Spain’s Government will on Saturday trigger Article 155 of the constitution, which allows it to suspend Catalonia’s political autonomy, the Prime Minister’s Office says.
The special cabinet meeting was called after Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont said the regional parliament could vote on a formal declaration of independence from Spain if the central government failed to agree to talks.
Mr Puigdemont’s warning came in a letter to Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy with minutes to spare before the expiration of a deadline set by the central government for him to backtrack on his calls for secession.
“If the government continues to impede dialogue and continues with the repression, the Catalan parliament could proceed, if it is considered opportune, to vote on a formal declaration of independence,” the letter said.
Spain’s Government quickly responded with a statement saying it was calling a special Cabinet session for Saturday in which it would trigger the process to activate Article 155 of Spain’s constitution.
It allows for central authorities to take over the semi-autonomous powers of any of the country’s 17 regions, including Catalonia.
The Cabinet meeting will “approve the measures that will be sent to the Senate to protect the general interest of all Spaniards,” the statement said.
The measure has never been used in the four decades since democracy was restored at the end of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship.
Spain’s Government needs to outline what the exact measures are that it wants to apply in Catalonia and submit them for a vote in Spain’s Senate.
Catalans would consider the application of the measure an “invasion” of the region’s self-government, while Spain’s central authorities have portrayed it as an undesired move, yet a necessary one, to restore legality after Puigdemont’s Government pushed ahead with a banned referendum that violated the country’s constitution.
More than 40 per cent of Catalonia’s 5.5 million eligible voters cast ballots in the illegal October 1 referendum as police used violence to try to enforce a court order to stop it from going ahead. Opponents boycotted the vote.
Catalan officials say that hundreds of people were injured in police violence, while Spanish authorities say hundreds of police officers were also hurt and the use of force was proportional to the resistance they met.
The separatists declared an overwhelming victory despite the boycott by opponents and on the grounds that it was illegal and lacked basic guarantees such as an independent electoral board.