BARCELONA, Spain – Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy left the nation breathless when he announced the steps he wants to take to crush the separatist movement in the prosperous Catalonia region.
Rajoy called on Spain’s Senate on Saturday to trigger a previously untapped section of the constitution that allows the central government to temporarily intervene in the running of a region if its leaders have broken the law.
Activating the constitutional authority granted by Article 155 is Madrid’s boldest response so far to avowals from Catalonia’s leaders to declare independence based on an Oct. 1 referendum that a court has judged as illegal.
There are some of the regional powers Rajoy is seeking by triggering Article 155:
First and foremost, Rajoy wants to remove the members of Catalonia’s pro-independence regional government. Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, vice-president Oriol Junqueras, and the 12 regional ministers claim Catalonia is sovereign and not subject to Spanish law.
Catalonia has secured the ability to govern itself in many areas since democracy returned to Spain following the death of dictator Gen. Francisco Franco in 1975. Education, health and policing are areas in which the region enjoys self-rule.
Rajoy proposes taking over the vast regional administration and its roughly 200,000 civil servants after the top officials are removed. How Madrid’s management would work is unclear. One option would be for Spanish ministries to assume direct control of their regional counterparts.
Rajoy said interim authorities would have the power to fire public employees and that all decisions by regional administrators would need the central government’s approval.
TIMETABLE FOR TAKEOVER
A special commission of 27 senators will assess Rajoy’s request on Tuesday. Regional president Puigdemont will have the chance to argue his case before the Senate on Thursday before it holds a vote expected Friday.
DIFFICULT TO ENFORCE
Political observers across the ideological spectrum agree Rajoy and his government may have to resort to using force if Catalonia’s leaders disobey orders to step down. Calls for resistance and disobedience have become standard in the secessionist camp.
Hardcore separatists will put intense pressure on Puigdemont and his government to stay in office. There are fears such a standoff could lead to violent police raids like those that marred the referendum.
“I don’t think that Puigdemont will just walk away because he receives notification that he has been removed in a letter,” political analyst Josep Ramoneda said. “I think Rajoy is going to find that this will be very hard to enforce.”
In all 17 of Spain’s regions, the right to call early regional elections belongs exclusively to regional leaders. Rajoy wants that right passed to him temporarily in Catalonia. His request includes a commitment to call for regional elections within six months.
Catalan separatists, who won 48 per cent of the vote in a 2015 election, currently hold 72 of the regional parliament’s 135 seats. Rajoy will be hoping a new election would tip the balance in favour of lawmakers opposed to secession, especially those worried about the hundreds of businesses who already relocated their headquarters, fearing they would be out of the European Union if Catalonia secedes.
LIMITS ON LEGISLATION
While the prime minister isn’t asking to dissolve the Catalan Parliament, Rajoy wants to limit what it can do. Specifically, the parliament would not be able to designate a new regional president until after Rajoy calls for new elections.
Nor would it be able to quiz the region’s interim authorities, power that would temporarily go to Spain’s Senate. Catalonia’s Parliament also would not be allowed to pass laws countering the Article 155 measures and the central government would assume the right to veto bills.
Catalonia and the Basque Country are Spain’s only regions with their own fully deployed police forces. Spain wants to take direct control of Catalonia’s police, the Mossos d’Esquadra, and warns it will consider increasing the presence of the National Police and Civil Guard. Mossos chief Josep Trapero is already under investigation for sedition by a Spanish judge.
Spain will increase its supervision of the region’s finances, specifically to ensure that no public funds or revenues are used to promote a campaign for secession. Madrid put a large portion of Catalonia’s budget under its direct supervision in the run-up to the Oct. 1 referendum in an attempt to stop the vote from occurring.
Under Rajoy’s plan, Spanish authorities will also oversee the running of Catalonia’s public television and radio stations, which have been major proponents of secession. His government will “guarantee the transmission of information that is true, objective and balanced” and that is “respectful of the values and principles of the Spanish constitution and charter law for Catalonia,” Rajoy said.
The Catalan Audiovisual Media Corporation said Sunday it “stands firm by its mission to offer all the citizens of Catalonia …. a public service of the highest quality, committed to ethical, democratic and pluralistic principles.”