The Spanish government has announced that it will begin the process to impose direct rule on Catalonia. The announcement comes weeks after Catalonia held a referendum for its independence.
Catalonia has been settled by the Phoenicians, the Etruscans and the Greeks. It has a rich ancient history that also includes settlements by the Romans. Catalonia remained a part of the Roman Empire until fifth century.
In the 12th century, the county was brought under the same royal rule as the neighboring kingdom of Aragon, going on to become a major medieval sea power. Catalonia has been part of Spain since its genesis in the 15th century, when King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile married and united their realms.
The political movement for a separate state of Catalonia can be traced back to 1922. A deeper understanding of Catalan’s historic struggle for an independent state can be found here.
Catalonia is one of the most industrialized regions in Spain. It is also one of the wealthiest regions in the country and if it chooses to leave Spain, it will become the ninth largest economy in Europe.
Spain is currently in the midst of one of its worst political crises in its history. On October 1st, 2017, a referendum of independence was held. More than 2.2 million people voted and over 90% voted in favor of secession. The Spanish government has aggressively pushed back at the Catalan region. It forcibly tried to prevent the voting from taking place through the use of Spanish Civil Guards. The violence that broke out resulted in the injuries of over 800 people. Catalan President, Carles Puigdemont announced that the region had "earned the right" to independence but suspended a formal declaration and urged for diplomatic dialogue. Spain has rejected the offer and taken a hard stance. It recently arrested and detained two senior leaders of the secessionist movement. Details can be found here.
Reports have now emerged that Spain will move to impose direct rule over the Catalonian region by invoking the constitution. Specifically, it will be using Article 155, which will allow it to suspend Catalonia’s autonomy. Article 155 is only two short paragraphs of the 1978 Constitution of Spain. It says that if a regional government "doesn't comply with the obligations of the Constitution or other laws it imposes, or acts in a way that seriously undermines the interests of Spain", the national government can ask the Senate to vote on the use of the measure.
In a statement from Madrid, the government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has confirmed the development. The statement by Rajoy was issued after Catalonia threatened to declare its independence if Spain did not agree to diplomatic dialogue. Puigdemont offered two months of dialogue with Madrid to foster independence.
Spain denounced the attitude maintained by those responsible for harming "the coexistence and economic structure of Catalonia", the prime minister's statement said, promising that Madrid would do everything in its power to restore "legality and constitutional order".
Spanish government spokesperson Inigo Mendez de Vigo told reporters in Madrid: "Cabinet ministers will approve the [Article 155] measures on Saturday, which will be submitted to the Senate to protect the interests of the Spanish people - including the Catalans in Catalonia. The government will do everything in its power to put a brake on the economic deterioration in Catalonia caused by the actions of the present Catalonia president."
Meanwhile, Puigdemont has already stated that the region would secede from Spain if Article 155 is invoked. In a letter to the Spanish government he wrote, “If the central government persists in impeding dialogue and continuing its repression, Catalonia's parliament will proceed ... with a vote to formally declare independence.”
Our assessment is that ties between Spain and the Catalan government has further deteriorated. It seems even less likely now for the two parties to reach an amicable resolution through diplomatic dialogue. Over 200,000 people in Catalonia have marched for its freedom and Spain’s latest move will likely result in more protests. The Catalan crisis has surely reached its breaking point. Perhaps it is time for the members of the European Union to step in and mediate a resolution before it is too late.