Spain govt looks to end Catalonia's independence bid: How can Madrid curb region's autonomy?

Madrid: Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy will hold an emergency cabinet meeting on Saturday to decide how his government will intervene in Catalonia to stop its independence drive.

Rajoy has vowed to take over some of Catalonia's regional powers, which involves triggering the never-before-used Article 155 of Spain's constitution. Labelled the "nuclear option", it could see Madrid seek to take over Catalonia's police or force new regional elections.

How did we get here?

Catalonia's separatist regional government held a referendum on independence on October 1 despite Spain's Constitutional Court ruling it illegal. It said that 90 percent of people who voted backed independence, but turnout was only 43 percent. After Catalonia's regional president Carles Puigdemont defied various warnings and deadlines from Madrid, the national government said on Thursday it would push ahead with Article 155.

What does the constitution say?

Under its constitution adopted in 1978, Spain is one of the Western world's most decentralised nations. Its 17 regions have varying degrees of control over issues such as education and healthcare. Catalonia is among those with the most autonomy.

Article 155 says that if a region's government breaches its constitutional obligations or "acts in a way that seriously threatens the general interest of Spain", Madrid can "take necessary measures to oblige it forcibly to comply or to protect said general interest".

 Spain govt looks to end Catalonias independence bid: How can Madrid curb regions autonomy?

Representational image. AP

How does the process work?

Rajoy has called an emergency cabinet meeting Saturday to set out which powers it intends to take back from the regional government.

The steps will be debated by a Senate committee before a final plenary vote.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's conservative Popular Party holds a majority in the Senate, meaning the proposals will almost certainly be approved.

The whole procedure would take about a week.

What action could Madrid take?

Javier Perez Royo of the University of Seville said measures could include "suspending the regional government, placing the (Catalan police force) Mossos d'Esquadra under the orders of the interior ministry" and even "closing the regional parliament".

Madrid has also proposed regional elections in Catalonia to overcome the political impasse. Puigdemont did not respond to that suggestion on Thursday.

What else could Rajoy do?

Article 155 is just one of several tools Rajoy has in seeking to head off Catalonia's separatists. The government could also declare a state of emergency with limits on freedom of movement and assembly, said Jose Carlos Cano Montejano, a law expert at Madrid's Complutense University. Other legislation signed in 2015 could allow Madrid to declare a national security crisis and claim powers such as passing laws by decree.

The government could also let a series of criminal cases which have been opened against Catalan leaders run their course.

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Updated Date: Oct 21, 2017 11:02:42 IST