The recently inaugurated Catalan premier, Quim Torra, has reshuffled his Cabinet lineup, replacing four candidates under investigation for their role in the unilateral independence drive and paving the way for an end to direct rule in the region by Madrid.
The move comes at a convulsed political moment for Spain, just 48 hours before Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy faces a no-confidence vote in Congress that could see him ousted and replaced by Pedro Sánchez of the opposition Socialist Party (PSOE).
Article 155 can only be lifted once a new Catalan government is formed
Although Torra took office in mid-May, his decision to include people under criminal investigation in his government had met with opposition from Madrid, which refused to publish their names in the Catalan official gazette, Diari Oficial de la Generalitat de Catalunya (DOGC), effectively preventing the new Catalan government from taking office.
Torra, a hard-line separatist who views himself as a stand-in for ousted ex-premier Carles Puigdemont, had drafted a list of Cabinet members that included Lluís Puig and Toni Comín, who are fugitives from justice, and Jordi Turull and Josep Rull, who are in custody awaiting trial over rebellion and misuse of public funds.
The Spanish government described these picks as “a provocation” and said direct rule would continue as long as Torra did not choose ministers unencumbered by criminal investigations.
According to the new list, Elsa Artadi will replace Turull as government spokesperson, Àngels Chacón will be in charge of the business department, Damià Calvet will replace Rull as the chief of territorial affairs, and Laura Borràs will replace Puig as the minister of culture.
Torra had previously chosen two fugitives of justice and two individuals in pre-trial detention
The new picks will also improve the gender balance of the regional government, with six women holding 13 of the Cabinet positions. Torra had received widespread criticism for the lack of parity from opposition parties inside the Catalan parliament.
By choosing different officials who are not wanted by the law or in jail, Torra will now be able to form a new government and end the application of Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, which has paved the way for Madrid to take control of the region’s autonomous powers..
But tensions between the Spanish and Catalan governments are likely to continue. Torra has announced that the regional government will consider filing a complaint against Rajoy for preventing the publication of his original Cabinet lineup in the regional gazette.
English version by Melissa Kitson.