With Spain’s prime minister having opened earlier in the day the path for Madrid to use a constitutional “nuclear option” to suspend Catalonia’s autonomy, demanding that the regional government makes clear whether it considers itself independent, moments ago Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy gave Catalan President Carles Puigdemont a five day ultimatum to clarify whether he actually declared the region's independence in his speech devoted to the highly controversial referendum, and another 3 to "rectify it."
Spain’s leader said that it’s important for Catalonia’s leader to get his answer right on whether he declared independence or not. Rajoy, addressing Spain’s parliament, says that that Catalan president Carles Puigdemont “just needs to say he didn’t declare independence.”
The latest development comes after Rajoy said earlier on Wednesday that the cabinet of ministers asked for clarification on the issue of autonomous region's independence. As reported earlier, Rajoy decided to take the first step towards triggering Article 155 of the Spanish constitution, which would give Madrid previously unused powers to take control of Catalonia’s regional government, after an emergency cabinet meeting on Wednesday.
Rajoy said his formal request for clarity was “necessary when activating Article 155” and would dictate the next steps in the crisis to “offer certainty to the citizens”.
Using Article 155 to suspend Catalan autonomy would deepen the constitutional crisis in Spain since Catalonia held a contested referendum on independence on October 1. Spain’s government says Catalonia’s independence drive is unconstitutional.
The prime minister also said that the "illegal referendum" has failed, adding that Catalan authorities lack the legitimacy to propose a unilateral declaration of independence. He underlined that the vote undermines our democracy, Spanish unity and the Statute of Catalonia.
Meanwhile, as AP reports, there were signs that the government was trying to take some steps to de-escalate the situation. Pedro Sanchez, the head of the opposition socialists, said on Wednesday that his party and the ruling centre-right PP party had agreed to talks to renegotiate laws governing regional autonomy.
He said there would be six months of talks on reforming the constitution, followed by a debate in parliament, adding that his party wanted a constitutional reform to “allow for Catalonia to remain a part of Spain”.
Also on Wednesday, Puidgemont told CNN his regional government is prepared to have talks on independence without preconditions with Spain. To date, Carles Puigdemont has repeatedly said that the right to self-determination must be on the table in any talks. Spain, in turn, says it can’t discuss an independence referendum as it goes against the constitution.
Puigdemont said Wednesday that Spain and Catalonia should “have no prior conditions to sit down and talk.”
Separately, European Commission vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis said that Catalonia’s separatist authorities have appealed to Brussels to help mediate with Madrid but Mr Rajoy has not sought EU help.
“The commission is following closely the situation in Spain, and reiterates its earlier call for full respect of the Spanish constitutional order,” he said. “We are supporting the efforts to overcome division and fragmentation, to ensure unity and respect of the Spanish constitution.”
Late on Tuesday, Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont asked for the mandate to declare independence from Spain, saying millions of voters supported the idea. However, he said that the effect of the independence declaration was suspended to continue talks with Madrid. Alfonso Dastis, Spain’s foreign minister, said Puigdemont’s speech amounted to a “trick to say one thing and do the opposite”, without giving further details of the government’s plans.