Regional lawmakers will debate motions put forward by political groups from noon. With separatists holding the majority in the chamber, the motions are likely to include some form of secession from Spain.
Tens of thousands of pro-independence protesters are scheduled to gather in Barcelona at midday under the slogan “Let’s make the Republic”, hoping to put pressure on the parliament to act.
A declaration of independence is the dream on many secessionists who have been fighting for decades for the creation of a new state. Any declaration made on Friday, however, would be largely symbolic.
First, it would be illegal under Spanish law and would not be recognised by the Spanish government or the wider international community.
Second, any acts passed by this parliament are likely to be short lived, as senators in Madrid are on Friday afternoon expected to ratify a set of measures that will remove Catalonia’s pro-independence government from office and run the region from Madrid. Parliament’s power will be curtailed and new regional elections will be called within six months.
Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, Spanish deputy prime minister, on Thursday said that the triggering of Article 155 of the constitution to impose direct rule would restore law and order and “protect the general interests of all Spaniards”.
For a moment on Thursday afternoon it looked like Catalan president Carles Puigdemont was going to put together a plan to hold off both the declaration of independence and the implementation of direct rule.
He was floating the idea that Catalonia could call snap regional elections instead, potentially defusing the situation. But hardliners in his own camp were up in arms, while Madrid also refused to countenance the plan, and the deal fell apart catastrophically.
With Madrid and Barcelona taking drastic measures, Friday is set to see a significant escalation in what is already one of the worst political crises since Spain’s return to democracy in the 1970s.
In Madrid, thoughts are turning to how, in practical terms, authorities will start to take control of the Catalan government and institutions, which include the regional government ministries but also the local police and public media.
Some independence supporters have threatened a campaign of civil disobedience, leading to fears that Spanish authorities may struggle to directly govern the region.
There is growing talk of trying to create a “Catalan Spring”, in reference to the “Arab Spring” protests in the Middle East and north Africa from 2010. A declaration of independence on Friday, however symbolic, could boost this movement.
The Spanish government has said that any senior officials disobeying the government will be removed from their post. But they have been more vague about what will happen if there is resistance from ordinary civil servants or police officers.