Should I Stay or Should I Go? Can I?
What is happening in Catalonia?
On October 1, 2017, the Spanish autonomous community of Catalonia voted to secede from the Kingdom of Spain.
On the day of the referendum, which was organized by the Regional Catalan Government, Madrid ordered the event to be shut down, and police to seize ballot boxes. Something which quickly turned violent. According to El País, the total injuries after the clashes was 844 people.
However, despite the opposition, the president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, was excited to announce that a whopping 2,262,424 voters (90.9%) chose independence. With just 177,547 (7.99%) voting against it.
Nevertheless, the voter turnout for the referendum was actually just 43.03% if the 5.3 million eligible voters, meaning the 90% statistics is most probably far from the actual consensus in the region. According to Catalan government spokesman Jordi Turull, more people would have turned up had not the Spanish police suppressed the voting. Although, because the vote was seen as illegal by Madrid — something Catalonia showed their knowledge of by hiding ballot boxes — pro-unity residents most probably did never even attempt to vote.
Despite this, president Puigdemont said some 10 days following the referendum that he will assume “the mandate that Catalonia should become an independent state in the form of a republic”, but stopped short of unilaterally declaring secession from Spain in a plea for dialogue with Madrid.
The same day, Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy insisted that the government is thinking of invoking Article 155 of the Constitution. Which states:
(1) If a Self-governing Community does not fulfil the obligations imposed upon it by the Constitution or other laws, or acts in a way that is seriously prejudicial to the general interests of Spain, the Government, after having lodged a complaint with the President of the Self-governing Community and failed to receive satisfaction therefore, may, following approval granted by the overall majority of the Senate, take all measures necessary to compel the Community to meet said obligations, or to protect the above-mentioned general interest.
(2) With a view to implementing the measures provided for in the foregoing paragraph, the Government may issue instructions to all the authorities of the Self-governing Communities.
In other words, if an autonomous community fails to obey the Constitution, the government, with the Senate’s approval, can make it obey it by force.
Initially, Madrid gave Catalonia until Monday, October 16, to clarify their position on independence. When that did not happen, Spain set another deadline for Thursday, October 19. Which just expired.
Therefore, the Spanish government announced on October 19 that ministers would meet to activate Article 155, allowing them to take over the ruling of the region, and suspending the autonomy. It would be the first time this article has been invoked.
On October 21, Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy announced that Madrid has decided to remove Catalonia’s separatist president, Carles Puigdemont, from office.
The prime minister said his government is putting an end to “a unilateral process, contrary to the law and searching for confrontation” because “no government of any democratic country can accept that the law be violated, ignored and changed.”
Rajoy, in addition, made it clear that his cabinet now has invoked Article 155 and that Catalan power will be transferred to Spain’s central government.