The regional parliament of Catalonia has declared independence from Spain, just hours before Madrid was due to officially impose direct role on the region.
The independence motion passed in the Catalan assembly with 70 votes in favor, 10 against and 2 blank ballots, according to Reuters. The parliament is typically 135-strong but politicians from the Socialist Party, the People’s Party (PP) and the Ciudadanos party abstained in protest.
Spain’s IBEX was down 2 percent shortly after the news at 2:30 p.m. London time with Spanish banks leading the losses. The euro dipped below the $1.16 handle and was about half a percent lower for the session.
In response the Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy took to Twitter to call for calm: “I ask for calm from all Spaniards. The rule of law will restore legality in Catalonia,” he said.
Antonio Barroso, Deputy Director of Research at Teneo Intelligence said in a snap note Friday that the Rajoy administration will now move quickly to dismiss the Catalan separatist leader Carles Puidgement from his post as president of the Government of Catalonia.
Barroso said he expected this to increase tension and fresh clashes between police and pro-independence demonstrators were likely.
The Spanish Senate in Madrid will now vote Friday on whether to implement Article 155 of the constitution – meaning that central government could be set to remove the regional government, install a technocratic government and call new regional elections.
On Saturday, the official publication of the decision will effectively trigger the direct rule, but it’s unclear how this could immediately manifest itself. Theoretically, this will give the regional government more time to potentially revisit its position, according to Barclays.
Given that the region has a majority of pro-independence lawmakers it was very likely that the Catalan parliament would choose to split from the rest of Spain. Declaring independence unilaterally will likely increase the rift with Madrid but is unlikely to change anything in practical terms.
“It would be so illegal (to declare independence); they (Catalan lawmakers) even risk jail,” a European official from Catalonia, who is close to the discussions but didn’t want to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue, told CNBC via phone on Friday morning.
Speaking at the Senate, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said Friday morning: “In Catalonia there have been attempts to ignore the laws, abrogate them, to not follow them.”
“What occurred on the 6 and 7 of September in the Catalan Parliament was the biggest joke to democracy, when two illegal laws were passed and a referendum was called,” he added.
The Senate is likely to vote through the conditions put forward by Rajoy, however, it is unclear how Madrid’s decision to replace the Catalonian government would play out.
“It is not guaranteed that the central government will be able to immediately exercise full control of regional executive powers. Catalonia has a very high degree of self-government, comparable with some of the most decentralized regions in Europe and elsewhere,” Barclays said in a note.
Catalonia has full responsibility for civil law, police, education, health care, industry, trade and consumer affairs, environment, research, local government, tourism, transport, media and several other areas.
The current political crisis facing Catalonia and Spain has been long-coming. There has been a strong sense of separatism and regional identity in Catalonia, a wealthy region in the northeast of Spain, for decades. There have also been several unrecognized and unofficial referenda on independence in recent years.
The latest vote took place October 1 — 90 percent of 2.26 million regional voters opted for independence. Turnout was low at around 43 percent, however, and thousands of Catalans also took to the streets to protest against independence.
Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont caused confusion following the vote by appearing to declare independence and then immediately suspend it, calling for dialogue with Spain, a request so far denied. His request for the European Union to mediate in the dispute has also fallen on deaf ears with the EU supporting the Rajoy government and saying it would not recognize an independent Catalonia.