Catalan independence

Madrid prepared to halt Article 155 if Catalan premier calls early elections

Carles Puigdemont has until Thursday at 10am to confirm whether or not he unilaterally declared independence

The Spanish government will not take the unprecedented step of activating Article 155 of the Constitution – which would allow it to take control of certain autonomous powers in Catalonia – should the regional premier, Carles Puigdemont, call early elections in the northeastern Spanish region.

Thursday at 10am is the second deadline set by the Spanish government for Puigdemont to confirm whether or not he has unilaterally declared independence for Catalonia, after his ambiguous statement during a parliament session last week and subsequent failure to respond to a request for clarification from Madrid, the deadline which expired on Monday morning. Puigdemont responded to Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy via a letter, but in it he failed to state whether or not he had declared independence.

The activation of Article 155 is not automatic, and the procedures required could take several days

If the regional premier does not make the required clarification on the independence declaration and return to an observance of Spanish law tomorrow, the central government is prepared to activate Article 155, which would allow it to suspend elements of Catalonia’s self-governance.

However, the activation of Article 155 is not automatic. The procedures required – which include approval from the Senate – could take several days, depending on the speed with which Rajoy wants to apply the process. This would open a window of opportunity for Puigdemont to call elections, given the difficult situation and internal tensions his Junts pel Sí party is suffering. The coalition is made up of two groups, the Catalan European Democratic Party (PDeCAT) and the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), and is governing in a minority. It is supported by the CUP, a far-left anti-capitalist organization, which has been calling on Puigdemont to immediately and unequivocally declare independence and proclaim a Catalan republic.

The PP, the Socialist Party and Ciudadanos have long seen early elections as the best solution

The governing Popular Party (PP), the main opposition Socialist Party (PSOE) and center-right Ciudadanos have long seen early elections as the best solution to the institutional conflict currently playing out between the central government in Madrid and regional government in Catalonia. But government sources explain that there are conditions: Puigdemont will only avoid the application of Article 155 of the Constitution if he calls elections without confirming that he declared independence in Catalonia, and the elections will have to be regular regional polls – the last regional elections in Catalonia were touted by the pro-independence parties as a plebiscite on secession from Spain.

Given that Catalonia does not have its own electoral law, elections would be called under state legislation, and would as such have to meet the requirements set out therein. If Puigdemont wanted new polls for this year, and to avoid the Christmas holidays under the timetables set out in the legislation, he would have to call elections before October 25, given that 54 days must pass between elections being called and the day they are held. This would set the election date at December 17.

If Puigdemont wanted new polls for this year, and to avoid Christmas holidays, he would have to call elections before October 25

In the meantime, however, the central government is still finalizing the measures it is likely to put in place should it have to activate Article 155 – a move that would be completely unprecedented in Spain’s recent democratic history.

English version by Simon Hunter.