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Analysis. While the Catalan president has offered a two-month truce to the Rajoy government, Madrid has given Carles Puigdemont till Thursday to clarify whether Catalonia is declaring itself a republic.

Puigdemont stalls on independence answer

The ping-pong match between Madrid and Barcelona is set to continue.

As was widely expected, the response Carles Puigdemont sent Monday morning to the request by the Rajoy government to clarify whether or not independence has actually been declared was an ambiguous one. It was just like the speech he made a week ago in the Catalan Parliament, where he proclaimed the Catalan Republic and then suspended it just eight seconds later. Or rather, did not suspend anything at all, as actually, according to the approved script, the Parliament should have voted on the declaration.

Nevertheless, continuing to play on this ambiguity, the Catalan president responded to Rajoy with a four-page letter in which he invites him to take note of the reality of Catalan politics, but at the same time is not willing to take any definitive steps.

Using the formula, “the suspension of the political mandate emerging from the result at the polls on Oct. 1 demonstrates our firm determination for finding a solution and not for confrontation,” Puigdemont avoids answering either “Yes” or “No” and makes an offer of two months to conduct a dialogue. The letter ends with two very specific requests: to loosen the grip of police, judicial and financial repression (as the accounts of the Generalitat are still controlled by the central government), and to grant a face-to-face meeting with the head of the Spanish government.

It’s a very slippery answer, displeasing to some of his fellow separatists (and very much so to some of them), but it does not offer Rajoy a pretext to immediately put more restrictive measures into effect, such as applying the infamous Article 155 to Catalonia.

Spanish Vice President Soraya Saéz de Santamaría responded in turn (as Rajoy is away to Galicia, which was hit by a series of disastrous fires due to arson), saying that Puigdemont must give a clear answer to the question, and do so by Thursday, the day fixed by Rajoy for ‘setting straight’ the question of independence. The deadlines keep being extended, while the tones become just a bit less strident.

Behind this duel of words, one can see some subtle European intervention at work. Even amid official denials, it seems someone is trying to mediate between Rajoy and Puigdemont to avoid the worst kind of escalation. The PSOE still stands firm beside the PP, going so far as to clarify that they will agree together on the application of Article 155. If in the end the government should decide to activate it (after receiving the approval of the Senate), it seems that it may be limited to dissolving the Catalan government and calling new elections. This is an unwelcome solution for many Catalans, but overall less traumatic than many of the others being floated these days.

However, that does not mean it will happen, first of all because it would not be a solution at all: The independence-supporting parties might win as before, so it would be the same story all over again (unless the radical proposal by the head of the PP in Catalonia, Xavier García Albiol, is adopted; he asked that the government do the same as it did in the Basque region when it outlawed the pro-ETA parties).

Nor is the situation improving on the judicial front. The presidents of the two independence-supporting organizations, Òmnium and ANC, were sent into preventive detention by a judge, while the Mossos chief, Josep Lluis Trapero, as well as the Superintendent of the Mossos were allowed to go free. They were all interrogated by the Audiencia Nacional on Monday, and stand accused of the obsolete crime of “sedition.” Trapero had his passport confiscated and was required to appear before the authorities every 15 days. For the moment, the charges are limited to the events of Sept. 20 and 21, when a crowd of protesters tried to prevent the Guardia Civil from executing searches and arrest warrants for some officials of the Catalan government.

Meanwhile, former president Artur Mas, who recently returned to public life to defend Puigdemont (who comes from the same party), deposited €2.2 million at the Spanish Court of Accounts on Monday, covering part of the enormous bond of €5.2 million — the amount that the judges estimate should return to the public coffers should he be convicted for organizing the referendum of Nov. 9, 2014.

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