Spotlight: Catalan independence bid reaches dead end as Madrid imposes direct rule

Source: Xinhua| 2017-10-29 22:52:42|Editor: Mu Xuequan
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by Zheng Jianghua

BRUSSELS, Oct. 29 (Xinhua) -- The independence bid of Spain's wealthy Catalonia autonomous region has reached a dead end as Madrid, invoking Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, has imposed direct rule on the untamed region.


The Spanish government on Saturday officially took control of Catalonia's regional government, Generalitat, with Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy taking control of the functions of the president of Generalitat.

Rajoy has delegated these duties on Spain's Deputy Prime Minister, Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, who is also in charge of the Catalan vice-presidency. He also called for new elections in the region on Dec. 21. The Spanish ministries take control of different departments of the Generalitat.

The Spanish government sacked the chief of the police force of Catalonia, Josep Lluis Trapero, who accepted the decision, and appointed Ferran Lopez as the new chief.

These moves followed the decision taken by the Catalan parliament on Friday to unilaterally declare independence of the region in the northeast of Spain.

Catalonia held a referendum on self-determination on Oct. 1, which had been declared illegal by the Spanish Constitutional Court.

The application of Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, which suspends the autonomy of the Catalan region and hands control of key Catalan institutions to Madrid, was approved by the Spanish Senate Friday afternoon.

The Spanish State Prosecutor will on Monday consider presenting accusations of "rebellion" against former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and his government, with charges which could lead to a jail term of 15 to 30 years.


Catalonia has been part of the Kingdom of Spain since 1469. But the region has long argued that its unique history, culture and language are a far cry from those of Spain.

Catalonia's friction with Madrid dates back to 1714, when Spanish King Felipe V stripped its autonomous status.

More than 200 years later, after Spain became a republic in 1931, Catalonia enjoyed a short-lived autonomy until the Franco regime, victor of the 1936-1939 civil war, imposed military rule in the region.

After the death of Francisco Franco in 1975, Spain embarked on a democratic transformation. In 1978, the new Spanish Constitution conferred a high degree of autonomy to Catalonia.

In 2006, an act passed by the Spanish Parliament handed more autonomous power to Catalonia. The preamble of the Act even referred to Catalonia as a "nation". The Spanish Constitutional Court ruled in 2010 that parts of the act were unconstitutional, including the "nation" reference.

Piqued by this verdict, Catalan nationalism mounted and resulted in an emphatic victory of pro-independence parties in regional parliament election in 2012.

In November 2014, defying a ban of the Constitutional Court, the separatist regional government held a non-binding independence referendum. Some 2.3 million voters participated in the vote, of which 80.8 percent favored independence.

On Sept. 6, 2017, the Catalan parliament passed a bill that called for an independence referendum on Oct. 1. Spain's Constitutional Court suspended the law at a gallop and slapped a ban on the vote. The Spanish government also took an array of measures in an attempt to stop the referendum.

Nevertheless, the vote was held as scheduled with sporadic clashes between voters and police. Standing to its ground, the Spanish government has never recognized its legality.


The independence bid is mainly maneuvered by populist parties which misused the well-meaning regionalism, said an expert.

"The free movement of goods, services, people and capital and a border-free Europe reduced the influence of the national authorities and increased the margin of maneuver for regions," Gerhard Stahl, a visiting professor at College of Europe in Bruges, Belgium, told Xinhua.

"Regional governments developed an own agenda taking into account more their geography and the close connection to border-regions in other countries and less their 'nationality'," he explained.

He noted that the European Union (EU) also developed an influential regional policy of "supporting regions and not member states directly".

"Most of the European regions have offices in Brussels, allowing them to address directly -- without the national control -- EU institutions," he said.

"A specific EU institution was created -- the Committee of the Regions -- which guarantees that regions can take part directly in the decision shaping of the EU," added Stahl, who had served as general secretary of the committee for several years.

"All this increased the political role of regions," he said, though stressing that the rising political role of regions is not so much a problem for federal member-states like Germany and not a threat to the EU.

"In contrary, it showed that the day-to-day life of EU citizens became more integrated, and that certain powers from the national level shifted to the European level and some other powers to the regional level, which is nearer to the citizens' concerns," he explained.

But Stahl also underscored that regionalism could also be misused by political parties to get votes, via identity politics which tries to create the feeling of "we the natives of a region against others", which is intended to create new borders and new frontiers, said the expert.

"Some of the richer regions object to financial transfers to poorer regions in a country. This allows some populist party to win votes," he said.

"The internal market creates more economic benefits for the economically stronger regions. Therefore, it is necessary that these regions also support the weaker regions to develop," he stressed, adding that separatist policy that wants to reject any solidarity with others is against the spirit of the EU.

Stahl is concerned that governments may lose credibility and support from its citizens to solve conflicting interests due to populist campaigns.

"I expect that the Catalan conflict will be solved by respecting the Spanish Constitution and by a decision imposed by the national level to organize new regional elections," he said.


It is noteworthy that not all Catalan voters bought into the separatist party's peddling which has a flimsy base.

Both opinion polls and the low turnout of the referendum have indicated that nearly half of the Catalans took up the cudgel against independence.

Catalan populist parties touted their separatist bid on an illusional premise that the region will fare well after separating from Spain without paying a price.

According to local media, since Oct. 1, more than 1,500 companies have decided to move out of Catalonia, and 107 companies have decided to relocate their headquarters.

Obviously, the independence bid will worsen rather than relieve the plight of Catalonia. Enditem