Catalan parliament declares independence from Spain, as Madrid approves direct rule over region

27.10.2017 - 18:20

James Badcock, Madrid James Rothwell James Crisp, Brussels
27 OCTOBER 2017 • 5:39 PM

The Catalan parliament declared independence from Spain on Friday, even as Madrid’s senate passed a motion to place the region under direct rule, plunging the divided country into political turmoil.

The vote in Barcelona was a secret ballot backed 70-10 and boycotted by opposition MPs. Secessionists hold a slim majority in the parliament.

Minutes after the vote, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy appealed for calm and vowed to restore legal order to the rogue region, which he will now seek to govern directly from Madrid.

“Spain is a serious country, agreat nation, and we are not going to watch while a few individuals try to liquidate our constitution,” he said.

As Madrid’s senate approved his motion to take special powers, including direct rule over Catalonia, he also announced that a cabinet meeting would be held at 5pm BST.

Meanwhile, thousands of pro-independence activists cheered in Barcelona as the Catalan parliament result was announced.

Watching proceedings in parliament on two large screens, they clapped and shouted “independence” in Catalan before singing the regional hymn, many raising their fists.

How has the Spanish government reacted?

The vote for independence came minutes before Mr Rajoy was granted “exceptional measures” to impose direct rule on Catalonia following its referendum on independence.

Fernando Martínez-Maíllo, chief spokesman for Mr Rajoy’s Popular Party, said the government will “proceed in a matter of hours to restore legality in Catalonia with the application of Article 155”.

Earlier that day, Mr Rajoy said “exceptional measures should only be adopted when there is no other possible remedy,”

With Mr Rajoy’s Popular Party having a majority in the chamber, the senate approved the first-ever application of Article 155 of the Spanish constitution on Friday afternoon, meaning the government of Catalan President Carles Puigdemont could be removed from power on Saturday.

The ruling Catalan coalition Junts pel Si (Together for Yes) and their allies of the far-left CUP party have submitted a proposal to the parliament that would “establish the Catalan Republic as an independent and sovereign state of democratic and social rule of law.”

Mr Puigdemont declared that Catalonia had a mandate to secede from Spain on October 10, but the parliament did not vote on a formal proclamation.

How exactly will Spain have direct rule over Catalonia?

Spain’s government has made clear that security in Catalonia will be its number-one priority.

It is understood that a new leadership structure will be imposed on the region’s Mossos d’Esqudra police force, whose current chief, Major Josep Lluís Trapero, is already facing a judicial investigation for alleged sedition.

Madrid will assume direct control of the region’s finances, including all outlays approved by Catalan officials and all collection of taxes.

All Catalan public agencies are subject to potential direct control from Madrid, but the government’s plans make specific mention of the region’s public television channel TV3, whose coverage of events has been widely criticized as biased in favour of Catalonia’s pro-independence government.

What will happen to the Catalan leader?

Spain’s public prosecutor had previously threatened that charges of treason would be prepared against Mr Puigdemont and his government if independence were declared.

The Spanish government has said that the “first measure” it will apply under the special powers of Article 155 will be to take direct control of Catalonia’s security forces.

This could be crucial in the event that force is required to make direct rule effective, especially if tens of thousands of pro-independence supporters take to the streets.

On Friday, Spanish media quoted the public prosecutor as saying that the speaker of parliament, Teresa Forcadell, and members of her committee could also be accused of crimes against the state for allowing the vote to go ahead.

The Catalan parliament’s legal advisors warned that the proposal to form a republic was illegal.

On Friday afternoon, a Spanish government spokesman said the country’s top prosecutor was pursuing rebellion charges against those responsible for the Catalan parliament vote.

Under Spanish criminal law, rebellion can be punished with up to 25 years in prison, with shorter term penalties if the act of rebellion doesn’t lead to violence.

How has the EU reacted?

Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, said the vote in Barcelona showed that “more cracks” were appearing in EU unity.

Carlos Moedas, the EU’s research and innovation commissioner, said it was the bloc’s responsibility to defend order in Spain.

“We all have to respect the countries as they are and we have to respect the constitutions and that’s extremely important for Europe,” he said.

Catalans call for ‘peaceful resistance’

The main secessionist group in Catalonia, the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), on Friday called on civil servants not to follow orders from the Spanish government after Madrid authorized direct rule over the region.

Following a declaration of independence in Catalonia the upper house of Spain’s parliament authorised the government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to rule Catalonia directly from Madrid.

The ANC called on Catalan civil servants to respond with “peaceful resistance”.

Spanish flag taken down in Girona

Local reporter Maria Garcia posted the following video on Twitter, which shows that the Spanish flag has been removed from Girona’s town hall.

How much support is there for independence in Catalonia?

Carmen Calvo, a former minister and the party’s chief negotiator with the Rajoy government on the terms of Article 155, said “Puigdemont can still call elections within the law”.

Mr Puigdemont was expected to call snap elections on Thursday, but finally decided that he lacked “guarantees” that would allow a ballot to be held without repression from Spain’s authorities.

The ruling Popular Party does not need the votes of socialist senators to trigger the application of Article 155, but Mr Rajoy has been at pains to seek broad support. PSOE negotiated the terms of the social powers being invoked, but then said that snap elections should mean a stay on direct rule being imposed.

The centrist Ciudadanos, which leads opposition to Catalan nationalism in the region’s parliament, has pledged its support to the government.

The Left-wing Podemos, the only national party to support a legal referendum in Catalonia, opposes both the imposition of Article 155 and any unilateral declaration of independence.

Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias said on Thursday that “elections in Catalonia will not resolve the problem, but they will make it more difficult to apply [Article] 155 and provide more time to seek dialogue”.

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