In Brief

Catalonia crisis: Madrid to invoke Article 155

No turning back for Catalan leaders or Spain if Rajoy takes over control of regional government

Madrid is threatening to dissolve Catalonia’s parliament on Saturday and to hold January elections to defuse calls for independence - but Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy could be creating a new crisis.

Spain's socialist opposition party has backed the government's plan to potentially invoke Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, which would suspend Catalonia's political autonomy. The region's threat to break away from the rest of Spain - following a resounding "Yes" vote in the banned independence referendum - "has unsettled the euro and hurt confidence in the eurozone’s fourth-largest economy”, says Reuters

If Madrid proceeds, it will be the first time in Spain’s four decades of democracy that the central government will have effectively sacked a regional government and called for new elections. Article 155 - laid out in just two sentences within the Constitution - allows Madrid to force any of its 17 regions to adhere to the law when disobedience “gravely threatens the general interest of Spain”.

“Its two short sentences appear to give the central government a broad remit to bring a rebellious region to heel, but because it’s never been written into law, there’s no roadmap for action,” says Bloomberg.

Catalonia’s independence referendum, on 1 October, resulted in chaos, with hundreds injured in police clashes in what The New York Times described as “one of the gravest tests of Spain’s democracy since the end of the Franco dictatorship in the 1970s”.

The activation of Article 155 is likely to lead to further civil unrest and arrests in Catalonia. Mass demonstrations have been organised for Saturday by pro-independence activists, reports The Washington Post

Demonstrators will also be “distributing instructions for peaceful civil disobedience” in the region, with plans to surround government buildings if Article 155 in invoked.

The BBC says regional leader Carles Puigdemont could nominally retain his position as president of Catalonia if autonomy is suspended, but that the central government would probably seek to remove most of his duties and powers.

The showdown comes as a judge of the Spanish National Court, in Madrid, ordered the pre-trial detention of two men under investigation for sedition linked to a Barcelona demonstration in which protesters destroyed police vehicles.

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