Puigdemont a brief period of time to unilaterally secede Catalonia from Spain and set the stage for what could potentially be long term civil unrest.
The possibility of a Catalan secession has raised fears of social unrest and unforeseen circumstances down the line. Spain’s political uncertainty has caused Spanish stocks to fall in trading this week, and sharply undermined the recent gains by the Euro. The European Union is watching the situation closely and its offers to mediate negotiations are growing stale.
Madrid appears to be in no mood to negotiate and Puigdemont’s words today indicate Catalonia’s government will not meet the Rajoy’s demands. As the deadline approaches, resolve seems to be stiffening immeasurably on both sides. For the moment, an eleventh hour compromise seems unlikely. All eyes are on Barcelona and Puigdemont right now. The next move is his to make.