The Spanish government, led by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, has now enacted its extraordinary powers under Article 155 of the Constitution and granted in a vote by the National Senate, to take direct governance control of Catalonia.
Regional elections have been provisionally scheduled for 21st December and Mr Rajoy also announced that the Catalan regional police chief, Josep Trapero, has been fired.
Earlier on Friday, in a move of defiance against the Spanish central government, the Catalan regional parliament declared independence.
The 135-seat regional parliament saw a clear 70 votes in favour of independence, to 10 against and 2 abstentions. Opposition parties boycotted the vote.
This development came after Catalan regional President Carlos Puigdemont had previously signed and then immediately suspended a declaration of independence, hoping for ‘a period of dialogue’ that could resolve the conflict between Madrid and the regional government in a ‘calm and agreed manner’.
However, Puigdemont’s move did little to change the attitude of Spain’s government and the country’s Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy. The national government has repeatedly stated its belief that the independence referendum the region held (in which 90% of voters said they wanted to separate from Spain based on a 43% turnout) was unlawful.
The Madrid government asked the national senate for authorisation to proceed with the removal of Puigdemont, the regional Vice-President and regional government advisers from office (their functions will be assumed by government ministries). Very shortly after the Catalan regional parliament declared independence, the national senate did indeed grant authorisation for such measures, by 214 votes in favour, to 47 against.
Catalonia’s main pro-independence organisations have called for Catalan civil ministers to peacefully resist the direct seizing of administrative control by Madrid.
On 21st October, Rajoy (pictured above) announced that he was activating Article 155 of the Spanish constitution. This measure, which had never before been applied, is known as the ‘nuclear option’ among the country’s political establishment. It allows the national parliament to assume many of the functions of one of the country’s devolved administrations, and employ ‘exceptional and extreme measures’ in situations that are ‘equally exceptional or extreme’. While several other European countries with devolved authorities have similar constitutional measures, these also had never been implemented.
Later on the same day (21st October), the government announced how it would use the newly acquired powers. After a specially convened cabinet meeting, Rajoy said that the national parliament’s use of Article 155 would be based on four key objectives: restoring legality, restoring peace and normality, continuing with the region’s economic recovery and holding fresh elections. Rajoy told Spanish newspaper El País that his wish was to return the situation to normal as soon as possible.
To this end, the power to dissolve the Catalonian regional parliament passed from the regional administration to the Madrid government.
In the interim period before its dissolution and after activation of Article 155, the regional parliament (Generalitat) continued to perform its legislative responsibilities, although was supposed to be acting under directives issued by the national government. Puigdemont himself was barred from nominating a candidate for the regional presidency, or proposing any investment plans, while the Generalitat was banned from making legislation which went against Spain’s constitution or the regional statutes – the Madrid government had the right to veto any of its legislative measures within 30 days of them being passed.
Madrid has also given itself the right to take control of the regional TV3 television channel to ensure that only ‘objective and balanced’ information is broadcast, while the Mossos (Catalan regional police force) must now follow orders from the Spanish national police.
In addition to these restrictive measures, Catalan secessionists suffered a further blow after several EU countries, including France and the UK, said that they wouldn’t recognise an independent Catalonia.
With the Catalan parliament having declared independence and the Spanish central government now assuming direct governance control of the region, neither side looks willing to compromise.
The only certainty about how the Catalan crisis will play out, is its uncertainty: both Spain and Catalonia have entered uncharted waters.