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'Please don't do this': Catalans against independence make last-minute plea

  • The Catalan parliament is scheduled to meet Tuesday afternoon
  • Regional leader Carles Puigdemont is widely expected to make some kind of declaration of independence
  • Pro-unity businesses and political parties are hoping for a last-minute change of heart
A young man shouts slogans at the head of the demonstration. Massive demonstration in Barcelona in defense of the unity of Spain. Nearly a million people have joined the call of Catalan Civil Society for the defense of the unity of Spain as a counterweight to the sovereigntists movements.
Paco Freire/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
A young man shouts slogans at the head of the demonstration. Massive demonstration in Barcelona in defense of the unity of Spain. Nearly a million people have joined the call of Catalan Civil Society for the defense of the unity of Spain as a counterweight to the sovereigntists movements.

The clock is ticking down towards a meeting of the Catalan parliament Tuesday afternoon at which regional leader Carles Puigdemont is widely expected to make some kind of declaration of independence.

Most political analysts believe that Puigdemont — who has been threatened with arrest if he does makes a unilateral declaration of independence in parliament — will make a more veiled statement to lawmakers and could allude to an eventual, rather than immediate, separation from Spain.

Esther Niubó, a member of the Socialists Party of Catalonia (PSC), which opposes independence but is pro-reform, told CNBC that she expected an "indirect" declaration of independence but her party remained hopeful for a last-minute change of heart.

"(Puigdemont) will probably not say anything directly but will say (something like) it's the first step to a Catalan republic and we are against that," she told CNBC Tuesday.

"And one of the reasons is that we don't have a social majority for that so this is why our party is saying 'please don't do this,' because the consequences of (independence) will be very negative for all Catalans and all Spanish."

The current crisis in relations between Catalonia and Spain comes after pro-separatist sentiment in the wealthy northeast region came to a head with a symbolic referendum on independence on October 1. Then, around 90 percent of the 2.26 million voters who went to the polls said they wanted independence, although turnout was low at 42 percent.

Since the vote, which was marred by a police crackdown on voters, relations between the Spanish government and separatists have reached a low point with little, if any, communication between the two sides. Niubó said that dialog was necessary and hoped that reform of the Spanish constitution could follow in order to recognize Catalonia's distinct identity.

"We have presented a proposal to reform the Spanish constitution because we believe that Catalans needs better recognition of their cultural identity, that Spain is a nation of nations… we think that a reform would serve to improve and to give an answer to the political situation that we have in Catalonia today," she said, adding that such reforms and a new deal on autonomy could then be put to the public in a referendum.

"We are not for independence but we don't want the status quo, we need a reform of the Spanish constitution because the situation cannot remain like this," she added.

If Puigdemont does make an unequivocal declaration of independence, the Spanish government is expected to invoke Article 155 of the Constitution, allowing it to revoke the Catalan government's powers.

Businesses are already worried about the political uncertainty with several big firms stating that they will relocate their headquarters outside of Catalonia, moves that could damage the Catalan economy.

The president of cava-maker Freixenet — one of those firms saying it is considering a move if Catalonia becomes independent — told CNBC on Tuesday that both Spain and Catalonia had made "great strides in recovering from financial crisis" and that independence could ruin that.

"(Any) independence of Catalonia would not only impact the region, it would be catastrophic to the Spanish and even European economy," Josep Lluís Bonet, the president of the Spanish Chambers of Commerce and Freixenet, told CNBC.

"Everyone has responsibility for this situation but some more than others," he said, adding to calls for negotiations between Catalonia and Spain.

"This is a situation that needs a solution through dialogue, but dialogue done within the law, through a constitutional framework. Not dialogue outside of the law," he said.