Catalonia: Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy outlines plans to remove region's leaders

'We are not ending Catalan autonomy, but we are relieving of their duties those who have acted outside the law'

Alasdair Fotheringham
Madrid
Saturday 21 October 2017 15:54
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Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy approved plans to strip Catalonian politicians of much of their power
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy approved plans to strip Catalonian politicians of much of their power

Spanish Premier Mariano Rajoy has outlined hardhitting plans for direct rule in Catalonia that will see the troubled region’s separatist leaders removed from office, including premier Carles Puigdemont, and the local parliament stripped of much of its power.

In a significant upping of the stakes in his bid to rein in the region’s pro-independence rulers, Mr Rajoy has said that although the Catalan parliament will not be dissolved immediately, its functions will be limited to “avoid measures contrary to the Constitution.”

Additionally, although the main body of the region’s administration would continue as normal,the roles of the Catalan Ministers who had been dismissed would be handled by ministries and officials from Madrid.

Mr Rajoy also confirmed that regional elections would be called, within a period of six months, or “as soon as institutional normality is restored”.

All of these measures are to be carried out under the unprecedented auspices of Article 155 of the Constitution, which allows Madrid to impose direct rule, and are pending a vote from the Senate, the upper house of Spain’s parliament.

Mr Rajoy’s ruling Partido Popular (PP) party has a majority in the Senate, and it would therefore be highly unlikely they are blocked.

Mr Rajoy was notably scant on details and long on justification for direct rule in his speech, essentially limiting his much-anticipated package of specific measures to a broad-brushed description of the whys and wherefores for his government’s substitution of the nationalist ministers.

He accused the separatists of “liquidating the Spanish Constitution” and failing to respect local laws when they rushed legislation permitting a referendum on independence through the Catalan parliament in early September.

“We are not ending Catalan autonomy, but we are relieving of their duties those who have acted outside the law,” Mr Rajoy said.

Catalonia: Spanish Prime Minister approves measures to strip region's autonomous powers

Mr Rajoy said he had been forced to take these measures, because “no government of any democratic country can accept that the law be violated, ignored and changed.”

He explained their aim is to restore “legality, normality and social goodwill” to Catalonia, and he appealed to companies to stop leaving the region. Well over 1,000 businesses have moved their legal headquarters out of Catalonia in the last month.

It later emerged the government will be able to substitute members of the local Mossos d’Esquadra police force - strongly criticised outside Catalonia for their alleged lack of cooperation in stopping the banned October 1st referendum - with officers from the Guardia Civil or National Police. It is also thought likely that regional state media, much criticised outside Catalonia for its pro-separatist stance, will be overseen by Madrid.

Although Mr Rajoy underlined he had the support of both the Socialist Party and Ciudadanos, Spain’s fourth largest political grouping, the measures were described as “authoritarian and a botched job.” by the left-wing Podemos coalition.

The Nationalist movement was, predictably, in uproar at their imminent loss of regional power and a major demonstration is planned this evening in Barcelona “in defence of rights and freedoms.” All of the top separatist leaders, as well as Barcelona mayor Ada Colau, viewed as a non-aligned moderate, will attend.

Mr Puigdemont is expected to make a formal response to the government’s measures in a speech later this evening. Spain’s attorney general also warned today, though, that any attempt by the regional premier to declare Catalan independence would be treated as “rebellion”, which carries a prison sentence of up to 30 years.

It is also strongly rumoured the Nationalist coalition will vote for Catalonia to break away from Spain in Parliament next Friday, the same day that Madrid’s measures are expected to be confirmed by the Senate.

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