Rajoy to trigger Article 155 on Catalonia: what does it mean?

More than 1 million people protested in Barcelona on 8 October against independence. [Dino Geromillo/Shutterstock]

The Spanish government will trigger Article 155, a constitutional process that will strip Catalonia of its regional autonomy. But how will the process work? EURACTIV Spain reports.

The Spanish government announced on Thursday (18 October) that it will hold an emergency cabinet meeting to approve the measures which will instruct the Senate to trigger constitutional mechanisms for stripping Catalonia of its regional autonomy, Spanish news agency EFE reported.

“In the absence of a response, the government understands that the requirement has not been responded to and will go ahead with Article 155 of the Constitution,” said government spokesman Mendez Vigo.

Article 155 is the most controversial article of the Magna Carta, never before implemented in the 39 years that the constitutional text has been in effect.

Faced with the “confusion” of what was experienced on 10 October in the Catalan Parliament, the Council of Ministers held an extraordinary meeting on Wednesday (17 October) to approve sending a request to the Generalitat (Catalan government) to confirm if Puigdemont had declared independence.

Spain moves to suspend Catalonia's autonomy

Spain will move to suspend Catalonia’s autonomy, the government said on Thursday (18 October), after Catalan President Carles Puigdemont refused to drop the region’s drive to break away from Madrid following the 1 October independence vote.

Article 155

Article 155 expressly refers to a prior request if an autonomous community is found in breach of the obligations imposed by the Constitution or other laws or if it is acting in a way that seriously undermines the general interest of Spain.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy explained that the one approved by the Council of Ministers on Wednesday was a prior requirement “for any of the measures that the Government can adopt under Article 155.”

In an institutional statement at the Palacio de la Moncloa, after the Council of Ministers approved the request, Rajoy said that Puigdemont’s response “will mark the future course of events in the coming days.”

The application of article 155 requires a series of preliminary steps until its final approval in the Senate, where it has to be ratified by an absolute majority.

The government is unlikely to encounter any obstacles for achieving this since Rajoy’s [centre-right] PP party has an absolute majority in the Senate, and could possibly count on the support of the socialists (PSOE), who have already shown their support for the government on Catalunya’s challenge of independence.

The article, included in Title VIII of the Spanish constitution, is brief and consists of two unique points:

“1. If an autonomous community does not fulfill the obligations that the Constitution or other laws impose on it, or acts in a way that seriously undermines the general interest of Spain, the Government can, upon request to the president of the autonomous community and, in case the request is not fulfilled, with the approval by an absolute majority of the Senate, adopt the necessary measures to force the latter to enforce those obligations or to protect the above-mentioned general interest.

2. For the execution of the measures foreseen in the previous section, the Government may give instructions to all the authorities of the autonomous communities.”

Once the Spanish government has taken the decision to invoke it, the steps to follow are set out in Article 189 of the rules of procedure of the Senate.These are five points listed below:

1. If the Government, in the cases referred to in Article 155 (1) of the Constitution, requires the approval of the Senate to adopt the measures to which it refers, it must submit in writing the content and scope of the proposed measures to the President of the House, as well as the justification for having made the corresponding request to the president of the autonomous community and the failure of the latter to comply with it.

2.The Bureau of the Senate shall forward the said written document and documentation to the General Commission of the Autonomous Communities, or proceed to establish a Joint Commission under the terms provided for in Article 58 of these regulations.

3.- The Commission, without prejudice to the provisions of Article 67, shall, through the President of the Senate, request the President of the Autonomous Community to submit, within the period to be determined, all antefacts, data and allegations considered relevant and to designate, if it deems it appropriate, the person who assumes representation for these purposes.

4.- The Commission shall formulate a reasoned proposal on whether or not the approval requested by the Government is accepted, with relevant conditions or modifications, if appropriate.

5.- The plenary of the House will debate this proposal, with two turns in favor and two against, of twenty minutes each, and the interventions of the spokesmen of the parliamentary groups that request it, for the same time.

After the debate, the proposal will be voted on and the resolution requires approval by an absolute majority of senators.

Although it has never been activated until now and its content has always been very controversial, jurists remember that the precept is clearly inspired by the so-called “federal coercion” (Bundeszwang), provided for in article 37 of the Basic Law of Bonn, which has never been applied either.

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Catalonia’s independence vote held on 1 October failed to meet the international standards to be considered as a referendum, the head of the international observation mission told EURACTIV.com on Wednesday (18 October).