Spain Gears Up To Revoke Catalan Autonomy In Secession Spat

The constitutional law that Spain plans to invoke has never been used in the four decades

Spain’s government on Thursday set in motion plans to take away Catalonia’s local powers after its defiant regional president refused to give up his demands for Catalan independence.

The constitutional law that Spain plans to invoke has never been used in the four decades since democracy was restored after Gen. Francisco Franco’s dictatorship.

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont sent a letter to Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy just minutes before a deadline set by the central government for him to backtrack on his calls for secession. Puigdemont didn’t give in, but instead threatened to go ahead with a unilateral proclamation of independence if the government refuses to negotiate.

“If the State Government persists in blocking dialogue and the repression continues, the Parliament of Catalonia will proceed, if deemed appropriate, to vote on the formal declaration of independence,” Puigdemont’s letter said, in an English translation provided by the Catalan government.

Spain responded by calling a special Cabinet session for Saturday in which it plans to begin activating Article 155 of Spain’s 1978 Constitution, which allows central authorities to take over all or some of the powers of any of Spain’s 17 autonomous regions, including Catalonia.

The Cabinet meeting will “approve the measures that will be sent to the Senate to protect the general interest of all Spaniards,” the government statement said.

Spain’s government needs to outline the exact measures it wants to apply in Catalonia and submit them for a vote in Spain’s Senate. The conservative ruling Popular Party’s majority in the top chamber would be enough to approve the measure, but Rajoy has held discussions with opposition leaders to rally further support.

The main opposition Socialist party has backed Rajoy’s moves to keep Spain united but wants the Article 155 measures to be limited in scope and time.

Abroad, French President Emmanuel Macron reiterated his recent support for Rajoy, saying that a European Union summit in Brussels it would be “marked by a message of unity around member states amid the crises they could face, unity around Spain.”

Puigdemont addressed the regional Catalan parliament on Oct. 10, saying he had the mandate under a banned Oct. 1 referendum to declare independence from Spain. But he immediately suspended the implementation of the secession proclamation and called for talks with Spain and international mediators.

Spain’s government responded by setting two deadlines for Puigdemont — a Monday one for him to say a simple “yes” or “no” to whether he indeed had declared independence or not, and a second one for Thursday morning for him to fall in line with Spain’s laws.

Spanish authorities say Puigdemont hasn’t offered any clarity in his replies.

Catalans would consider the application of Article 155 an “invasion” of the region’s self-government. Spain’s central authorities have portrayed it as an undesired yet necessary move to restore legality after Puigdemont’s government pushed ahead with a banned referendum that violated the country’s constitution.

More than 40 percent of Catalonia’s 5.5 million eligible voters cast ballots in the Oct. 1 referendum as police used violence to try to enforce a court order to stop it.

Catalan officials say hundreds of people were injured in police violence during the vote, while Spanish authorities say hundreds of police officers were also hurt and the use of force was proportional to the resistance they met.

The separatists declared an overwhelming victory despite a boycott by opponents in Catalonia, who called the vote illegal.

Polls show that Catalonia’s 7.5 million residents are roughly divided over independence, but an overwhelming majority want to settle the issue in a binding legal referendum.

The Spanish government says the only legal way to achieve secession is by reforming the country’s 1978 Constitution with an ample majority in the national parliament, not by regional votes.

Central government officials have said they could hold off on applying Article 155 if the Catalan separatist leader were to call an early regional election, but Catalan officials have ruled that out.

Andrew Dowling, an expert in Catalan history at Cardiff University in Wales, said any declaration of independence in the Catalan parliament would be only symbolic without border and institutional controls.

Such a declaration “will see the fracture between hardliners and the pragmatic people in Catalonia, who are already seeing an economic fallout,” Dowling said.

More than 700 companies, including Catalan banks, multinationals and mid-size businesses, have moved their registered addresses out of the troubled region because of concerns about the region’s legal status, according to Spain’s Association of Commercial Registers.

Civil society groups who have drawn hundreds of thousands to the streets in peaceful pro-independence demonstrations are calling for new protests Thursday in Barcelona and a bigger march later this week.

Subscribe to Today in Houston

Fill out the form below to subscribe our new daily editorial newsletter from the HPM Newsroom.

* required