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Madrid could open Pandora's box in Catalonia

October 22, 2017

The federal parliament is expected to ratify Madrid's decision to invoke article 155 in Catalonia by the end of the week, with the consequences still unclear. Meanwhile, Catalan parties are expected to meet on Monday.

Flags, one reading 'democracy'
Image: picture-alliance/ZUMAPRESS.com/J. Boixareu

Catalan separatists are now weighing their options in light of Madrid's decision to invoke article 155 of the Spanish constitution.

That decision, which is expected to be ratified by the Spanish parliament later in the week would dissolve the regional Catalan government and replace it with a caretaker government loyal to Madrid until new regional elections are held within about six months.

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and his regional executive sparked Spain's worst political crisis in decades by holding a banned independence referendum at the beginning of October.

Now they will be stripped of their jobs and their ministries taken over under measures announced Saturday by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

Catalan separatists, not surprisingly, are outraged by Madrid's latest move and nearly 500,000 took to the streets of Barcelona, the regional capital, on Saturday to protest.

Puigdemont accused Rajoy of "the worst attack on institutions and Catalan people" since the dictatorship of Francisco Franco.

"Yesterday there was a fully-fledged coup against Catalan institutions," said Catalan government spokesman Jordi Turull.

"What happens now, with everyone in agreement and unity, is that we will announce what we will do and how," he told Catalunya Radio.

Carles Puigdemont
Puigdemont: Rajoy's move 'worst attack' since Franco dictatorshipImage: Reuters/Generalitat de Catalunya/R. M. Garcia


The constitution allows for the central government to take over a regional authority but Rajoy has taken Spain into uncharted waters by moving to take back authority from the semi-autonomous region.

Catalan parties meet Monday

The move could include Madrid taking control of the Catalan police force and replacing its public media chiefs.

Catalan's regional parties are expected to meet on Monday to organize a crucial session of the regional parliament that will debate their next steps. Turull, the spokesman for the Catalan government insisted during a radio interview that new elections were "not on the table."

Meanwhile, political analysts say that while Madrid's actions are within the confines of the constitution the execution of the order raises a host of logistical questions.

Mariano Rajoy
Rajoy: Law 'cannot be ignored'Image: Reuters/J. C. Hidalgo

What happens, for instance, if Catalan police and civil servants refuse to obey orders from the central authorities.

"What is going to happen if they don't abide by it?" said Xavier Arbos Marin, a constitutional law professor at the University of Barcelona, raising the prospect of the government trying to "take them out by force."

Some experts even question whether the government's actions are legal altogether.

Separatists may also attempt to thwart Madrid's plans by engaging in civil disobedience, such as blockading regional ministries to prevent officials sent by Madrid from entering.

"If police try to enter one of the Catalan institutions, there will be peaceful resistance," said Ruben Wagensberg, spokesman for a new activist group En Pie de Paz.

Catalan companies leaving Catalonia

bik/ng (AFP, Reuters)