On December 21, the Catalans will have the chance to go to the polls, after the Spanish government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy assumed on Friday powers to call elections from the regional premier, Carles Puigdemont. Under Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, which was invoked on Friday by the Senate, and following measures that were later approved by the Spanish Cabinet, Puigdemont will be removed from office, along with all the members of his government. What’s more, under the powers granted to the government under Article 155 – an obscure provision that has never before been used – the so-called Catalan “embassies” abroad will be closed down – apart from the one in Brussels – while the region’s delegates in Madrid and the Belgian capital will also be removed.
The move comes in the wake of a session on Friday that saw pro-independence parties in the Catalan parliament vote in favor of an independence declaration, the culmination of a years-long battle of wills between Madrid and Catalonia over the northeastern region’s powers of self-government. The vote came after a referendum on October 1 that was declared illegal by the Constitutional Court, but went ahead anyway. Puigdemont’s Junts pel Sí (Together for Yes) party, and his partners in parliament, the far-left anti-capitalist CUP party, stated that they had a mandate from this vote to declare independence, despite a lack of any kind of democratic guarantees for the poll and a turn-out of just just 38% of the total census of those with the right to vote.
The measures being taken to “return to legality and self-governance to Catalonia as soon as possible.”
Speaking on Friday evening after his Cabinet meeting, Rajoy stated that the measures being taken were not about “suspending the region’s autonomy, but rather returning legality and self-governance to Catalonia as soon as possible.” With the aim of ending this exceptional situation as soon as possible, the prime minister opted for December 21 elections in the region, much earlier than any of the dates that had so far been mooted.
This decision means that the measures approved by the Cabinet will not last long. What’s more, the executive decided to file an appeal at the Constitutional Court against the independence declaration that was approved by the Catalan parliament.
The government will be removing from office the regional premier, Carles Puigdemont, the deputy premier, Oriol Junqueras (Catalan Republican Left (ERC)), and all of his ministers, apart from one, who resigned the day before when the premier failed to call early elections as expected.
Among the ministers are Jordi Turull, the regional government spokesperson, and Raül Romeva, the foreign minister.
The general director of the regional Mossos d’Esquadra police force, Pere Soler, will also be removed from his post, while on Saturday morning, the Interior Ministry announced that the chief of the Mossos, Josep Lluís Trapero, would also be sacked.
In total, and including the trusted staff of these figures, more than 140 sackings are expected.
In principle, there won’t be a central cabinet that coordinates the control of the regional administration, but rather, as agreed by the Senate, each central ministry in Madrid will take charge of the relevant department.
According to government sources, there will not be time nor the intention to change policies in each area, but rather just to do away with the areas that have been used as a springboard for the pro-independence project.
“We are responding to decisions that aimed to impose an unacceptable sequestration of the Catalans and the theft of part of the joint territory of the Spanish,” said the prime minister during his brief statement on Friday night, after which he did not take questions. “The state has at its disposition the sufficient means so that, in a peaceful and moderate way, it can return to legal normality and dissolve the threats that [pro-independence forces] are making toward coexistence.”
Within Rajoy’s Popular Party (PP) the belief was held that such early elections may not allow enough time for such a poll to happen with normality. Indeed, it is still not clear whether pro-independence parties will take part. The main opposition Socialist Party (PSOE) and center-left group Ciudadanos, who supported Rajoy in his invocation of Article 155, were opting for January. Rajoy surprised everyone with his decision to hold the elections in less than eight weeks.
The application of Article 155 was debated during Friday in the Senate before it was put to a vote. In the end, the PP and the PSOE opted not to take control of public broadcasters in Catalonia, which have become notorious for pushing a pro-independence agenda. The final approved plan did, however, make harsher the measures that the government can take against civil servants and functionaries who do not collaborate in the application of the measures that will be imposed.
“What has happened is heartbreaking and distressing,” said Rajoy on Friday night. “But we are going to work for tranquillity and the hopes of all Catalans.”
English version by Simon Hunter.