Catalonia's parliament met Wednesday for the first time since it was dissolved following a failed bid to break from Spain in a session that will see separatists start the process to get sacked regional leader Carles Puigdemont back into power.
Pro-independence parties are in the majority after winning regional elections on Dec. 21 called by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to try and put an end to a secession crisis that shook the region of 7.5 million people, Spain and Europe.
With 70 out of 135 deputies, they should in theory have the necessary votes to nominate a separatist president.
Their favoured candidate is Puigdemont, sacked by Rajoy along with his cabinet on Oct. 27 after the regional parliament declared unilateral independence, and who is in self-imposed exile in Belgium.
Late on Tuesday, the two largest pro-independence parties said they had agreed to nominate him as their candidate.
The new parliament opened at 11:00 a.m. local time and lawmakers will vote for a new parliamentary speaker and his or her deputies.
Separatists will attempt to get a majority of their supporters elected to these key positions as they will subsequently decide whether Puigdemont and others are allowed to be lawmakers remotely.
Rajoy said that his government would maintain direct rule if Puigdemont were to be chosen as president. "It's absurd that someone aspires to be president of the Catalan regional government as a fugitive in Brussels - it's a case of common sense," Rajoy said.
If Puigdemont tried to attend the parliamentary vote for a new head of region from Brussels, the Spanish government would challenge his appearance immediately in the courts, he said.
But the Separatists majority remains theoretical, with three of the 70 deputies being held in prison as they are probed for rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds for their role in the failed independence bid.
Five others are abroad, including Puidgemont who risks arrest on the same charges if he comes back to Spain.