Crunch day for Spain as Catalonia returns to work under direct rule

Madrid’s resolve faces crucial test as Catalan independence group calls for widespread campaign of civil disobedience

Spain’s control over Catalonia is being tested on Monday as politicians and civil servants return to work amid uncertainty over whether they will accept direct rule imposed by the central government to stop the region’s independence bid.

On Sunday, the Spanish government said the deposed Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, could be jailed within the next two months over his part in the regional parliament’s unilateral declaration of independence.

The Spanish government argues that any referendum on Catalan independence would be illegal because the country’s 1978 constitution makes no provision for a vote on self-determination.

The Spanish constitutional court, which has suspended the referendum law pushed through the Catalan parliament in September, is looking into whether the law breaches the constitution.

In March this year, the former Catalan president Artur Mas was banned from holding public office for two years after being found guilty of disobeying the constitutional court by holding a symbolic independence referendum three years ago.

The warning came as hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of Barcelona to call for Spanish unity, two days after some Catalan MPs voted to declare independence and the Spanish government assumed control of the region.

Spain’s prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, has sacked Puigdemont and his government and called regional elections for 21 December. In an interview with the Associated Press, the country’s foreign minister, Alfonso Dastis, said Puigdemont could “theoretically” run for re-election if the courts decide he should remain free until then.

Spanish prosecutors said on Friday that they would file charges against Puigdemont of rebellion, a crime punishable by up to 30 years in prison. “I don’t know what kind of judicial activity will happen between now and 21 December,” said Dastis. “If he is not put in jail at that time I think he is not ineligible.”

However, some of the most prominent members of the Catalan administration, including Puigdemont and the vice-president, Oriol Junqueras, said they did not accept the move and only the people of Catalonia could dismiss them.

“We cannot recognise the coup d’etat against Catalonia, nor any of the anti-democratic decisions,” Junqueras wrote in a Catalan newspaper this weekend.

Early on Monday, Puigdemont posted a picture on Instagram of the inside of the government palace, though it was not clear when the picture had been taken.

Bon dia 😊

A post shared by Carles Puigdemont (@carlespuigdemont) on

Josep Rull, territory and sustainability minister in the Puigdemont administration, tweeted a picture of himself at his desk on Monday morning, writing: “In the office, carrying out the duties entrusted to us by the people of Catalonia.”

Al despatx, exercint les responsabilitats que ens ha encomanat el poble de Catalunya. #seguim

— Josep Rull i Andreu (@joseprull) October 30, 2017

He left later on, saying he had gone to attend a party meeting but insisting the ousted government would continue with its agenda.

Carme Forcadell, the pro-independence speaker of the Catalan parliament, also went to work as usual.

The main civic group behind the pro-independence campaign has called for civil disobedience and given detailed instructions to the 200,000 or so Catalan civil servants on how they should behave.

Most of them start their working day at 9am and if many fail to turn up or decide not to accept instructions it would cast doubts over the Spanish government’s strategy to draw a line under a one-month crisis that has dented economic growth and fuelled social unrest.

Several Spanish ministers said at the weekend they were convinced civil servants would obey orders and reminded them that those who did not could lose their jobs.

Spain’s interior ministry named a new Catalan police chief, who has insisted that the 17,000 officers should remain neutral.

Spain’s interior minister, Juan Ignacio Zoido, praised the Mossos for their work in an open letter on Sunday and urged them to accept temporary direction from Madrid.

“We have opened a new chapter, and in this new chapter the Mossos d’Esquadra will become again the police of all the Catalans. This is your duty,” Zoido said in the letter.

(June 28, 2010) 

Spain’s constitutional court strikes down parts of a 2006 charter on Catalan autonomy that had originally increased the region’s fiscal and judicial powers and described it as a “nation”. The court rules that using the word “nation” has no legal value and also rejects the “preferential” use of Catalan over Spanish in municipal services. Almost two weeks later, hundreds of thousands protest on the streets of Barcelona, chanting “We are a nation! We decide!”

(September 11, 2012) 

At the height of Spain’s economic crisis, more than a million people protest in Barcelona on Catalonia’s national day, demanding independence in what will become a peaceful, annual show of strength.

(November 9, 2014) 

The pro-independence government of Artur Mas defies the Madrid government and Spain’s constitutional court by holding a symbolic vote on independence. Turnout is just 37%, but more than 80% of those who voted - 1.8 million people - vote in favour of Catalan sovereignty.

(June 9, 2017) 

Carles Puigdemont, who has replaced Mas as regional president, announces an independence referendum will be held on 1 October. Spain’s central government says it will block the referendum using all the legal and political means at its disposal.

