Ciudadanos calls for fresh suspension of Catalan powers after comments by premier

Party wants Socialist government to use Article 155 to take action against Quim Torra, after he vows his government will “attack” the “unjust Spanish state”

PP politician Xavier García Albiol (l) and Quim Torra argue on Friday over the latter’s comments about “attacking the Spanish state” ahead of a memorial service in Cambrils.
PP politician Xavier García Albiol (l) and Quim Torra argue on Friday over the latter’s comments about “attacking the Spanish state” ahead of a memorial service in Cambrils.EFE

Center-right political party Ciudadanos believes that comments made by Catalan regional premier Quim Torra saying that his government is going to “attack” the Spanish state are grounds for the region’s autonomous powers to be suspended once more under Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution.

Ciudadanos is going to formally demand that the PM call on the premier to promise to abide by the Spanish Constitution and law

The remark was made by Torra – who is a hardline supporter of independence for Catalonia – on Friday, during a speech he made outside the prison in Lledoners, where he had just visited the former regional interior chief, Joaquim Forn. The latter politician is currently being held in custody for his role in last year’s unilateral declaration of independence in Catalonia.

At the event on Friday, which coincided with the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks in Catalonia that left 16 people dead, Torra praised the work of Forn during the terrorist crisis in August of last year, and stated that “many of our friends” were missing from the memorial services, in reference to the politicians – including former premier Carles Puigdemont – who either fled Spain to avoid arrest or are currently in jail awaiting trial in the wake of last year’s independence drive.

General secretary of Ciudadanos, José Manuel Villegas

“We are going to attack that unjust Spanish state,” Torra told the assembled crowd in reference to the ongoing legal case against the Catalan politicians, which he argues has been discredited given Germany’s refusal to extradite Puigdemont to Spain to face rebellion charges, on the basis of a lack of evidence.

In response to Torra’s statements, Ciudadanos is going to formally demand that Socialist Party Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez call on the premier to promise to abide by the Spanish Constitution and law, and if he doesn’t, for him to be removed from his post.

Article 155 was invoked by the previous administration of the Popular Party (PP) Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in response to the unilateral declaration of independence passed at the end of October. It was lifted earlier this year once the new government of Quim Torra had been sworn in.

“The application of 155 is doing politics,” the general secretary of Ciudadanos, José Manuel Villegas, told the press on Monday. “The courts cannot be left alone in their defense of democracy.”

Villegas went on to accuse PM Sánchez of “looking the other way” and of being “paralyzed” in the face of Torra’s comments. The leader of Ciudadanos, Albert Rivera, defended the measure in a radio interview. “It’s clear that Torra must be required to abide by the law,” he said.

Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo

Ciudadanos argues that there is a basis for this first step of applying Article 155 given that the Catalan premier has spoken of attacking the state, of installing a Catalan republic, of opening embassies “in order to create propaganda for a coup,” and of using public money “to attack democracy.” The party also argues that this requirement for Torra to swear to abide by the laws can be enforced before any crime is committed by the heads of the regional government.

“If we do nothing [Torra] will stage another coup,” warned Villegas. “There is no need to wait until they carry out the coup, for them to commit a crime, to put the requirement into action […]. You cannot be the premier of an autonomous region if you don’t abide by the Constitution and the law.”

For now, however, the PSOE government does not believe that there are grounds to take action against the regional government. “You are not attacking the Spanish state by using an unacceptable phrase,” said the deputy prime minister, Carmen Calvo in reference to Torra’s statement. “When there are legal facts that can be dealt with via the legal system, using normal or exceptional means, the government knows the time and the manner of its constitutional obligations,” she continued.

Ciudadanos is proposing that a new invocation of Article 155 be used to take control of the regional Mossos d’Esquadra police force, to close Catalan embassies abroad and to take over Catalan public media outlets. It says it is open to a deal between the parties in favor of the unity of Spain in order to agree on a hypothetical application of the clause of the Constitution.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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