Spain set to implement direct rule in Catalonia

Catalan independence movement regards unprecedented move as highly provocative

Thousands of protesting students march on the Catalan government palace in Barcelona for a pro-independence rally. Video: Reuters

 

The Spanish senate is today expected to approve a highly contentious motion allowing the government to take control of Catalonia’s devolved administration, in a bid to halt the region’s drive for independence.

The senate will vote on the implementation of article 155 of the constitution, which has never been used since the return to democracy in Spain four decades ago.

With a majority in the chamber, the governing Popular Party (PP) is almost certain to see the motion approved, before it comes into effect probably on Saturday, allowing prime minister Mariano Rajoy to remove from office Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and his entire cabinet and put their portfolios under Madrid’s control.

“Article 155 is not the beginning of a new political centralism, but the beginning of the end of a repeated breaking of the law,” Spanish deputy prime minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría told a senate commission on Thursday.

She added that it will open a new era in which “welfare, coexistence and peace return to Catalonia”.

Highly provocative

However, the Catalan independence movement regards this unprecedented move as highly provocative.

On Thursday, Mr Puigdemont ruled out calling snap elections in the region, in what would have been seen as a conciliatory move. He said he had failed to persuade the Spanish government to soften its stance by withdrawing the application of article 155 if he called the elections.

“This is a use [of article 155] that is beyond the law, abusive and unjust and it seeks to eradicate not just sovereignty but the entire tradition of Catalan identity which has led us to this point,” Mr Puigdemont said in a statement in his government headquarters in Barcelona.

On Thursday night, the Catalan parliament was debating how to respond to Madrid’s imminent use of direct rule, with widespread speculation that it will issue a declaration of independence before a second session finishes on Friday.

‘Defend the republic’

“We are prepared to defend the republic until the final consequences,” Benet Salellas, of the Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), a stridently pro-independence party, told the parliament.

The current crisis was triggered by an independence referendum organised by the Catalan government on October 1st which was deemed illegal by the Spanish authorities. Mr Puigdemont has said the result of that controversial vote gave Catalonia a mandate to break away from Spain.

There is still a great deal of uncertainty surrounding how exactly the Rajoy government will introduce direct rule. The Catalan head of foreign affairs, Raül Romeva, warned earlier this week that many civil servants will not obey instructions from Madrid.