MADRID – A moment of triumph — the declaration of Europe’s newest independent state — has quickly become the cold reality of what Catalonia’s separatists were always likely to face in their historic collision with Spain.
Within hours of the parliament in Barcelona voting to break away on Friday, the would-be Catalan Republic was hit by might of the Spanish state.
Rather than leaving Catalan President Carles Puigdemont and his deputies running their own affairs, it has left them with little real power and facing potential arrest in the coming days as Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s authorities move in.
“They tried to stage a kidnap and steal part of the community from the people,” Rajoy said in a televised national address. “Now it’s about trying to minimize the damage.”
The Catalan government is no more in the eyes of Spain — and, indeed, the European Union. Right after Catalan lawmakers victoriously sang their anthem, Rajoy used the power granted to him by the Senate to start bringing to an end the country’s worst constitutional crisis in decades.
Years of pro-independence campaigning escalated with an unofficial referendum on Oct. 1 as Spanish national police beat would-be voters.
Elections, which Puigdemont had wanted to call to defuse the situation, only to then balk as the separatist hard core engulfed him, will now come on Dec. 21 after Rajoy dissolved the Catalan parliament. The prime minister, using the measures approved on Friday, delegated his deputy, Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, to take on the role of head of the Catalan regional government.
The regional economy, which accounts for about a fifth of Spanish gross domestic product, is also under threat as more companies leave amid the threat of civil unrest.
With the senate action and the government’s decrees having being published in the official bulletin, Puigdemont and his colleagues have been removed from power and their posts eliminated.
The chief prosecutor signaled he would seek rebellion charges against the Catalan president, whose message after the parliamentary vote was to see through the transition to a sovereign state.
“We face hours when we all have to keep this country going,” said Puigdemont. “It’s a society that has always responded peacefully and with civic responsibility to its great democratic challenges.”
The phalanx of pro-independence activists and demonstrators is certainly unlikely to take Spain’s dramatic intervention lying down.
“We are likely to see more sustained unrest, possibly including strikes, as well as more serious clashes between national police and pro-independence activists,” said Federico Santi, political analyst at Eurasia. “Parts of the regional administration will probably refuse to comply with orders from Madrid. The main signpost over the weekend will be whether the regional government refuses to willingly and peacefully step down.”