MADRID (AFP) - Catalonia's pro-independence regional Parliament is expected to launch a secession process in Spain's wealthiest region on Monday (Nov 9), in a showdown with the central government in Madrid.
Catalan pro-independence parties - which won a majority in the regional assembly for the first time in September elections - will vote on a resolution calling on the assembly to start working on legislation within 30 days to create a separate social security system and treasury, with a view to securing complete independence as early as 2017.
Lawmakers will begin debating the text at 10am local time on Monday with a vote expected several hours later.
The resolution has the backing of Catalan President Artur Mas' Together for Yes coalition and the smaller far-left separatist CUP party, which together have a majority in the regional assembly, with 72 seats of the 135 seats.
Spain's conservative central government has vowed to immediately ask the Constitutional Court to declare the resolution void if it is passed.
If the court accepts the government's appeal as is expected, the Catalan resolution will be automatically suspended until judges hear arguments and make their decision.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who is gearing up for the Dec 20 General Election, has the backing of the main opposition Socialists and new centre-right party Ciudadanos.
Among Spain's main parties at the national level only far-left Podemos has resisted Mr Rajoy's effort to forge a united front on the issue.
While Podemos wants Catalonia to stay within Spain, it has also said it would support a referendum on the matter.
The Catalan resolution, however, states that the secession process will not be subject to decisions made by Spanish institutions, including the Constitutional Court.
"The content of the resolution will be applied regardless of what the Constitutional Court says. We have strength and legitimacy, even if the Spanish states resists," MR Pere Aragones, a lawmaker with Together for Yes, told AFP.
Mr Rajoy's government in September boosted the powers of the Constitutional Court to allow it to quickly suspend leaders who disobey its orders, in a move aimed directly at Catalonia.
The government has also raised the possibility of invoking article 155 of the Spanish constitution, which allows Madrid to supersede the authority of a regional government that is acting outside the law or cut off its funding, another measure that would concern the cash-strapped Catalan government.
There have long been demands for greater autonomy in Catalonia, a region of 7.5 million people with its own language that accounts for a fifth of Spain's economic output.
These calls have intensified in recent years, in tandem with the country's economic crisis.
A 2010 decision by Spain's constitutional court to water down a 2006 statute giving the region more powers has added to the growing pressure for secession.
Catalonia tried to hold an official referendum on independence last year, but judges ruled it was against the constitution, agreeing with the central government's argument that all Spanish people have the right to decide on matters of sovereignty.
However, in November last year, Catalonia defied Madrid and pressed ahead with the referendum, although it was purely symbolic in nature.
Turnout was just 37 per cent, of which over 80 per cent voted in favour of independence.
"A referendum would be the ideal tool but the Spanish government blocked it. We have no other option but unilateral action," CUP lawmaker Albert Botran told AFP.
While Catalan separatist parties won a majority of seats in the elections in September they failed win a majority of all votes cast - a fact emphasised by their opponents.
"Everything is unconstitutional, illegal and undemocratic, because they lie when they say the majority of Catalans back a decoupling," said Mr Albert Rivera, the national leader of Ciudadanos, the main opposition party in Catalonia.