Latest Developments in Catalonian Standoff by Nathan Richmond
Catalonia Declares Independence and Madrid Responds
"We establish the Catalan Republic as an independent state." On Oct 27, 2017, by a vote of 70-10 with 2 abstentions and 53 opposition members leaving before the vote, the Catalan Parliament in Barcelona approved the above resolution and declared Catalonia's independence. Within hours the Spanish Senate in Madrid invoked Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution and revoked Catalonia's autonomy by a vote of 214 to 47 with 1 abstention. By doing so, the Spanish government placed the region under the direct control of the central authorities in Madrid. Deputy Prime Minister Ms. Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría has been tasked with Catalonia's governance.
What Does Direct Rule Mean For Catalonia?
Spain is divided into autonomous 17 regions, each with its own elected government that handles its own regional affairs. Foreign policies, fiscal policies, and control of the armed forces are the exclusive prerogative of the central government. Other than these three policy areas, Catalonia exercised control in its own region on such issues as health, education, welfare, culture, the environment, and transportation through the 135 member Catalonian Parliament and by Carles Puigdemont, who was elected Catalonia's president in 2016. Catalonia also has its own police force and its own television and radio broadcasting services.
The imposition of direct rule from Madrid means that Catalonia will no longer have control over these and other policy areas they previously controlled, and all decisions for Catalonia will be made by the central government. The Catalonian Parliament has been dissolved, Puigdemont has been dismissed as president, and his government has been removed. The Catalan Police Chief has been dismissed and the 17,000 member strong Catalan police force has been put under the control of the Spanish Ministry of the Interior. The regional broadcast company has also been placed under Madrid's authority.
What Will Happen Next?
In the past few days mass demonstrations for and against Catalan independence have occurred in Barcelona and Madrid. The Spanish government has scheduled new elections for the Catalan Parliament for December 21st, and Prime Minister Rajoy has said that deposed Catalan President Puigdemont is welcome to participate in the upcoming election. It is unclear at this point if any of the independence supporting Catalan political parties will participate in the December election.
Meanwhile, charges of "rebellion" are being drafted against Puigdemont by the Spanish Prosecutor's Office and could be imposed any day. Then it will be up to a Spanish court to accept or decline those charges. This has prompted Belgian politicians to consider protecting Puigdemont by offering him political asylum, and some French Catalans are offering to protect the Spanish Catalan "government in exile."
Puigdemont has called for non-violent, "democratic opposition" to Madrid's takeover of Catalonia's affairs. He has urged Catalonia's 27,000 civil servants not to cooperate with Madrid's takeover, and not to assist the Madrid government in implementing direct governance of the region. The region's largest civil service union has urged workers not to obey "questionable orders."
Looking back, it appears that Prime Minister Rajoy's government made a serious miscalculation by attempting to suppress the October 1st independence referendum with violence. Had the vote taken place peacefully, it is likely that the pro-independence voters would have been in the minority. With the violence during the referendum, and Madrid's heavy-handed takeover of Catalonia, many of those who were opposed to independence, and many who were undecided, now favor independence.
This conflict between Madrid and Barcelona (the capital of Catalonia), is not likely to end soon. Depending on how events unfold, it could have a seriously negative impact on the Spanish economy. This, in turn, could lead to renewed economic crisis within the European Union (EU) if the EU has to come to Spain's economic rescue.
Catalonia has asked the European Union (EU) to mediate their dispute with the Spanish government and have been rebuffed. EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has condemned the Catalan independence movement arguing that Europe cannot function with dozens of members representing Europe's many small regions. This, in turn, has evoked ridicule and charges of hypocrisy from Catalonians who number 7.5 million, compared to Juncker's Luxembourg, which has a population of half a million.
On the surface this dispute appears to be a purely Spanish issue firmly within the Spanish government's control. Yet this could turn out to be an intractable problem for Spain and have wider ramifications for the EU. At this point, this political conflict is far from resolved.
Nathan Richmond is Professor of Government at Utica College