Barcelona (October 11, 2017): Catalonian President Carles Puigdemont postponed a formal declaration of independence from Spain on Tuesday, stepping back from the brink of a constitutional crisis that has engulfed one of Europe’s richest nations.
President Carles Puigdemont declared that the region had “earned the right” to independence from Madrid. But he told the Catalan Parliament in Barcelona that he wanted to take the heat out of the political standoff that has roiled Spain since a disputed referendum on October 1.
“With the result of the referendum on the first of October, Catalonia has earned the right to be an independent state. It has earned the right to be heard and respected,” Puigdemont told delegates.“I defend the mandate of the people of Catalonia to become an independent republic,” he said, to applause from the chamber.
But he added that parliament should suspend a formal declaration in order to pursue dialogue. He did not specify what form the talks would take, or who would mediate them. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called for an extraordinary Cabinet meeting for Wednesday morning.
Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria dismissed Puigdemont’s actions, saying: “The speech of the President of Catalonia is of someone who doesn’t know where he is going and what he wants to do.”
Puigdemont cannot impose mediation on Madrid, she said. “Dialogue in democracy is done by the rules and not inventing them as you please,” she told reporters. Rajoy has previously refused to hold talks unless Puigdemont drops his independence claim.Spain was plunged into political uncertainty after the divisive and controversial referendum found that 90% of Catalan voters in favor of independence. But the result was not as decisive it appeared — turnout was only 43% as many Catalans stayed at home. And the referendum was declared illegal by Spain’s top court.
Puigdemont said Catalonia was living through a “historic moment” that would have repercussions throughout Europe. “The consequences and effects go well beyond our country,” he said.
He defended the right of Catalans to express their views. “We are not criminals,” he said. “We are not crazy. We are not making a coup d’état … We are normal people who wish to have a vote.”But he also talked about dialogue, de-escalation and peace just nine days after Spanish police tried to shut the vote down by firing rubber bullets and pulling voters from polling booths in scenes that shocked many across Europe.
Madrid and the European Union had earlier implored Puigdemont not make a unilateral declaration of independence. The Spanish government had warned Puigdemont not to take any “irreversible” action.
Earlier, European Council President Donald Tusk urged Puigdemont to back down. “The force of arguments is always better than the argument of force,” he said in Brussels.