A Spanish government official has offered an apology to voters caught up in violence that marred last weekend's banned Catalan referendum, but the softening tone from Madrid is unlikely to halt a declaration of independence that is now expected to come on Tuesday.
A crucial parliamentary address by Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont that would potentially have led to a unilateral declaration of independence has been delayed to avoid a Spanish constitutional court ban on Catalan parliamentary activity on Monday.
In what is effectively a high-stakes political game of cat and mouse between Catalan nationalists, their opponents and the Spanish courts, Mr Puigdemont has now requested he talk to the regional parliament next Tuesday, 24 hours later than expected.
Whereas Mr Puigdemont’s left wing allies, the hard-line CUP party, had said that Monday’s now officially suspended parliamentary session would be to declare independence from Spain, this time there has been no public confirmation concerning what Mr Puigdemont wishes to talk about beyond the “current political situation".
But Spanish state broadcaster TVE reported on Friday that un-named opposition sources suspected that Mr Puigdemont would use his parliamentary appearance to make a declaration of independence.
Whilst Spanish government’s top representative in Catalonia, Enric Millo, has today offered the first official apology to the hundreds of would-be voters injured in the police charges during Sunday’s banned pro-independence referendum, such gestures of goodwill are doing little to stem the ongoing political turmoil in Spain’s richest region, as well as some economic setbacks.
A number of major banks and businesses have announced plans this week to relocate parts of their operations away from Catalonia. On Thursday, Sabadell, which owns TSB, decided to transfer its Barcelona base to Alicante in the region of Valencia. CaixaBank, the third largest lender in Spain, is also planning to relocate from the region.
Meanwhile, Catalan newspaper La Vanguardia also reported various representatives of the tourism industry had warned of a drop in hotel reservations in Catalonia and that one top US airline had recommended avoiding travelling to Barcelona between 3 and 13 October.
As the political uncertainty in Catalonia widens into economic jitters, yesterday EU budget commissioner, Gunther Oettinger, warned of the risk of an escalating conflict.
“The situation is very, very disturbing,” The Daily Telegraph reported Mr Oettinger as saying. “A civil war is planned in the middle of Europe.”
Spain’s Minister of the Economy, Luis de Guindos, insisted on Wednesday that the clients of Catalan banks had nothing to fear because, he said, any attempt at secession from Spain would not happen. One leading carmaker, SEAT, has said it had no intention of shifting its business out of Catalonia.
However, the Spanish government on Friday approved an emergency decree allowing companies to make a high speed relocation, without first consulting shareholders, of their Catalan-based operations to Spain. It was also confirmed that the special deployment of Spanish state police in Catalonia, at one point numbering nearly 10,000 although that figure is now thought to be much lower, would remain in the region until at least 18 October.
Meanwhile Catalonia’s head of the Mossos d’Esquadra police force, Jose Luis Trapero, was questioned by a Madrid court on suspicion of sedition, a charge for which he could face up to 15 years in prison.
The Mossos d’Esquadra, as recently as August hailed as heroes across Spain for their rapid action against the Isis-inspired terrorist attacks, have been accused of failing to provide a sufficiently strong defence of Spanish national police in a standoff with protesters ahead of the 1 October referendum.
Mr Trapero was not retained by the Spanish courts, but the fractures in Catalan society over independence continue to widen.
Organisers have revealed plans for a massive march on Sunday in Barcelona of Catalans wanting continuing unity with Spain. The march comes exactly a week after the banned referendum saw an overwhelming vote in favour of breaking away - officially confirmed today as 90.18 per cent of a 43 per cent total turnout.