What Will Happen If Carles Puigdemont Ratifies the Declaration of Catalan Independence and Spain Invokes Article 155?
Catalonia is facing yet another precipice moment at 10 am tomorrow (Monday 16th October), which is the deadline that Spain has given the President of the Generalitat of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, to withdraw or ratify the declaration of independence he made on Tuesday October 10th and then quickly suspended in order to allow time for dialogue.
The threat hanging over Puigdemont is that if he does not fully withdraw the declaration, Spain will refuse to engage in any kind of dialogue and will invoke the very vague Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, which basically allows the Spanish government to take whatever means necessary to put government in Catalonia back on a Spanish legal framework. Before considering what the triggering of Article 155 might entail, let me first try and predict what I think Carles Puigdemont is going to say.
Last Tuesday’s Speech
Firstly, let me say that I think the clear and assertive declaration of independence followed by its almost immediate suspension was a masterstroke by President Puigdemont, particularly bearing in mind that a document confirming the declaration of independence was signed by all 72 pro-independence members of the Parliament of Catalonia at the end of the evening.
The events of Tuesday evening confused almost everyone. Catalan supporters of independence went from euphoria to depression in a matter of seconds and, at the end of the evening, even they were uncertain as to whether independence had been declared or not.
Similarly, the Spanish government was left uncertain about how to react and this bought precious time. A simple declaration could well have brought about the immediate invocation of Article 155 and suspension of autonomous government in Catalonia and subsequent violent police repression of the disorganised protesters, who would inevitably have opposed the suspension. The suspension of the declaration not only left time for dialogue but also gave the supporters of Catalan independence a chance to regroup and prepare themselves for the next stage of the process.
The Spanish government did have a meeting of the Council of Ministers and took the first steps in invoking Article 155 but this only gave Puigdemont a chance to leave them in an even poorer light, when he tweeted out “You ask for dialogue and they reply by putting Article 155 on the table. Understood.”
The international community and the media all clearly saw that the Spanish were being intransigent. EU President, Jean-Claude Juncker in a speech in German said in a speech in German that the EU would not be mediating in the conflict between Spain and Catalonia over Catalan independence because “only one of the parties was prepared to enter into dialogue”. Most people saw this as a refusal to help Catalonia but in actual fact, it was a recognition that only the Catalans were prepared to commit to mediation.
What Will Puigdemont Say Tomorrow?
The consequences of Puigdemont’s clever speech last Tuesday mean that I am confident that he won’t withdraw the declaration of independence but without moving too far forward he will try to gain more moral high ground. I imagine he’ll word some kind of official statement along very similar lines to those used in his original speech, focussing on the idea that according to the will of the Catalan people he, as their servant, doesn’t have the right to withdraw the declaration of independence and reiterating the offer of dialogue and once again that it still won’t come into effect.
I also imagine he will echo the unfortunate words of Spanish government spokesperson, Pablo Casado, who just before the parliamentary session last week mentioned former President of the Generalitat Lluís Companys without being fully aware of the history. He said that the anniversary of Companys declaration of independence on October 6th 1934 had recently passed and that he hoped history wouldn’t repeat itself meaning that he hoped that Carles Puigdemont wouldn’t declare independence and subsequently be imprisoned as Companys had been in 1934.
However, I don’t believe that he realised that on October 15th 1940, which means the anniversary is today, after having been captured by the Gestapo in France and extradited to Spain, Companys was shot by a Francoist firing squad on Montjuïc in Barcelona. I’m sure Puigdemont will mention this in whatever statement he makes because the story of Companys not only reminds the international community that Catalonia’s push for independence from Spain has been going on for a very long time but it will also warn Spain not to overreact because the police already overstepped the mark on referendum day and now everyone is watching.
So what is Article 155 and how will Spain put it into effect?
In plain English, Article 155, which has never been invoked before, means that if a self-governing community, like Catalonia, has acted in any way to undermine the interests of Spain, the national government will “take all measures necessary” to force it to meet its obligations to the state.
Here is the actual wording of Article 155 in the Spanish constitution:
“If a self-governing community does not fulfill the obligations imposed upon it by the constitution or other laws, or acts in a way that is seriously prejudicial to the general interest of Spain, the government, after having lodged a complaint with the president of the self-governing community and failed to receive satisfaction therefore, may, following approval granted by the overall majority of the senate, take all measures necessary to compel the community to meet said obligations, or to protect the above mentioned general interest.”
It adds: “With a view to implementing the measures provided for in the foregoing paragraph, the government may issue instructions to all the authorities of the self-governing communities.”
The procedure for the invocation of article 155 is also important because its not immediate. The Spanish government has to submit a list of measures to the Spanish Senate, which are then debated and put to a vote, which will be approved because the Partido Popular has an absolute majority in the Senate. However, apparently the procedure is likely to take at least 5 days, which takes us once again at least to the start of next week, during which time the Spanish National Police and Civil Guard cannot act against Catalan politicians and political institutions.
The measures that Rajoy is likely to present to the Senate are the immediate suspension of the Catalan government and the calling of autonomous elections for some time before Christmas. This will be accompanied by the start of judicial procedures against most of the main pro-independence politicians for sedition.
How Will The Catalans React?
Once the invocation of Article 155 has officially begun, and I suspect it will be during the Senate debate, Carles Puigdemont will make another call for dialogue and international mediation and then will make a formal Declaration of Independence with no ifs and buts. I’m reasonably certain that the declaration will be made from the Parliament of Catalonia although the balcony of the Palau de la Generalitat on Plaça de Sant Jaume would give the declaration a symbolic appeal because this is from where previous declarations of independence and other important announcements have always been made.
Whatever the location, there will be a massive number of pro-independence supporters in attendance, I’m talking tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands, making it impossible for the Spanish police to act against the Catalan government. These activists will then be deployed to protect other key government locations by the leadership and the Republic of Catalonia will begin to function.
There might be a few violent incidents between Catalans and Spanish police and perhaps a Catalan martyr or two but the EU, only concerned for its own survival, won’t allow the Spanish government to deploy the military. In fact, Spain’s most important weapon will be its ability to suffocate the Catalan economy, at least initially.
However, although there’ll be a few hiccoughs and occasional inefficiencies and shortages, businesses will continue to work and people will realise that the world hasn’t come to an end.
A few countries will recognise Catalonia immediately and that number will grow over the following months. I don’t exactly know when but finally Catalonia will be recognised by larger countries and the major international institutions. A new country, the Republic of Catalonia, will have come into being.
I discuss more or less the same ideas in the following video
Why I Think the Dawn of the Independent Republic of Catalonia Is Imminent