Independence Tests Catalonia’s Ruling Coalition

Left-wing separatists are determined to secede from Spain, but the ruling center-right party is divided.

Catalan president Carles Puigdemont speaks with his predecessor, Artur Mas, in Barcelona, Spain, February 12, 2016
Catalan president Carles Puigdemont speaks with his predecessor, Artur Mas, in Barcelona, Spain, February 12, 2016 (Generalitat de Catalunya/Jordi Bedmar)

The prospect of breaking away from Spain has divided the ruling coalition in Catalonia.

Late on Thursday, Business Secretary Santi Vila, a member of President Carles Puigdemont’s center-right European Democratic Party (PDeCAT), stepped down from the government.

Catalan newspaper La Vanguardia reports that Vila was dismayed by his colleagues’ determination to secede from Spain after telling companies for weeks they had nothing to worry about.

Hundreds of Catalan companies have changed their corporate addresses in the last few weeks in anticipation of a messy divorce from Spain.

No deal

In another sign of discord, the Catalan News Agency (ACN) has learned that, during a crisis meeting on Wednesday night, Puigdemont offered to resign and hand the presidency to Oriol Junqueras, the leader of the Republican Left, when he turned down a deal with the central government.

Puigdemont was reportedly in favor of calling regional elections if that would convince Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish prime minister, to not revoke Catalonia’s autonomy.

Junqueras refused when Puigdemont could not promise the full support of the PDeCAT for such a switch.

The following day, Puigdemont decided against calling elections, saying he had not received guarantees from Madrid that such a step would halt the suspension of Catalan home rule.

Declaring independence

The Catalan parliament is due to vote on declaring independence on Friday.

92 percent of Catalans voted to secede from Spain in a referendum on October 1, but only 43 percent turned out.

The referendum had been declared illegal by Spain’s highest court.

The Republican Left and the Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), a small anticapitalist party that votes with the government, are in favor of breaking away.

Democrats are divided. Lluís Corominas, the group’s leader in parliament, called for independence during a debate on Thursday, but Artur Mas, the former president, has said Catalonia isn’t ready.

What’s next?

When Catalan lawmakers convene in Barcelona on Friday, senators will meet simultaneously in Madrid to approve the implementation of Article 155 of the Constitution, which would Rajoy the power to suspend Catalan self-government.

Rajoy has threatened to sack Puigdemont, Junqueras and other ministers and organize elections within six months.

Polls show Puigdemont’s Democratic Party trading places with Junqueras’ Republican Left, but the balance between pro- and anti-independence parties could be virtually unchanged.