In a much anticipated televized briefing, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy formally demanded the Catalan leader clarify whether independence has been declared, saying that is needed before he can decide what steps to take. The Spanish leader announced that the central government has moved to take the first step towards suspending home rule in Catalonia on Wednesday morning.
“Cabinet has agreed to notify the Catalan government [so that it may] confirm if it has declared independence”, he said.
And while Rajoy said that he will send a letter to the leader of Catalonia’s regional government, informing him, essentially, that the referendum was illegal, and that they are considered to have broken the law and should desist, he did not go so far as the trigger Article 155 yet. Also in his statement, Rajoy did not set a deadline for the reply.
In a veiled threat, Rajoy said the clarity was required by the constitutional article that would allow Spain to intervene and take control of some or all of Catalonia’s regional powers. The Prime Minister mentioned Article 155 of Spain’s Constitution, hours after Catalan President Carles Puigdemont declared independence for the region, and then suspended it.
“In the reply to the notification”, said Mr. Rajoy: “Mr. Puigdemont has the opportunity to respond to the clamour of petitions made to him to return to the law”.
“This notification is necessary when it comes to activating Article 155 of the Constitution”, he added.
Rajoy issued the demand Wednesday following a special Cabinet meeting to respond to an announcement from the head of the wealthy Catalonia region that he was proceeding with a declaration of independence but was suspending it for several weeks to facilitate negotiations.
According to Bloomberg, making a formal demand on a regional president to correct his behavior, or to change his administration’s policies, is a necessary step toward possibly suspending his regional government under Article 155 of Spanish Constitution. The central government can only advance in this action if response from regional president is unsatisfactory.
According to various observes, it is rumored that the Catalan leader, Carles Puigdemont, will ignore Spain’s demand at which point Article 155 may be properly exercised, which would empower the government in Madrid to suspend the autonomy of the regional government and call new elections.
The FT reports: “If the government uses Article 155 to curtail Catalonia’s powers, it would be a significant escalation of a tense conflict between Barcelona and Madrid that threatens to turn into a severe constitutional crisis”.