by DANI SÁNCHEZ UGART – Madrid
The Spanish State presented its traditional show of force, yesterday, October 12, which this year came at a highly-charged time, with current events in Catalonia. Under the motto “Proud to be Spanish,” the pomp of Hispanicity Day – officially a Spanish national holiday – was overshadowed on the street and the traditional political corrillos by the request sent by the Spanish government to the president of the Generalitat, Carles Puigdemont, as a first step to activate article 155, which allows the intervention of the state into the autonomy of the regions.
This was the context, on the biggest day of the year for the armed forces, which hung over the march of La Castellana de Madrid, when the defense minister, María Dolores de Cospedal, alluded to more than a simple demonstration of strength, when she did not rule out a potential military intervention to resolve the conflict. Cospedal said that she is “almost completely sure” that the intervention of the army in Catalonia will not be necessary, “but the armed forces have the obligation to be prepared to defend their country, inside or outside their borders”. Although the constitution limits the possible actions of the military inside Spain, it does mandate that the army must act to guarantee of the unity of Spain. Beyond that, the minister said that “the armed forces can help with non-conflict tasks such as logistical support for the security forces, and such things are already taking place in Catalonia today.” In addition, reaching out to forces already away on missions, the minister said that “unity is strength” and that despite the “anguish and uncertainty” of current times in Spain, the rule of law will allow “the preservation of law and territorial integrity”. “The rule of law has all the instruments to preserve the law, the unity of Spain, the national sovereignty of all Spanish people and territorial integrity,” she added.
De Cospedal made reference to the hot topic of Spanish Unity more than once. This is not the first time that the Minister of Defense, representative of the more conservative wing of the Popular Party has sent such messages. Even so, the Spanish government, at the moment, does not appear to be considering military action as a short-term option, although in triggering Article 116 of the Constitution which regulates ‘exceptional states of emergency’, the army could in theory be deployed. In any case, de Cospedal’s statement adds to the words of Mariano Rajoy who said he would rule “nothing” out, in stopping the independence of Catalonia. According to the head of Foreign Affairs, Alfonso Dastis, the arrest of Carles Puigdemont should also not be ruled out. “That depends on him,” he said.
Beyond that, the talks yesterday centered on Article 155. The atmosphere at the Royal Palace, where King Philip VI presided over the traditional October 12th reception for Hispanic Day was an uneasy calm. The stalemate the conflict with Catalonia has entered, and the pact between the PSOE and the PP served to buoy the spirits of the Spanish conservatives somewhat. The Spanish government and the socialist politicians who participated in the reception agreed that “the ball is now firmly in Puigdemont’s court,” relieving some of the pressure on them. Neither the executive nor the PSOE want to pre-judge intervening in Catalan autonomy, holding out hope that the Catalan President may still consider the option he has, to respond that independence has not been declared. Sources in the Moncloa also said that if Puigdemont responds that they did not declare independence, this will be interpreted as the return to “legality” they have been demanding. That is, it will be understood as a return to a pre-September 5th state of affairs – the date when the laws on the referendum and the transitional to a Republic were passed.
If the answer is not negative, but maintains the perceived ambiguity of the October 10th declaration, Article 155 will be triggered, though this will be a slow process, as explained by the Socialist general secretary, Pedro Sánchez, at the Royal Palace. He implied deadlines will be stretched, probably with the sending of new requirements for clarification, with the aim, on the one hand, of cooling heated tempers, particularly on the international stage, and on the other hand, trying to convince the moderates of the PDECat (Catalan European Democratic Party) to return to the fold of “Compliant Catalaniam” to which Mariano Rajoy referred Wednesday in his address to Congress.
The strategy of sending the requirement for clarification to Puigdemont, in fact, has had a second objective of attempting to dividing the pro-independence majority. On the one hand, the Rajoy executive expects that moderate voices in the PDECat will get more support as they demand the unilateral option be abandones altogether, whilst on the other hand it hopes this strategy will alienate the pro-UDI CUP and cause them to break with the majority government. This would force an election which, if the terms and timelines of Article 155 were extended, could occur before Spanish intervention in the autonomy of Catalonia, and be a critital moment in the independentista story. The Popular Party are gambling that sowing division and unrest in the pro-independence ranks will pay off for them in the event of an election, and drastically effect the pro-independence majority.
However, if Puigdemont says clearly that he did declare independence and does not mention the suspension, the execution of 155 will be quick. Former president José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, referred to the situation in Catalonia yesterday, calling the “political reaction” of Rajoy and Sánchez “has been intelligent” and he hoped the “formal application of 155” would not be necessary. In contrast, another former president, Felipe González asserted it ought to be applied as soon as possible to put the brakes on what he called a “coup”. Both were present at the royal reception, which José María Aznar did not attend. The general climate in the Moncloa is that the situation in Catalonia is being resolved, although no one in the Moncloa has ruled out a cunning move from Puigdemont which could change the course of events. In any case, they believe that the waiting game will work in their favour.