Here's how Spain could suspend Catalonia's autonomy

2017-10-19 06:24
Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont.(Manu Fernandez, AP)

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont.(Manu Fernandez, AP)

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Madrid - Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont has until 08:00GMT on Thursday to tell Madrid whether or not he is declaring independence from Spain.

If he does not give a clear response, the central government says it will take the unprecedented step of seeking to suspend Catalonia's autonomy.

Clarify intentions

This would involve triggering the never before used Article 155 of Spain's constitution - the so-called "nuclear option" which opens the way for Madrid to impose direct rule over the semi-autonomous region.

Catalonia's separatist regional government held a referendum on independence on October 1 despite Spain's Constitutional Court ruling it illegal.

READ: Spain court strikes down Catalan referendum law

Puigdemont then suggested he could declare independence in the wealthy northeastern region but offered to "suspend" secession to give time for negotiations with Madrid - prompting the central government to give him until Thursday morning to clarify his intentions.

Failing a final answer, the government says it will trigger Article 155 in a move that would further escalate Spain's worst political crisis since it emerged from military dictatorship in 1977.

While Puigdemont points to what he said was a 90%% "yes" vote in the referendum, many who back unity with Spain in the deeply divided region stayed away, with turnout of only 43%. 

Anti-independence voices also say the chaotic vote, which saw a heavy police crackdown, lacked official electoral standards.

Constitutional obligations

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, with Catalonia among those with the most autonomy.

But 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".

Madrid could also use Article 155 to call regional elections in Catalonia in a bid to overcome the political impasse, said Jose Carlos Cano Montejano at Madrid's Complutense University - a very likely option.


Puigdemont is under investigation for civil disobedience, abuse of office and misuse of public funds. If convicted, he would be banned from holding public office.

Catalan police chief Josep Lluis Trapero has been charged with sedition - a crime that carries up to 15 years' jail time - for failing to stop the referendum going ahead.

Pro-independence leaders Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sanchez have also been charged with sedition and detained pending an investigation.

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