The Spanish Cabinet met in Madrid Wednesday to work out its response to an announcement from the head of the wealthy Catalonia region that he was proceeding with a declaration of independence, further fueling Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.
Prime minister Mariano Rajoy, who is due to address the national parliament later in the day, chaired the closed-doors meeting at the government’s headquarters in the Moncloa Palace, on the outskirts of Madrid.
Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont said late Tuesday that he would proceed with the secession but would suspend it for a few weeks to facilitate negotiations. But the government has given little indication it is willing to talk.
In a highly anticipated speech, Puigdemont said the landslide victory in a disputed Oct. 1 referendum gave his government in the regional capital, Barcelona, the grounds to implement its long-held desire to break century-old ties with Spain.
But he proposed that the regional parliament suspend the effects of the declaration to commence a dialogue and help reduce tension.
The central government in Madrid responded that it did not accept the declaration and did not consider the referendum or its results to be valid.
Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said the Catalan leader “doesn’t know where he is, where he is going and with whom he wants to go.”
She said Puigdemont had put Catalonia “in the greatest level of uncertainty seen yet.”
One of the government’s options Wednesday could be to set about applying Article 155 of the Constitution, which allows the central government to take some or total control of any of its 17 regions if they don’t comply with their legal obligations. This would begin with a Cabinet meeting and a warning to the regional government to fall into line. Then, the Senate could be called to approve the measure.
Some 2.3 million Catalans — or 43 percent of the electorate in the northeastern region — voted in the referendum. Regional authorities say 90 percent were in favor and declared the results valid. Those who opposed the referendum had said they would boycott the vote.
Rajoy’s government had repeatedly refused to grant Catalonia permission to hold a referendum on the grounds that it was unconstitutional, since it would only poll a portion of Spain’s 46 million residents.
Catalonia’s separatist camp has grown in recent years, strengthened by Spain’s recent economic crisis and by Madrid’s rejection of attempts to increase self-rule in the region.
The political deadlock has plunged Spain into its deepest political crisis in more than four decades, since democratic rule was restored following the dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco.