October 12, 2017 / 7:32 AM / a year ago

Daily Briefing: Rajoy puts ball back in Catalan court

LONDON (Reuters) - Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is not known for his readiness to compromise and his stubbornness seems to be dictating the pace of events in the Catalonia crisis.

Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy arrives at the Parliament in Madrid, Spain, October 11, 2017. REUTERS/Sergio Perez

He has given Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont five days to clarify whether what he did on Tuesday actually amounted to a declaration of independence - and a further three days to withdraw it if indeed it was.

In the meantime, Rajoy has managed to win the backing of rival Socialists for the option of sacking the Catalan government and returning the region to direct rule by Madrid if needed. It is Spain’s National Day public holiday today; after that, all eyes will be on how Puigdemont gets himself out of this hole.

While Rajoy may feel he has time on his side, the same cannot be said for British PM Theresa May in the Brexit talks. Negotiators in Brussels have made little progress ahead of her meeting with EU leaders at a summit next week.

Quite apart from what any future deal between the EU and UK on trading relations might be, the immediate problem is that time is running out even to work out a bespoke transition arrangement to patch things over come March 2019.

The longer the stand-off goes on, EU negotiators say, the more Britain’s choice will be between a “hard Brexit” by which it will simply quit all EU systems and be treated like, say, Australia, and a virtual status quo replicating non-EU Norway’s current arrangement.

Today is the final debate ahead of Austria's elections on Sunday. The front-runner is the conservative People's Party headed by Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, an immigration hard-liner, with Chancellor Christian Kern's Social Democrats and the far-right Freedom Party competing for second place. As things stand, no party is expected to secure a majority of votes, meaning that coalition talks will inevitably follow.


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Editing by Gareth Jones

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