Madrid—The Catalonia crisis has reached its peak.

On Tuesday, the Catalan Parliament signed a unilateral declaration of independence.  It came in the wake of an illegal and highly contentious referendum in which 90% of voters chose independence, but the turnout was just 43%.

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, however, suspended the implementation of the declaration for the sake of discussions.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy responded with an ultimatum: The separatists have five days to decide if they have actually declared independence or not.  If they have, they will be given an additional three days to withdraw it.

Thereafter, diplomacy will cease, and Article 155 of the constitution will be invoked.

What does this mean?

Although a Parliamentary Monarchy, Spain is operating under a sort of federal system, much like the U.S.   It’s comprised of 17 autonomous regions, Catalonia is one of them, that have their own governments and enjoy varying levels of autonomy.

Article 155, which has been described as “the atomic bomb,” can revert this autonomy and impose direct rule from the national government in Madrid.

More specifically, it states that:

  • “If a Self-governing Community does not fulfil 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.”
  • “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.”

Article 155 has never been used.

But will it come to that?

In my opinion, no.  Catalonia only stands to lose from a unilateral independence.  Major businesses have already either announced their flight or their intent to leave the region in the event of a schism with Spain.

The European Union, moreover, has been clear that an independent Catalonia would immediately leave the EU—and its lucrative economic benefits—and would have to apply for admission, which would take years and surely be vetoed not only by Spain but by other European countries, such as France.

Further, Rajoy enjoys support from the majority of political parties in the national government.  And so, if he were to decide to trigger Article 155, there would be no true opposition.

“You [separatists],” he said in a recent speech, “are making a mistake and you are going to force us to go where we don’t want to go.”

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If the Catalan government thought he was bluffing, they now know better.  The decision to declare independence, therefore, appears to be a negotiation ploy by them.  The next days will reveal how useful it will be.

However strange it may sound, Spanish Democracy is still in its infancy; the military dictatorship of General Franko ended just 42 years ago.

If Article 155 is indeed triggered, which would imply a sort of military deployment in Catalonia, it’ll be a test for Span’s unity and democracy.


Featured image courtesy of Wikimedia.