Puigdemont’s last offer for consensual independence referendum to come at Madrid public address on May 22

Vice-president Junqueras and Foreign Minister Romeva will join the Catalan president at a public event endorsed by Madrid’s City Council whose format will be similar to the Brussels presentation earlier this year

A date has been set for the Catalan government’s final attempt to reach an agreement with Madrid for an independence referendum. On May 22 Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, Vice-president Oriol Junqueras and Foreign Minister Raül Romeva will travel to Madrid for a public event titled “A referendum for Catalonia: an invitation to a democratic agreement” which will become the Catalan authorities’ last effort to persuade Rajoy’s government to engage in political talks for a referendum in Catalonia. Madrid Mayor Manuela Carmena is endorsing the event and, should the Spanish executive refuse to start talks, it will leave the Catalan government no choice but to enter a unilateral phase.

The Catalan government will be making its final offer only three days after the National Pact for the Referendum has completed its work with an event where it will showcase the support that it has garnered. As previously reported by this newspaper, the format of the Madrid presentation will be similar to the Brussels event held in January, even though its content will be different. While at the European Parliament the Catalan authorities asked the international community to become involved in achieving an independence referendum for Catalonia, government sources have indicated that this time the speakers will be sending an ultimatum to Spain.

Following the Spanish Senate’s refusal to allow a conference by Puigdemont, Junqueras and Romeva with a format of their choosing, the Catalan government got down to finding an alternative venue in Madrid city. Eventually, the conference will be held in Madrid’s Auditorio Caja de Música, thanks to the involvement of the Spanish capital’s local government led by Manuela Carmena.

At this venue the Catalan government will make one last attempt to persuade the Spanish PM to negotiate the conditions for an independence referendum. Yesterday President Puigdemont insisted that his government is willing to engage in a “flexible” negotiation with Madrid on matters such as the date, the wording of the question, the majority required and how to go about implementing the outcome of the ballot. In fact, the Catalan president warned that “Spain’s only chance of stopping an independence referendum in September is by sitting down with us and negotiating a different date”.

On Friday the Spanish government made it clear that it does not intend to change course. When asked about Puigdemont’s talk of “a last offer” during the press conference following Friday’s cabinet meeting, the Spanish government’s spokesman, Íñigo Méndez de Vigo, stated that they aren’t “looking at it in terms of a final offer. This government believes in dialogue but we uphold the law. We have explained publicly and in private the reasons why we cannot and do not wish to allow a referendum like we have been asked”, he added.

Given Madrid’s repeated refusal to set a date for a meeting between Rajoy and Puigdemont —who met today at the opening of Automobile Barcelona—, the Catalan government has decided to make its final offer of dialogue by means of a conference. Still, it is unclear whether any Spanish government representative will attend the event, although the Catalan authorities intend to issue invitations to anyone wishing to be present.

If no PP government officials turn up after all —a situation which the Generalitat would interpret as an unwillingness to dialogue—, the Catalan government will wait for a reaction from its Spanish counterpart. If Madrid refuses to discuss an independence referendum once again, the Catalan executive intends to enter a unilateral phase to ensure that the vote is held anyway.

Ahead of this scenario, yesterday Puigdemont argued that the validity of the vote does not depend on Madrid’s permission, but on voter turnout. Furthermore, he indicated that a consensual referendum with a meagre 15 per cent turnout would not be valid, in his opinion, unlike a unilateral referendum with a substantial turnout.

The Catalan president argued that his government had every right to purchase ballot boxes and added that it will strive to ensure that all citizens can vote under equal conditions, which will require designating a sufficiently large number of polling stations across the nation.

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