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The democratic state responds

The Spanish government has taken action to restore constitutional law in the region of Catalonia

Regional premier Carles Puigdemont (c), with Catalan parliament speaker Carme Forcadell (r) and deputy premier Oriol Junqueras at a protest in Barcelona on Saturday.
Regional premier Carles Puigdemont (c), with Catalan parliament speaker Carme Forcadell (r) and deputy premier Oriol Junqueras at a protest in Barcelona on Saturday. Getty Images

Faced with an exceptional challenge, the Spanish Popular Party (PP) government, in agreement with the main opposition parties, the Socialist Party (PSOE) and Ciudadanos, has taken an equally exceptional step: turning to the Senate to propose a series of measures that, in accordance with Article 155 of the Constitution, impede the regional premier of the Catalan government, the Generalitat, to continue acting against the general interest of the people and guarantee the compliance on the part of the regional government and the Catalan parliament with its constitutional obligations. Both institutions have placed themselves outside the law: acting against them is completely justified.

The measures that have been proposed, which include the replacement of the entire regional government and the dissolution of parliament with a view to the calling of regional elections, are, without a doubt, as drastic as they are forceful. It is not the route that the government wanted to take, nor the path that any democrat would want. It is very painful for those who conceived and supported this Constitution – based, to a great degree, in the state of the autonomous regions – to witness this huge failure. But our shock must not leave us confused: only the Catalan regional premier, Carles Puigdemont, and those who have accompanied him – openly or in the shadows – in this adventure against the rule of law are responsible for what has happened.

The measures that have been proposed are as drastic as they are forceful

It is impossible to ignore the difficulty of applying these measures and the possible complications of public order that their execution could generate. But it is undeniable that they are, at the same time, proportional and symmetric to the challenge posed by pro-independence forces whose threats to constitutional order are as serious as those that Spanish democracy suffered with the attempted coup on February 23, 1981.

Let’s not be confused. All of the institutions of the Spanish state – from King Felipe VI to the Constitutional Court, as well as the biggest political parties – have agreed that with its actions on September 6 and 7, the regional government and the Catalan parliament suspended the self-governance of Catalonia and derogated both the region’s autonomy Statute as well as the 1978 Constitution. The pro-independence forces have recognized as such during their public statements and have enshrined this in their referendum laws. While it is nothing more than another display of the cynicism to which they have us accustomed to, it is surprising that the secessionists argue now that autonomy has been suspended and reclaim its value.

Democracy not only has the right to defend itself, but also the obligation to do so

Until now the Spanish government has been criticized – and justifiably so – for not acting politically and hiding behind other institutions and powers. Now, finally, the government has decided to take the lead in the constitutional response to the Catalan crisis. Rajoy has managed to join forces with the PSOE and Ciudadanos, forging the consensus that Article 155 needed: the three parties that support him represent 254 seats and 16 million votes, a majority that is as qualified as it is legitimate to act.

Democracy not only has the right to defend itself, but also the obligation to do so. The state is not an abstract entity, it is the institution in which we place our trust to protect our liberties and prosperity. As such it has a coercive, legal and legitimate capacity. All states provide for a mechanism such as Article 155 to correct the deviations or abuses of power of governments or regions. All of them. The fact that Article 155 has never been used before does not delegitimize its application, quite the opposite.

Catalan citizens must remain calm: the rule of law protects them and their rights and freedoms are guaranteed. As are their jobs, companies, savings and economic interests, all of which have been cast into doubt by the regional government. We are embarking on the return of the Constitution and the Catalan regional Statute. Regional elections would allow for legality to be definitively restored, and will show that, far from silencing the democratic will and the voice of Catalans, it is the Constitution that guarantees self-government.

A general election, perhaps timed to coincide with regional polls in Catalonia, could be the suitable instrument

We want that journey to be taken with the least amount of turbulence possible. But we call on the three parties implied in this decision to employ the best management and approach possible in such a delicate moment, and to maintain their unity in the face of all the difficulties and obstacles that could arise along the way.

We are expecting that there will be an opportunity from that moment to deal with the problems at the root of this: the redrawing of the territorial structure, the modernization of the country – in brief, the constitutional reform that is urgent in the light of the events of recent months. It seems to us very difficult to tackle this task in the scenario in which we find ourselves right now. A general election, perhaps timed to coincide with regional polls in Catalonia, could be the suitable instrument so that the necessary subsequent negotiations are in the hands of figures who have recently emerged with a mandate from the ballot boxes.

Spain is a strong country. Our democracy enjoys the same virtues and defects as those of the most advanced in the world. But like all of them, it needs a root-and-branch revision from time to time. From the birth of the Constitution in 1978, a number of generations of Spaniards have come into existence. It is time to connect with all of them via our founding law, getting involved in its modernization. It can only be hoped that the serious crisis that we have before our very eyes gives us the impetus needed to embark on this difficult and fundamental mission.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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