Spain's PM warns Madrid could take control of Catalonia

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  • Yesterday Catalan leader declared independence but suspended it for weeks
  • Today Spanish PM Rajoy demanded clarity from the Catalan parliament 
  • Clarity is needed before Rajoy can invoke article 155 of Spanish constitution
  • This would allow him to take control of the region, suspending autonomy  

By Charlie Moore For Mailonline

Published: 05:48 EDT, 11 October 2017 | Updated: 08:11 EDT, 11 October 2017

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has taken the first step towards seizing control of Catalonia.

In a televised address after crisis talks in Madrid, he demanded the Catalan president clarify whether or not he has declared independence.

In a thinly veiled threat, Rajoy said clarity was necessary before he can invoke Article 155 of the constitution and suspend the political autonomy of Catalonia.

The formal requirement will now push Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont into a decision after he yesterday signed a declaration of independence but suspended it for two weeks to negotiate with Madrid. 

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy (pictured today) demanded that the Catalan President clarify whether or not he has declared independence
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy (pictured today) demanded that the Catalan President clarify whether or not he has declared independence

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy (pictured today) demanded that the Catalan President clarify whether or not he has declared independence

There is no time limit for Puigdemont to respond in.  

Addressing the nation at 12pm local time, Rajoy said: 'The cabinet has agreed to require formally to the Catalan government to confirm whether it has declared or not independence.'

'The answer from the Catalan president will determine future events, in the next few days.'

He promised to continue acting in a 'cautious and responsible' way, adding: 'It's important to end the situation people are living in Catalonia. It's important to return to quietness and normality'. 

Tuesday: Catalan regional President Carles Puigdemont signs an independence declaration document after a parliamentary session in Barcelona
Tuesday: Catalan regional President Carles Puigdemont signs an independence declaration document after a parliamentary session in Barcelona

Tuesday: Catalan regional President Carles Puigdemont signs an independence declaration document after a parliamentary session in Barcelona

Catalonia's government spokesman Jordi Turull said that if the Spanish government does invoke Article 155, the region will be forced to press ahead with independence.

Spain's socialist opposition leader Pedro Sanchez said he supports Rajoy's request to Puigdemont and wants a committee to look into constitutional reform to solve the crisis.

It comes after Spain's foreign minister went on French radio this morning to accuse Puigdemont of 'trickery' and warn that his actions would trigger economic and social unrest.

Puigdemont's dramatic address to the regional Catalan parliament in Barcelona on Tuesday 'was frankly trickery, once more, their ruses in order to have things both ways,' Alfonso Dastis told French radio Europe 1.

'He's doing what he's always done, going down a path that will lead to situations we don't want to see in Catalonia in terms of economic and social clashes,' Dastis said.

'He says they won, presume they have the right to independence after the result of this so-called referendum, then asks (Catalan) parliament to suspend the effects of this declaration,' he said.

'It's a shocking way to treat their own parliament.'

The president condemned the 'violent attacks' against those who voted in the outlawed independence referendum on October 1. He added: 'We will never forget it'
The president condemned the 'violent attacks' against those who voted in the outlawed independence referendum on October 1. He added: 'We will never forget it'

The president condemned the 'violent attacks' against those who voted in the outlawed independence referendum on October 1. He added: 'We will never forget it'

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont signs a declaration of independence at the Catalan regional parliament in Barcelona after delivering his highly anticipated speech 
Catalan President Carles Puigdemont signs a declaration of independence at the Catalan regional parliament in Barcelona after delivering his highly anticipated speech 

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont signs a declaration of independence at the Catalan regional parliament in Barcelona after delivering his highly anticipated speech 

Dastis said Madrid has 'always said that there are things that can be negotiated within the framework of the constitution.'

But he insisted 'Catalonia deciding for all of Spain is frankly impossible.'

Spain's ambassador to France, Fernando Carderera, told French radio RTL that Puigdemont's announcement was a 'coup d'etat without people going into parliament with guns.'

As for the suspended independence declaration, Carderera said: 'You can't suspend something that doesn't exist. Independence is like being pregnant, either you are or you aren't.'

France has been outspoken in its support of the Madrid government during the crisis, with President Emmanuel Macron charging Tuesday that the separatists were motivated in part by 'economic selfishness'. 

But after the president's speech, the opposition leader in Catalonia's parliament said Puigdemont's statement 'is a coup' which has no support in Europe
But after the president's speech, the opposition leader in Catalonia's parliament said Puigdemont's statement 'is a coup' which has no support in Europe

But after the president's speech, the opposition leader in Catalonia's parliament said Puigdemont's statement 'is a coup' which has no support in Europe

Pro-independence supporters react as they watch on broadcast screens outside the Parliament of Catalonia as Catalan President Carles Puigdemont announces he will abide by the referendum results
Pro-independence supporters react as they watch on broadcast screens outside the Parliament of Catalonia as Catalan President Carles Puigdemont announces he will abide by the referendum results

Pro-independence supporters react as they watch on broadcast screens outside the Parliament of Catalonia as Catalan President Carles Puigdemont announces he will abide by the referendum results

His European affairs minister, Nathalie Loiseau, said an independent Catalonia would not enjoy international recognition and reiterated Brussels' warning that it would 'automatically' be out of the EU.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel similarly warned against an 'irresponsible' declaration of independence by Catalonia.

Gabriel said in a written statement Wednesday, 'Europe's strength lies in its unity and the peace that was brought by the European unity.'

He said that 'a solution can only be successful through talks based on the rule of law and within the frame of the Spanish constitution.' 

The EU on Wednesday called for 'full respect of the Spanish constitutional order' after Catalan leaders said they had a mandate to declare independence but put it on hold to allow dialogue.

