Cold reality dawns in Catalonia as Spain quashes sovereignty
The Catalan government is no more in the eyes of Spain, and indeed the European Union
Madrid: A moment of triumph, the declaration of Europe’s newest independent state, has quickly become the cold reality of what Catalonia’s separatists were always likely to face in their historic collision with Spain.
Within hours of the parliament in Barcelona voting to break away on Friday, the would-be Catalan Republic was hit by the might of the Spanish state. Rather than leaving Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and his deputies running their own affairs, it’s left them with little real power and facing potential arrest in coming days as Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s authorities move in.
“They tried to stage a kidnap and steal part of the community from the people,” Rajoy said in a televised national address. “Now it’s about trying to minimise the damage.”
The Catalan government is no more in the eyes of Spain, and indeed the European Union. Right after Catalan lawmakers victoriously sang their anthem, Rajoy used the power granted to him by the senate to start bringing to an end the country’s worst constitutional crisis for decades.
Elections, which Puigdemont had wanted to call to defuse the situation only to baulk as the separatist hard core engulfed him, will now come on December 21 after Rajoy dissolved the Catalan Parliament.
The prime minister, using the measures approved on Friday, delegated his deputy, Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, to take on the role of head of the Catalan regional government. Spain’s interior ministry named Ferran Lopez chief of the regional Catalan police, according to an emailed statement on Saturday from the ministry.
“Puigdemont is no longer the regional president,” Enric Millo, the central government’s representative in Catalonia, said on Catalunya Radio on Saturday. “The top authority in Catalonia now is the Spanish prime minister.”
The regional economy, which accounts for about a fifth of Spanish gross domestic product, is also under threat as more companies up sticks amid the threat of civil unrest. A business of German insurance giant Allianz AG on Friday added its name to the list of hundreds shifting out of Catalonia.
“It’s an enormous mess and utterly incomprehensible,” said Jordi Alberich, director general of Cercle d’Economia, a Barcelona-based business association. “The strategy seems to be to make this the biggest crisis possible so that the world will have to intervene. But I am convinced there is a clear majority of people who want a calm solution.”
With the senate action and the government’s decrees having being published in the official bulletin, Puigdemont and his colleagues have been removed from power and their posts eliminated.
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The chief prosecutor signalled he would seek rebellion charges against the Catalan president, whose message after the parliamentary vote was to see through the transition to a sovereign state.
“We face hours when we all have to keep this country going,” said Puigdemont. “It’s a society that has always responded peacefully and with civic responsibility to its great democratic challenges.”
The phalanx of pro-independence activists and demonstrators is certainly unlikely to take Spain’s dramatic intervention lying down.
Thousands of people gathered in the square where the regional government palace is located, some of them holding separatist flags and chanting slogans such as “llibertat” or “freedom.” A group extended the yellow-red-and-blue flag with white star from of the National Police barracks nearby.
“We are likely to see more sustained unrest, possibly including strikes, as well as more serious clashes between national police and pro-independence activists,” said Federico Santi, political analyst at Eurasia. “Parts of the regional administration will probably refuse to comply with orders from Madrid. The main signpost over the weekend will be whether the regional government refuses to willingly and peacefully step down.”
And then there’s the body of support for remaining part of Spain. Opponents of Catalan independence have called a demonstration in Barcelona for Sunday while hundreds gathered in Madrid’s iconic Colon Plaza, calling for unity in Spain.
One group of young people, draped in Spanish and Catalan flags, on Friday tried to head for the central square outside the regional government building where activists were celebrating. They were cut off by regional police with a file of riot vans.
“Nobody has done more against Catalan’s self-determination than the secessionists,” Pedro Sanchez, the Socialist party leader, said at a rally in the city of Toledo on Saturday. “Together, we have overcome difficult situations, and united we will overcome others.”
For many Catalans, the turbulent events of the past 48 hours were just sinking in as they braced for the inevitable reprisals. They would be forgiven for asking how they got here.
Years of pro-independence campaigning escalated with an unofficial referendum on Oct. 1 as Spanish national police beat would-be voters and stormed polling stations. But any moral high ground was never anchored in law.
Weeks of brinkmanship then culminated with two days of high drama as noises came from Barcelona of a Puigdemont climb-down and from some of Rajoy’s political opponents in Madrid of a potential deal should there be elections.
The Spanish government stood firm and the separatists faced a binary decision: capitulation or declaration.
As Puigdemont and his allies departed the Barcelona parliament on Friday evening the crowds had dwindled and there was no grandstanding. He smiled, got into his car, and left.