The Catalan parliament could declare independence today, bringing to a head weeks of unrest after the region voted overwhelmingly for secession in an unofficial and unrecognised referendum.
Over the weekend hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to call for talks between the two sides, however neither Spain’s prime minister Mariano Rajoy nor Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont last night showed any signs of entering into talks.
The pro-unity demonstrators waved Catalan, Spanish, and European Union (EU) flags. France and Germany have both expressed support for a united Spain while the EU has said it would not recognise the independent region.
Madrid is fearful that a session of the regional parliament tonight at 5pm London time could become a platform for the wealthy north-eastern Spanish region to make a unilateral declaration of independence.
This process, if it is begun tonight, could set in motion months turmoil for the country, with Rajoy’s government threatening to use its constitutional powers to remove Catalonia’s autonomous status.
The vote — which took place on 1 October — was declared illegal by Madrid before it took place, sending thousands of national police to the region to prevent it.
The final results showed 90 percent of the 2.3m people who voted backed independence, with turnout at 43 percent, however there have been accusations of vote tampering by the separatists and any ballot boxes were seized by the Spanish police.
Meanwhile, opinion polls on the issue suggest Catalonia’s 7.5m people are more closely divided.
What’s likely to happen now?
Marta Pascal, an ally of Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, told that BBC Puigdemont will tonight make “a symbolic statement” in the Catalan parliament — not a unilateral independence declaration — when he gives a speech to parliament tonight in Barcelona.
Either way a further crackdown from Madrid cannot be ruled out — Rajoy sent an extra 4,000 national police to Catalonia ahead of the referendum who are still there.
It’s thought Madrid could call new regional elections, which could at least delay the independence drive or — more extreme and likely to be met with resistance — Madrid could use Section 155 of Spain’s 1978 constitution to impose direct rule over the region.
Businesses have been reportedly looking to more away from Catalan to escape the uncertainty, with banks Caixa and Sabadell, along with several utility companies, are moving their legal headquarters. This would weaken Catalonia’s argument that as an economic powerhouse it could survive independently of Spain.