Spanish government set to revoke autonomy for Catalans

The Spanish cabinet is meeting today to decide the best way to revoke the autonomy of its northeastern region, Catalonia.  The regional government wants to declare its independence from Spain following a referendum held three weeks ago.

The constitutional right to revoke the region's autonomy has never been invoked in the four decades of Spanish democracy.


Independence supporters were due to rally in the Catalan capital Barcelona on Saturday afternoon.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy insists that Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, who heads the wealthy northeastern region's government, has broken the law several times in pushing for independence, thus justifying the imposition of central government control.

In an internal explanatory memorandum obtained by Reuters, the government said its objective was to restore the law, make sure the regional institutions were neutral, and to guarantee public services and economic activity as well as preserve the civil rights of all citizens.

"The rulers of Catalonia have respected neither the law on which is based our democracy nor the general interest," the government said.

Prime Minister Rajoy is faced with a delicate dilemma.  Does he crack down hard, thus assuring that Spanish law is upheld?  Or does he go easy on independence-supporters with a partial takeover of the regional government?

Direct rule would be temporary and could range from dismissing the regional government to a softer approach of removing heads of specific departments.

The exact measures must be agreed and voted upon in Spain's upper house, the Senate, and Rajoy wants the broadest consensus possible.

The main opposition Socialists said on Friday they would back special measures and had agreed on the holding of regional elections in January.

The government declined to confirm this, saying only that regional elections were likely and the details would be announced on Saturday.

Whatever he does, Rajoy risks a violent backlash from independence supporters.  But he has the support of a vast majority of the Spanish people and even a majority of residents in Catalonia. 

The revolt of Catalans is just the tip of the iceberg in Europe.  There are minorities across the continent who yearn for their own state.  But like Catalonia, majorities in these autonomous regions support maintaining their connection to their mother countries. 

In Catalonia, for instance, the city of Barcelona is one of the most cosmopolitan in the world.  It plays a vital role in the Spanish economy.  You would hardly expect Spain to cut off its right arm by letting the city join Catalonia in independence.  Similar integration occurs across other autonomous and ethnic regions in Europe. 

The answer is what Catalonia will probably get: some kind of "super-autonomy," where the regional government gets to keep more tax revenue while more power is granted to the regional government.  That won't satisfy some of the independence-supporters, but as a practical matter, it's the best they can hope for.

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