Where Does Catalonia Go From Here? Whichever Way, It’s Messy

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Puigdemont Faces Charges Over Catalan Independence

It was a day of reckoning for Spain.

The central government in Madrid began quashing the secessionist movement in Catalonia. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy dismissed everyone from the region’s president, Carles Puigdemont, to the general manager of its police force, while dissolving the local parliament and calling for regional elections on Dec. 21 -- all in a historic televised address after 8 p.m. local time.

Mariano Rajoy speaks at the Moncloa Palace on Oxctober 27.

Photographer: Angel Navarrete/Bloomberg

The actions came just hours after the rebel region’s lawmakers unilaterally -- and illegally -- declared independence. Puigdemont’s name had already begun to appear on documents as President of the Catalan Republic.

Here are the main movers of change, to help you sort out what’s next:

The Catalans

The parliament in Barcelona voted to instruct the Catalan government to fully break with Spain in a secret vote without roll call. Whether any of that will take a step forward is doubtful.

Spanish law allows for jail of up to 30 years for rebellion. Separately, the legislature’s resolution was appealed to the Constitutional Court, which can suspend or annul it.

“Most important is this: How will civil servants react? Will they resist or will they do what the new boss says?” said Elisa de la Nuez, a public-law attorney in Madrid. “I think they’ll wonder, why make a big fuss if elections are coming in just two months.”

The Spanish Government

Prime Minister Rajoy acted just hours after winning unprecedented powers to bring the Catalan government to heel under Spanish law. “It’s a sad day for Spaniards,” Rajoy said. His crackdown and the senate’s approval can be challenged in court.

“There could be an appeal against these powers, and against any measure the government took,” said de la Nuez, who also is general manager of legal advocacy foundation Hay Derecho in Madrid. In the meantime, “normal life will continue at schools and hospitals.”

Next we see just how Madrid will carry out the changes, considering the thousands of protesters in the streets of Barcelona, where the Catalan Parliament and government are located.

A key move, perhaps, was removing Pere Soler, the general manager of the region’s police. The 17,000-member Mossos d’Esquadra now must take direct orders from the central government, which can supplement them with national police officers, after the Mossos failed to enforce court orders against the illegal independence referendum Oct. 1.

At the time of publication, the street protests were peaceful.

Here are the other measures Spain’s central government took, just hours after receiving approval from the nation’s Senate to crack down:

  • Dismissed Vice-President Oriol Junqueras and rest of Catalan cabinet;
  • Assigned national ministries to carry out measures throughout Catalan departments
  • Closed Department of Transition, public diplomacy agency, foreign “embassies” except one in Brussels

Several measures remain to be taken, or perhaps they’re embedded in ones already taken:

  • While the Catalan administration continues to function, it hands veto power over all ts actions to Madrid.
  • Economic, financial, tax and budget matters may be directed by Madrid, which would assume responsibility “for budget stability and financial sustainability.”
  • Telecommunications and information security for the Catalan government may be taken over.
  • The parliament continues to function, though lawmakers can’t swear in a new chief until after elections under Catalonia’s new regime.
  • The measures are to be applied gradually, and proportionately “to reestablish constitutional order.”

International Pressure

There was little hope for Catalan rebels from abroad. Officials in Europe have broadly backed Rajoy’s hardline approach.

European Union President Donald Tusk said on Twitter that nothing has changed in the policy toward Catalonia and Spain “remains our only interlocutor.” He said he hoped the Spanish government “favors force of argument, not argument of force.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg weighed in on Friday on the same side. He tweeted that the “Catalonia issue must be resolved within Spain’s constitutional order. Spain is a committed ally, with important contributions to our security.”

Pro independence supporters gather at Sant Jaume square in Barcelona on Oct. 27.

Photographer: Guillem Sartorio/Bloomberg


Don’t underestimate the power of civic groups to fill the streets in Barcelona and other cities with protesters.

“The streets, as always, is where there’s the most doubt,” said attorney de la Nuez.

Below, in Catalan, a call to action begins: “Do not respond violently to possible threats or provocations, smile!” First method: “Sit on the floor, connect with people on your sides and cross your legs.”

This is a call to civil disobedience, sent out via message to pro-independence people by Catalan National Assembly.

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