Spain lurched further towards a full-blown constitutional crisis as Catalonia announced a snap election potentially opening the way for the country’s most economically important region to declare independence from Madrid.
As police in the Spanish capital barricaded the Spanish parliament against anti-austerity protestors, the government of Mariano Rajoy vowed to stand firm against a drive by Catalonia for secession as the Spanish leader faces the most critical period of his premiership.
“The hour has come to exercise our right to self rule,” said Artur Mas, Catalonia’s president. He called the vote, which is likely to be cast as a proxy referendum on Catalan independence, after Mr Rajoy last week rejected his demands for greater fiscal autonomy, triggering a wave of nationalist sentiment in the northern region.
The political turmoil within Spain came amid signs that a German-led group of eurozone countries were attempting to roll back an agreement reached in June that would free Spain of tens of billions of euros in bank bailout debt.
Under the June deal, Spain’s €100bn bank bailout would be shouldered by the new €500bn eurozone rescue fund, the European Stability Mechanism, rather than the Spanish government.
On paper the ESM will not be given legal powers to take over the bank bailouts entirely until the eurozone politicians have agreed to a federal banking supervision system. But according to senior officials Spain has promised that its bailout will be covered even though it is scheduled to begin in November well before a final agreement.
However, after a meeting between the German, Dutch and Finnish finance ministers on Tuesday, the three said the ESM would not be allowed to take over “legacy assets” recapitalised before the banking supervision system was in place. This calls into question the markets’ assumption that Spain’s bailout and any assets put in the soon-to-be-created Spanish “bad bank” will be covered by the deal. [….]