Rajoy imposes direct rule on Catalonia and calls elections
Madrid removes Puigdemont after declaration of independence
Spain’s political crisis came to a head on Friday, as Catalonia’s parliament issued a declaration of independence and the country’s senate approved a plan to introduce direct rule in the region and call snap elections.
On a tumultuous day for Spain, both sides in the standoff felt compelled to use their most drastic options.
With the Spanish government having already triggered the procedure leading to direct rule, the Catalan parliament in Barcelona debated a response to that measure. Pro-independence parties in the chamber, which have a narrow majority, presented a motion declaring that “Catalonia is an independent state in the form of a republic.”
A total of 70 deputies voted in favour of the motion, with 10 voting against and two votes left blank. The representatives of the governing Popular Party (PP) and other pro-union parties, Ciudadanos and the Socialists, walked out of the chamber after a highly charged debate and did not vote.
Thousands of independence supporters followed the voting in the Ciutadella park, near the parliament building, cheering when the result was announced. Inside the chamber, those who had voted in favour of the motion stood and sang the Catalan anthem, Els Segadors.
“Times are coming during which we need to keep our country within the bounds of peace, civility and dignity, as has always been the case,” said Catalan president Carles Puigdemont after the vote.
But amid the celebrations, it was clear the independence project would face a swift backlash. Shortly afterwards, the Spanish senate approved the use of article 155 of the constitution, allowing the government to implement direct rule in Catalonia, to halt the independence drive.
Rule of law
Prime minister Mariano Rajoy described it as a “sad day in which injustice has imposed itself on the rule of law”.
“We are responding to some decisions which seek to impose an inadmissible abduction of the Catalan people and the theft from Spaniards of part of their territory,” he said.
Mr Rajoy’s PP received the support of the Socialists and Ciudadanos, with 214 senators voting to use the article and 47 voting against.
While that was an easy victory for Mr Rajoy, he now faces the task of implementing a constitutional clause which has never been used before.
After an emergency cabinet meeting following the senate vote, Mr Rajoy announced he is removing from office Mr Puigdemont and the senior members of the regional government. Central government ministries are expected to take control of the portfolios of the sacked Catalan officials.
The prime minister also announced he was dissolving the Catalan parliament and calling a snap regional election for December 21st.
However, both the Catalan government and pro-independence groups have warned there could be civil disobedience as Madrid tries to take control.
‘Force of argument’
While the Spanish government expressed its firm opposition to the secession drive, several European leaders closed ranks with Mr Rajoy on the issue.
“For EU nothing changes,” tweeted European Council president Donald Tusk, who earlier this month appealed to the Catalan government not to declare independence. “Spain remains our only interlocutor. I hope the Spanish government favours force of argument, not argument of force.”
In a further boost to Mr Rajoy, the governments of France, Germany and the UK all said they did not acknowledge Catalonia as an independent state. The US state department issued a statement supporting the “Spanish government’s constitutional measures to keep Spain strong and united.”
In a statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs said the Government was concerned about the crisis in Catalonia.
“Ireland respects the constitutional and territorial integrity of Spain and we do not accept or recognise the Catalan Unilateral Declaration of Independence,” the statement said. “The resolution of the current crisis needs to be within Spain's constitutional framework and through Spain's democratic institutions. Ireland supports efforts to resolve this crisis through lawful and peaceful means.”
But besides the problem of international recognition and Spanish government plans to unseat it, the Catalan government also faces the likelihood of judicial action. The attorney general, José Manuel Maza, is expected to accuse Mr Puigdemomt and other members of his government of sedition in the coming days, a crime punishable with a jail term of up to 30 years.