Spain: Too Eager to Trigger the Article 155?

Flag of Spain and Catalonia Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Flag of Spain and Catalonia Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Spain is set to trigger the Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution on Saturday. This article allows the Spanish government to suspend Catalan autonomy.

According to a statement from the Spanish Prime Minister’s office, after the approval by the ministers; the measures will be sent to the Spanish Senate for approval.

Spain has been going through an intense political crisis since Catalonia held a referendum for Independence on October 1.

The Spanish government interfered in the referendum and deployed police in the region to stop the vote from taking place.

Catalonia braced intense violence on the referendum day as the persistent secessionist voters engaged in massive clashes with the Spanish police who prevented them from entering the voting centers.

More than 900 people were injured in the clashes including more than 30 police officers. The Spanish authorities were criticized for excessive use of force against the secessionist voters.

More than 2 million people, however, voted in the referendum defying the Spanish efforts to stop the vote from taking place. And more than 90% of the voters opted for independence in the disputed referendum.

The Spanish government rejected the referendum result. The government threatened to arrest the Catalan President Puigdemont if he declares independence and indicated to trigger the Article 155 of the constitution to suspend the autonomy of the region.

The Article 155 is thought to be the nuclear option to suspend autonomy which has not ever been triggered after the ratification of the Constitution in 1978.

The Catalan President Puigdemont, however, declared independence in the parliament and immediately suspended the implementation of the declaration urging the central government for talks. The Spanish government, instead of initiating dialogues, told the Catalan government to clarify if they declared independence.

The Catalan President Puigdemont, instead of clarification of the independence declaration issue, responded to the central government by urging for more dialogues. The Spanish government insisted the Catalan leader failed to clarify the independence declaration issue and warned to trigger the Article 155.

The Catalan leader in his second letter within a week threatened the central government of declaring independence once the central government triggers the Article 155. He urged for talks again. “If the central government persists in impeding dialogue and continuing its repression, Catalonia’s parliament will proceed … with a vote to formally declare independence,” Puigdemont’s letter said.

Now, the Spanish government so far seems adamant to trigger the Article 155. Inigo Mendez de Vigo, the Spanish government spokesperson told the press the Madrid, “Cabinet ministers will approve the measures (Article 155) on Saturday, which will be submitted to the Senate to protect the interests of the Spanish people – including the Catalans in Catalonia. The government will do everything in its power to put a brake on the economic deterioration in Catalonia caused by the actions of the present Catalonia president.”

The Catalan leader is yet to make any public statement on the recent development. But the Spanish move to suspend the Catalan autonomy is sure to escalate the already broiling tension between Barcelona and Madrid.

The Spanish government has much to lose if Catalonia finally secedes. The region is only 6.3% of Spanish territory. But its significance for Spain is not proportionate to its size. Spain’s economy largely depends on Catalonia. Being the economic hub of Spain, Catalonia is responsible for 20% of the Spanish economy.

Catalonia has 7.5 million people and a $215bn economy. The Catalan economy is even larger than many Eurozone countries. Catalonia is responsible for generating one-fifth of the Spanish GDP. According to an article by John Hanley published on The Guardian, “At about €37bn, foreign investment in Catalonia accounts for more than one-quarter of inward investment to Spain.”

Given that Spain cannot afford to lose Catalonia, its desperation to stop Catalan secession is not unforeseen. Spain trying to do everything at its disposal to stop Catalan secession was inevitable. But the Spanish government’s attitude to Catalonia in its fateful endeavor to independence may turn out to be too forceful in the eyes of its citizens. Instead of initiating a dialogue for a peaceful settlement of the strife, Spain sought to enact the Article 155 which barely has any chance to de-escalate the tension.

The overdeployment of force could turn many more Catalans against the central government. The Spanish government needs to comprehend that more than 50% of the Catalan didn’t even vote in the referendum. Tens of thousands of Catalans seriously oppose the secession. But triggering 155 may allow a larger segment of the Catalans to turn against Spain sensing their autonomy being under attack. In that case, the secessionists will get more powerful and popular which might eventually cost Spain to lose Catalonia.

If the Spanish government believes that it is not the time Catalonia earns independence, they also need to remember that it is not the time to force others to stick to a system they don’t like. If you want to rule, you got to get them to like you.

About Masum Billah 37 Articles
Masum Billah is a Staff Writer for The GeoStrategists. A Graduate from the Department of International Relations at the University of Dhaka, Masum Billah is a human rights activist. He writes columns on human rights, foreign policy, and terrorism.
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