Rajoy’s headache: How Catalonia calling for talks makes crisis BIGGER for Spain

The separatist leader, who said last week Catalonia would move to split from Spain after more than 90 per cent of Catalans voted in favour of independence in a banned referendum, put the declaration on hold on Tuesday, making only a “symbolic” declaration of independence. 

Mr Puigdemont told the Barcelona regional parliament the result had provided a popular mandate for independence, but he had decided to suspend the declaration to allow more time for “talks” with Madrid. 

Mathieu Petithomme, a political scientist and Spain expert, said had Mr Puigdemont simply declared independence, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy would have hit back by triggering article 155 of the Spanish constitution, enabling him to sack the regional government and take back control.

He told Europe 1 radio station Mr Rajoy was now “in an extremely difficult position”.

He said: “Mr Puigdemont’s call for talks means that triggering article 155 is no longer an option.

“Mr Rajoy has no choice but to enter into talks with Barcelona. Because if he doesn’t, he risks being seen as too radical, and his response could further stoke nationalist sentiment among separatists.

“Mr Puigdemont, by suspending the declaration of independence and calling for talks, put the ball in Madrid’s court. He essentially admitted that negotiation was the only way out of the impasse.   

“There are clear divisions within the separatist movement. Not all separatists want to split from Spain – some just want Catalonia to be given more autonomy.” 

Catalonia’s move to split from the rest of the country, Mr Petithomme added, didn’t come as a surprise to Spain.

He added: “The secessionist movement in Catalonia has been gaining momentum since 2010, which is when the first ‘big’ pro-independence protests took place.

“Mr Rajoy was elected to power in 2011, and he did nothing to stop the independence movement from spreading across the region.”