Madrid opened a window for a political compromise on Wednesday, which may be able to prevent the political crisis of direct rule.
That move is in line with constitutional provisions but has no historical precedent.
On Monday, the Spanish government offered the Catalan region an ultimatum, which expires at 10 am on Thursday.
The Catalan Parliament must either clearly renounce the proclamation of independence or the Spanish government would announce home rule.
Under Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, the government can abolish local rule and rule directly if a region moves towards secession. The Spanish Prime Minister made clear that he would prefer “not to ever take” that decision.
Wednesday’s Golden Bridge
Prime Minister Rajoy extended a political compromise on Wednesday. Madrid will not proclaim home rule if the secessionist government calls for snap elections, the Catalan News Agency reports.
The response of the Catalan government to Monday’s ultimatum was to call for a two-month negotiating period. President Carles Puigdemont then presented with his own ultimatum, warning that he would trigger secession immediately.
More significantly, the Spanish government came under criticism on Monday, having ordered the arrest of two prominent nationalist activists, Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart. The two activists have been singled out for organizing the occupation of polling stations that allowed the October 1 referendum to take place despite an explicit Court order.
Addressing the parliament on Wednesday, Rajoy was faced with posters calling for the release of “political prisoners.” Hundreds of thousands rallied in Barcelona demanding their release, giving momentum to the secessionist movement.
Meanwhile, Spain’s Constitutional Court has annulled a Catalan law that approved the result of the illegal October 1 referendum.
The Catalan government may be tempted to accept the compromise on offer. The Junts Pel Si nationalist coalition is politically heterogeneous. It comprises of the center-right Catalan European Democratic Party (PDeCAT), the center-left Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), and supported by the far-left CUP. The CUP is calling for an immediate proclamation of independence and leaves little scope for negotiations.
At the same time, the move would help to stop an exodus of big businesses that are rushing to relocate their home operations. To date, almost 700 major employers ranging from IT companies to banks have moved their headquarters to Spain. Tourism has also suffered.
Barcelona is not alone to feel the economic pressure. Spanish sovereign debt yields have been surging as investors are unsure about the prospects of the economy which, until recently, was amongst the fastest growing in the Eurozone.
The whole of the Spanish unitary opposition – the Socialists (PSOE), the far-left Podemos, and the liberal Ciudadanos – also see regional elections as the best resolution of the current crisis.
According to El Pais, if Puigdemont did call for early elections, these would take place by December 17.