Secessionists accused Madrid of -authoritarian behaviour and inflaming Spanish nationalism with the proposal to use Article 155 to impose changes in Catalan education – an issue that has long been a political and social battleground.
The outcry came after the Spanish Ministry of Education confirmed such a move was under discussion, following a meeting between Mr Rajoy and two Catalan groups that advocate -bilingual education.
The proposed change could allow parents in Catalonia to choose greater teaching in Castilian Spanish. At present, state schools teach almost entirely in Catalan, with Castilian usually restricted to Spanish literature and language classes.
Carles Puigdemont, the Catalan independence leader currently vying to be returned to the presidency, accused Mr Rajoy of using the issue to fan divisions. Tweeting from his voluntary -exile in Brussels late on Thursday night, he said the government in -Madrid was “supercharging” Spanish nationalism and “trying to divide Catalan students by their language”.
Ada Colau, the mayor of Barcelona, said the issue went beyond political positions, insisting: “We will not let anyone touch our educational model.”
The initiative is still under discussion, and Spanish government sources suggested it would likely be weeks -before the details were confirmed.
The groups which met with Mr -Rajoy – AMES and the Societat Civil Catalana – have respectively called for parents to be able to choose studies “also using Castilian Spanish as a -vehicular language”, and for a mandated minimum level of 25 per cent of teaching in Spanish.
News of the proposal was welcomed by both groups yesterday.
But it was denounced by educational organisations including USTEC, the largest Catalan teachers’ union, whose spokesperson Ramon Font warned it would stop at nothing to prevent “the attack” from Madrid.
Mr Rajoy’s government has pushed back against the encroachment of Catalan, not only in Catalonia but in the autonomous communities of Valencia and the Balearic Islands, where variations of the language are also taking a greater hold in the public sector.
Critics claim that the predominance of Catalan in schools disadvantages students, and they link it to what they say is pro-independence indoctrination in education.
In 2013, a controversial education reform mandated greater use of Castilian Spanish, but this has not been implemented in Catalonia.