(September 6, 2017) 

The Catalan parliament approves referendum legislation after a heated, 11-hour session that sees 52 opposition MPs walk out of the chamber in Barcelona in protest at the move. Spain’s constitutional court suspends the legislation the following day, but the Catalan government vows to press ahead with the vote.

(September 20, 2017) 

Police arrest 14 Catalan government officials suspected of organising the referendum and announce they have seized nearly 10 million ballots destined for the vote. Some 40,000 people protest against the police crackdown in Barcelona and Puigdemont accuses the Spanish government of effectively suspending regional autonomy and declaring a de facto state of emergency.

(October 1, 2017) 

Close to 900 people are injured as police attempt to stop the referendum from taking place. The Catalan government says 90% voted for independence on a turnout of 43%. 

(October 27, 2017) 

Spanish government takes control of Catalonia and dissolves its parliament after secessionist Catalan MPs voted to establish an independent republic. Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, fires regional president, Carles Puigdemont, and orders regional elections to be held on 21 December.

Another test of the government’s response will be whether companies stop relocating out of Catalonia in search of stability and legal certainty after several hundred firms moved out earlier this month.

The government’s move to impose direct rule received the backing of several influential Catalan business lobbies who called on firms to stay in the region.

With its own language and distinct culture, Catalonia accounts for about 16% of Spain’s population and a fifth of the country’s economy.

The crisis was sparked by a referendum on 1 October in which Catalans voted massively in favour of the region, which already enjoys considerable autonomy, breaking away.

Turnout was only 43% – separatists say a heavy-handed Spanish police operation prevented it from being higher – and Rajoy’s government declared it illegal.

After Friday’s declaration of independence, Catalan lawmakers hugged and sang the Catalan anthem. The session was beamed on to giant screens outside and a crowd of 15,000 cheered every “yes” vote.

On Sunday, it was the turn of supporters of a united Spain, with hundreds of thousands taking to the streets not of Madrid but of the Catalan capital, Barcelona, waving national and European flags and chanting “Viva Espana”.

Municipal police said the crowd numbered about 300,000 while organisers said 1.3 million turned out and the central government’s representative in Catalonia put the figure at 1 million.


Sam Jones in Barcelona and agencies

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Catalonia: Madrid warns of Puigdemont jailing as thousands rally for unity
Warning that deposed Catalan president could be jailed within two months comes as huge protest held against independence

Sam Jones, Stephen Burgen and Emma Graham-Harrison in Barcelona

29, Oct, 2017 @3:34 PM

Article image
'We are all Catalonia' march brings thousands out on Barcelona's streets
Pro-unity Spaniards from left and right demonstrate in Catalan capital against Carles Puigdemont’s independence movement

Emma Graham-Harrison and Stephen Burgen in Barcelona

29, Oct, 2017 @5:48 PM

Article image
What comes next in Catalonia could make or break Rajoy – and Spain
Hardliners demand harsh penalties for secessionists, but perceived over-reaction by Madrid would alienate the undecided

Simon Tisdall

27, Oct, 2017 @4:45 PM

Article image
The Observer view on independence for Catalonia | Observer editorial
It is surely not beyond the wit of Catalans and Spaniards to work out a form of amicable association that both can live with

Observer editorial

28, Oct, 2017 @11:05 PM

Article image
Spanish PM asks Catalonia: have you declared independence or not?
Mariano Rajoy gives Catalan president until Monday to clarify as he considers invoking article 155 to suspend region’s autonomy

Sam Jones in Barcelona

11, Oct, 2017 @4:43 PM

Article image
Spanish PM vows to end Catalonia standoff and force region to obey law
Mariano Rajoy to hold emergency talks to decide exact nature of Spain’s intervention in Catalonia as crisis reaches ‘critical point’

Sam Jones in Madrid and agencies

20, Oct, 2017 @2:55 PM

Article image
Catalonia crisis escalates as Spain set to impose direct rule within days
Spanish prime minister says Catalan government’s powers will be returned to Madrid, as tensions rise between supporters and opponents of independence

Stephen Burgen in Barcelona

21, Oct, 2017 @9:13 PM

Article image
Catalonia: how will Spain impose direct rule and will it work?
After Catalan parliament’s vote to create a republic, Mariano Rajoy is turning to a constitutional measure never used before

Sam Jones and Stephen Burgen

27, Oct, 2017 @3:35 PM

Article image
The Guardian view on Spain’s crisis: damage to Catalonia | Editorial
Editorial: Barcelona’s vote for independence, and Madrid’s decision to take control of the region, will not solve this dispute but make matters worse


27, Oct, 2017 @6:05 PM

Article image
Catalan campaigners hand out a million referendum ballots
Thousands gather across Catalonia to show support for 1 October independence vote that Madrid has vowed to stop

Sam Jones in Madrid

24, Sep, 2017 @3:30 PM