Article 155 and the Declaration of Independence: It’s finally make or break time for Catalonia!
Both the Spanish and Catalan governments have been preparing for the big showdown that’s going to take place between today and tomorrow in the Senate in Madrid and in the Parliament of Catalonia respectively.
Puigdemont and the Senate
The main question throughout the week has been whether or not Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, would go to the Senate to make a case against the application of Article 155. He wanted to attend on Wednesday but the Senate told him he had to make his appearance at 5 o’clock this afternoon (Thursday) when the plenary session of the Catalan Parliament would be in full swing.
At times, it has seemed possible that he might attend the first part of the plenary this morning and then make a lightning visit to Madrid but, given the importance of today’s session, it’s become increasingly obvious that this was impractical so finally, yesterday he announced he wouldn’t be attending.
The reaction from the Spanish government has been predictably butthurt. They made it virtually impossible for him to attend and are now claiming that they’ve been stood up and that the Catalan president obviously isn’t interested in dialogue.
Divisions Over Article 155
The other subject of debate has revolved around various aspects of Article 155. The Partido Popular seem dead set on applying it come what may and said that even in the unlikely event that Carles Puigdemont called early Autonomous Elections, they would apply it anyway.
This attitude is the very reason why we’re in the situation we’re in. Mariano Rajoy and his government’s main objective is not the unity of Spain but rather the humiliation of Catalonia. They know that this is what their support base wants and taking a hardline approach against Catalonia is the vote winner that keeps them in power. Any sign of weakening and the even more bellicose Ciudadanos would gobble up their support so they can’t soften their approach even if they wanted to.
Most of the criticism they’re getting in Spain is coming from the left-wing Podemos party, who would like to see either an agreed and binding referendum for Catalonia or changes made to the Constitution that would allow Spain to become truly federal.
A combination of Rajoy’s intransigence and Podemos’ clear opposition to Article 155 has put pressure on PSOE, who had signed an agreement with the Partido Popular about its application and also want some rather more lukewarm changes made to the Spanish Constitution. However, the fact that Rajoy is clearly after the Catalans’ blood and members of their affiliate in Catalonia, PSC, are complaining about the application of 155 means that their support, especially if it is applied in a draconian fashion, is far from certain.
This doesn’t affect whether Article 155 will come into effect or not because the Partido Popular have an absolute majority in the Senate. However, it will affect the Partido Popular’s ability to govern in the future because even adding their 132 seats in Congress to the 32 seats of Ciudadanos giving them 164 seats, they are still far short of the absolute majority of 176.
This will make a strict application of Article 155 almost impossible. If PSOE, Podemos and the Basque and Catalan parties decide to form a united opposition, they might even be capable of bringing Rajoy’s government down.
Application of Article 155
There are also practical difficulties in the application of Article 155 here in Catalonia. Just to remind you, the proposed measures involve the removal of the Catalan president and all his ministers from office and then the Spanish government plans to take control of the Catalan Treasury, the Mossos d’Esquadra police force, the complete information technology system and the public media, principally TV3 and Catalunya Radio.
The removal of the Catalan government from office will simply fuel the Catalan victim narrative, especially if they are subsequently arrested and tried, which given the Partido Popular’s talent for diplomacy seems likely. The imprisonment of Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart has already made international news headlines. Just imagine the fuss if this happened to members of a democratically elected government.
Whatever happens, the simple removal of the Catalan government from power will bring hundreds of thousands of people out onto the streets. This could very likely create problems of public disorder, particularly if the Mossos d’Esquadra have been taken over and are consequently perceived as aiding and abetting the Spanish invaders.
Furthermore, there are divisions amongst the Catalan police themselves about where their loyalties lie. Most of the official unions have expressed their disatisfaction at the application of Article 155, although I think they have said that they are prepared to follow orders. Meanwhile, the pro-independence group Mossos per la Independència have said that the unions only speak for their members, suggesting that acts of disobedience from officers are perfectly possible.
At the same time, the Spanish National Police and Civil Guard lodged in the ships in the port of Barcelona have been complaining about their living conditions. If the Mossos are really undecided about whether to support Article 155, a demotivated National Police and Civil Guard hardly seem well-equipped to police angry crowds in Barcelona, who already hate them after the brutal behaviour on referendum day.
Civil Servants and the Media
Similarly, the behaviour of the civil servants in the Treasury and Information Technology departments is unpredictable, especially given the broad support for independence among public employees. The civil servants don’t have to openly rebel to make life impossible for their Spanish task masters but by just consistently doing their work badly, the administration will soon become unworkable.
The situation will be even worse in the public media, who have already made statements of opposition to Article 155 and contacted colleagues in the media around the world to argue their case. Unless the Spanish government decides to replace the whole workforce with Spanish speakers, it’s not difficult to imagine journalists writing exaggeratedly fascistic articles or presenting the news using a tone of voice or facial expression that transmits exactly the opposite to the intended message. I’m actually quite looking forward to this.
Bearing in mind all of the above, Article 155 is going to be extremely difficult to implement and I’m sure the Catalan government are fully aware of this. That’s why I think the Declaration of Independence will be officially made some time on Friday.
At that point, we really will move into unknown territory. The Spanish government will probably use a combination of force, financial restrictions and international diplomacy to quash it but given the alternative is humiliation and subjugations, the Catalans are really left with no choice.