Spain takes over Catalonia. What's next?
Today the head of the government of Spain, Mariano Rajoy, delegated the authority of the head of Catalonia to the Vice-Premier, Minister of Territorial Administration Soraya Saenz de Santamaria after the dismissal of Carles Puigdemont from office. Rajoy announced the decision to remove not only Puigdemont, but also the members of his government, and dissolved the Catalan parliament, which yesterday approved a resolution on the proclamation of Catalonia’s independence. In response, the Spanish Senate approved Madrid's request for the launch of the previously not applied 155th article of the country's constitution, which allows to limit the self-government of the region. As Deutsche Welle writes in the article Catalonia crisis: Spain takes over regional parliament, calls elections after independence declaration, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy assumed control of Catalonia on Saturday after sacking the Catalan parliament and announcing elections in the region for December 21.
Spain's Senate voted 214 to 47 the previous evening to invoke Article 155 and seize control of the region immediately after it had declared its independence. This marks the first time since the fall of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975 that the central government has taken direct control of one of Spain's 17 semi-autonomous regions. "The President of the Government of the Nation takes on the role and the competences corresponding to the President of the Generalitat of Catalonia, foreseen by the Autonomy Statute," the official bulletin of the Spanish state said on Saturday morning. "We Spaniards are living through a sad day in which a lack of reason prevailed upon the law and demolished democracy in Catalonia," Rajoy told a news conference on Friday. "We never wanted to come to this point," he said, adding that the goal is to "return Catalonia to normality and legality" following an unauthorized independence referendum on October 1.
Catalan leaders no longer paid
Deposed leader Carles Puigdemont and his 12-member cabinet will be struck off the payroll and face charges of usurping others' functions if they refuse to obey. But there was no immediate sign that top Catalan officials were willing to comply. Rajoy must also exert Madrid's control over the lower levels of the 200,000-strong regional administration, some of whom have pledged not to obey orders following calls from secessionist group - the Catalan National Assembly (ANC). The region's police chief Josep Lluis Trapero was also sacked from his role on Saturday, the official government gazette said. Trapero issued a statement saying he would comply. The regional police force urged its members to behave in a neutral manner and not takes sides in the dispute in an internal note seen by the Reuters news agency. Madrid could also seize control of Catalonia's civil service, police and finances, which would remain in place until a new parliament is elected. Senators voted not to interfere with Catalonia's public radio and television.
Puigdemont's fate on the line
A spokesman for the public prosecutor's office told the French news agency AFP that "public prosecutors will file a complaint for rebellion against Carles Puigdemont next week," adding similar lawsuits could be filed against other members of the Catalan government and parliament. Under Spanish law, the crime of "rebellion" is punishable by up to 30 years in jail. Late Friday afternoon, the 135-member Catalan parliament in Barcelona voted in favor of a declaration of independence, with 70 voting for the measure and 10 against. The lower vote count was due to a walkout by dozens of opposition lawmakers - among them the opposition Socialists and Citizens - who left the Catalan parliament chamber in protest against the vote on independence after placing Spanish and Catalonia official flags in their empty seats. "Our legitimate parliament has taken a very important step. This is the people's mandate," Puigdemont told a crowd in Barcelona after the Madrid vote, calling for calm and dignity. Puigdemont emphasized the importance of maintaining "momentum." Several hundred people protested against the independence bid in Barcelona on Friday night, waving Spanish flags as they demonstrated in the city. Barcelona and Madrid narrowly avoided ending the deadlock on Thursday, with Puigdemont declining to call snap elections that would bring in a new government, and Rajoy refusing to accept a deal from the Catalan president that would have secured his region's autonomy.
EU and US back Madrid
Spain's allies reacted in solidarity with Rajoy's government on Friday. European Council President Donald Tusk made clear that Madrid "remains our only interlocutor."
Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, warned of the danger of "more cracks" opening up in the 28-member bloc following Catalonia's vote.
Calling for dialogue between the two sides, Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesperson, Steffen Seibert, made clear that Berlin did not recognize "such an independence declaration."
"I have one partner in Spain, that's Prime Minister Rajoy," French President Emmanuel Macron chimed in.
Britain "does not and will not" recognize the unilateral declaration of independence made by the Catalan regional parliament, Prime Minister Theresa May's spokesperson said in a statement.
Calling Catalonia "an integral part of Spain," the US State Department reaffirmed its support to "keep Spain strong and united."
Meanwhile, Scotland - which itself has considered independence - expressed understanding for Catalonia's position, but ultimately sided with the Spanish government as well. "The imposition of direct rule cannot be the solution and should be of concern to democrats everywhere. The EU has a political and moral responsibility to support dialogue to identify how the situation can be resolved peacefully and democratically," Scotland's Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs Fiona Hyslop said in a statement.