Carles Puigdemont, the President of Catalonia, is under intense pressure to back down from plans to declare independence from Spain following a disputed referendum.
However thousands of supporters of independence are expected to show up at the parliament in Barcelona to show support for the plan, and to call on Puigdemont to honour his commitments to the separatist movement.
The political uncertainty began with a divisive and controversial referendum on October 1 that found a majority of Catalan voters in favour of independence for the wealthy, northeastern region of Spain.
Catalans have began to gather on the streets of Barcelona on Tuesday ahead of a hotly anticipated speech by the region’s leader on the status of the restive province and it is expected that he will declare independence.
Spain fears the Catalan parliament will vote for independence on Tuesday, when Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont is due to address the assembly in the wake of a banned October 1 referendum in which Catalan officials say people voted overwhelmingly for secession.
Under Catalonia’s referendum law, deemed unconstitutional by Madrid, a vote for independence on Tuesday would start a six-month process that would envisage divorce talks with Spain before regional elections and a final act of separation.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has not ruled out removing Catalonia’s government and calling new regional elections if it claims independence.
The stakes are high for Spain as it faces its biggest political crisis since it became a democracy four decades ago.
Losing Catalonia, which has its own language and culture, would deprive Spain of a fifth of its economic output and more than a quarter of exports. A stream of Catalonia-based firms and banks have moved their legal bases outside the region.
The European Union has tried to distance itself in this conflict. Avoiding getting involved in the debate of an independent Catalonia, despite an appeal by Puigdemont for Brussels to mediate in the crisis.
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.
With Puigdemont under pressure to back down, there is speculation he may baulk at moving an independence motion on Tuesday and call snap regional polls, turning them into a de facto, legal referendum on independence.
But Puigdemont appeared resolute in a TV interview on Sunday, saying the region’s referendum law called for a declaration of independence in the event of a “yes” vote.
There are many other unanswered questions, including continued membership in the European Union. If they are forced to apply independently for EU membership, Catalonia would have to convince all of the bloc’s current members, including Spain, to agree.
If Catalonia became an independent state, it would not automatically be a World Trade Organisation member, so would likely face stiff trade barriers that would hurt its economy.
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