European Commission vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis said: 'The commission is following closely the situation in Spain and reiterates its earlier call for full respect of the Spanish constitutional order.'  

Employees of the Spanish embassy remove a banner hung by self-proclaimed anarchists in favor of Catalonian independence
Employees of the Spanish embassy remove a banner hung by self-proclaimed anarchists in favor of Catalonian independence

Employees of the Spanish embassy remove a banner hung by self-proclaimed anarchists in favor of Catalonian independence

The left-wing Rubicon group said they were protesting the Spanish police crackdown on the Catalan independence referendum
The left-wing Rubicon group said they were protesting the Spanish police crackdown on the Catalan independence referendum

The left-wing Rubicon group said they were protesting the Spanish police crackdown on the Catalan independence referendum

The demonstrators unfurled a banner from the roof of the building reading 'No Pasaran!' (They Shall Not Pass), a leftist slogan from the Spanish Civil War
The demonstrators unfurled a banner from the roof of the building reading 'No Pasaran!' (They Shall Not Pass), a leftist slogan from the Spanish Civil War

The demonstrators unfurled a banner from the roof of the building reading 'No Pasaran!' (They Shall Not Pass), a leftist slogan from the Spanish Civil War

Greek police later detained 19 people, a police official said. 'We are now back inside, the demonstrators have left,' the embassy official said
Greek police later detained 19 people, a police official said. 'We are now back inside, the demonstrators have left,' the embassy official said

Greek police later detained 19 people, a police official said. 'We are now back inside, the demonstrators have left,' the embassy official said

The fight for Catalan independence has captivated supporters around the world. 

This morning self-proclaimed anarchists burst into the Spanish embassy in Athens and threw leaflets.

The left-wing Rubicon group said they were protesting the Spanish police crackdown on the Catalan independence referendum.

The embassy staff evacuated the premises leaving only a few diplomats inside, an official said. There were no reports of damage or injuries.

'About 15 to 20 entered the embassy and threw leaflets. They did not break anything. The leaflet said 'solidarity is the weapon of the people',' the embassy official told Reuters.

The demonstrators unfurled a banner from the roof of the building reading 'No Pasaran!' (They Shall Not Pass), a leftist slogan from the Spanish Civil War.

Greek police later detained 19 people, a police official said. 'We are now back inside, the demonstrators have left,' the embassy official said.    

Pro-independence supporters hold a European Union flag during a rally in Barcelona, Spain, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017. Catalan President Carles Puigdemont said during his speech in the parliament that the region remained committed to independence but said it should follow dialogue with the government in Madrid. ((AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
Pro-independence supporters hold a European Union flag during a rally in Barcelona, Spain, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017. Catalan President Carles Puigdemont said during his speech in the parliament that the region remained committed to independence but said it should follow dialogue with the government in Madrid. ((AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

People react to the presence of Spanish National Police near the Catalonian regional parliament in Barcelona after the Catalan president signed a declaration of independence 

President Puigdemont was applauded after his speech, during which he said: 'Lately, we are being listened to. Now we are being respected, outside of Spain'
President Puigdemont was applauded after his speech, during which he said: 'Lately, we are being listened to. Now we are being respected, outside of Spain'

President Puigdemont was applauded after his speech, during which he said: 'Lately, we are being listened to. Now we are being respected, outside of Spain'

What happens next in the Catalan drama?  

Under Catalan law,  the regional parliament is permitted to declare independence within 48 hours of referendum results being announced. 

But the results from the October 1 poll were released the following day, showing about 90 per cent of the 2.3 million voters who turned out backed independence. 

And yet regional president Carles Puigdemont has not unilaterally declared independence in his speech - he merely said he has a mandate to split from Spain while stopping short of actually doing so, suspending secession for 'a few weeks' to pursue negotiations with the Spanish government.  

What would have happened if Catalonia had unilaterally declared independence? 

A full declaration of secession - or an outright proclamation of a new Catalan Republic - would have been met with fierce opposition by central Spanish authorities, who could take the unprecedented step of suspending the self-government of Catalonia and taking over some or all powers in the region.

Puigdemont himself - alongside other independence leaders - could even have ended up in prison. Last week Josep Lluis Trapero, police chief of the region, was questioned by a judge - though he was not charged.

Will Spain impose direct rule on the region?

Direct rule of Catalonia could be imposed upon the region by Spain under the country's constitution.

Article 155 of the 1978 document permits the central government to take control in the case of a crisis.

While that is considered unlikely, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's People's Party is in control of the Senate - and could effect the imposition of rule from Madrid.

What about an election?

There could be fresh elections in Catalonia in a bid to energise the large anti-independence bloc in the region and thus end the crisis in favour of the status quo.

But it could also go the other way and result in a further endorsement of independence by the prosperous region. 

What has the world said?

In Brussels, European Council President Donald Tusk pleaded directly with the Catalan leadership before the speech to choose dialogue rather than a divisive call for independence.

'I ask you to respect in your intentions the constitutional order and not to announce a decision that would make such a dialogue impossible,' he said.

Italy's foreign minister also dismissed the declaration of independence.

Angelino Alfano called the move 'unacceptable' on his Twitter account. He wrote that 'our trust is in the Spanish government, it will guarantee the rights of all citizens.'   

There is also the lingering question of how a unilateral declaration of independence would be received internationally.

Kosovo, for example, declared independence from Serbia in 2008 but has struggled to win global approval. 

Are there any other options? 

Another way the crisis could be solved is if Spain comes to an agreement with Catalonia to expand its autonomy after certain powers were revoked in 2010. 

Of course, it is also possible that Spain could change its constitution to permit a legal referendum on independence to take place and settle the question once and for all. 

Larry White
By Larry White 11/10/2017 08:11:00