Article published at Diari Ara, February 2nd, 2017.
Spanish government believes it to be a greater defiance than the 2014 consultation
Mariano Rajoy´s government has a plan to prevent the independence referendum in Catalonia from taking place. His strategy involves several ministries and includes legal and coercive measures, such as locking out schools (1), according to sources in the Palace of Moncloa speaking for Europa Press.
The administration is stressing that the current situation is not the same as in November 2014 because at that time, according to the same sources, they could not block the vote because the consultation was a consultative process driven by Catalan grassroots groups. In fact, they recognize that banning the ballot would have been a disproportional response.
However, now that the Catalan Parliament is moving forward with a law for breaking away from Spain, this year’s referendum would have no lawful basis and, they advise, will be the subject of a direct appeal to the Constitutional Court (TC). This bill hasn’t been unveiled yet, although the pro-independence parties assure that they have agreed on its details.
Should the TC resolution be ignored by the Catalan authorities, the Spanish government will activate a number of coercive measures to prevent the referendum. These actions could include, for example, locking out schools, or even taking over Catalonia’s Ministry of Education to block access to the polling places.
Sources within the Moncloa explain that this is a comprehensive strategy that will involve various Ministries (Presidency, Interior, and Education, among others), and that it provides for different potential actions and scenarios.
As to the possibility of invoking Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution (2), the government argues that its response to the referendum will include the Constitution as a whole. Thus, these same sources stress that the referendum will never be held.
On Wednesday Spanish President Mariano Rajoy, before leaving Congressional chambers, was firm in stating that an “illegal” referendum will never happen. Moreover, he criticized that some Catalan leaders want to do it by “flouting the law”, and that they have said so publicly.
Spanish government reproaches Catalonia’s for “lack of gestures”
Even if the Generalitat decides to move up the date of the referendum, as it has hinted in recent days, sources in Madrid insist that they have foreseen all possibilities. According to the Spanish government, this advancement of the calendar is due to the fact that the Generalitat is trying to “present itself as a victim”, thereby calling a hypothetical snap regional election which would be presented once again as a plebiscite, with the goal of attracting more votes in support.
The sources admit that the government of Mariano Rajoy is “disappointed and concerned” by the “lack of gestures” from Catalan authorities in recent months. Nevertheless, they have not called off the “Operation Dialogue” that they launched during this term.
Indeed, Spanish Vice-President Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría will return to Catalonia this Friday, specifically to Barcelona’s El Prat Airport, to highlight the investments made by her administration.
However, government sources reiterate that, although “Operation Dialogue” continues in force, if the Generalitat doubles down on its bet and activates the illegal referendum, they will not ignore it and will activate their plan to prevent it.
(1) Traditionally, primary and secondary schools are used as polling stations in Catalonia.
(2) Article 155 has never been invoked before, but some claim it would allow the Spanish authorities to effectively suspend any powers devolved to a regional government.