Spanish Imposition of Article 155 and Associated Risks – Travel Advisory
25 Oct 2017
On 21 October 2017, the Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, announced his intent to utilise Article 155 of the constitution in an effort to bring Catalonia back into compliance with the Spanish constitution. This followed the failure of the Catalan regional government to renounce its attempts at independence, including an illegal referendum on 01 October. The use of these measures requires approval from the Spanish Senate, which is scheduled to debate the issue on Friday 27 October. Both the ruling Popular Party, and the main opposition, the Socialist Party, support the use of Article 155 at the national level in order to maintain Spain’s territorial integrity. Regional pro-independence parties in Catalonia have stated that they intend to continue to operate in defiance of any measures or controls imposed by the Madrid government.
- On 21 October, the Spanish Prime Minister announced his intention to utilise Article 155.
- Catalan regional politicians and organisations stated their intent to operate in disregard of this.
- Protests are highly likely throughout the implementation of Article 155.
- Ongoing disruption to business operations and travel are likely.
Political: On 21 October 2017, the Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, announced his intent to utilise Article 155 of the constitution in an effort to bring Catalonia back into compliance with the Spanish constitution. This followed the failure of the Catalan regional government to renounce its attempts at independence, including an illegal referendum on 01 October. The use of these measures requires approval from the Spanish Senate, which is scheduled to debate the issue on Friday 27 October. Both the ruling Popular Party, and the main opposition, the Socialist Party, support the use of Article 155 at the national level in order to maintain Spain’s territorial integrity. Regional pro-independence parties in Catalonia have stated that they intend to continue to operate in defiance of any measures or controls imposed by the Madrid government.
Article 155, a synopsis: Spanish Federal Government has, with the Senate’s approval, the right to impose direct control of all devolved functions in an Autonomous Community (such as Catalonia) if the community’s government has acted against the Spanish constitution or against the general interests of Spain.
SOLACE GLOBAL COMMENT
Calls for dialogue by the Catalan regional government are highly unlikely to be heeded by the Spanish Federal Government. The unconstitutional nature of the 01 October referendum means that there is no legal basis for any discussions to take place and, on the basis of Spanish law, the use of Article 155 appears the only legal framework within which they may approach the situation. The measures available to the national government under Article 155 are vaguely defined and do not have to be imposed wholesale; this give the Spanish Government the ability to steadily impose further measures as necessary to resolve the situation. This is in notable contrast to media comment which has widely described this as a “nuclear option”.
It is highly likely that the opening measure to be imposed would be for the federal government to remove all regionally elected officials from their posts and schedule new elections. The intent behind this would be to provide a clean slate and fresh mandate to govern a region in which less than 40 per cent of the population view independence favourably. It would also effectively remove those officials who acted in direct opposition to the Supreme Court ruling regarding the illegality of the referendum. Furthermore, it is highly likely that the regional police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, will be temporarily placed under federal control in order to assist with the imposition of law and maintenance of order. The Mossos had previously acted to keep polling stations open during the referendum, despite court orders to the contrary. It is also likely that the regional public broadcaster, TV3, will also be temporarily operated by the central government.
Regardless of which of the above options are implemented, the short-term effects are likely to be the same, i.e. extended civil unrest and protests. It is likely that these will turn violent on some occasions; previous clashes between the Guarda Nacional and Catalan independence protesters resulted in around 1,000 people requiring medical attention. Whilst police are likely to take measures to contain and reduce violence, pro-Catalan groups are likely to realise that images of their apparent victimisation by police boost public sympathy for their cause; there is a realistic possibility, therefore, that they may actively seek to incite violence at protests. The extent of the unrest will likely be tied to the actions of pro-independence officials in Catalonia, and particularly whether they comply with orders to leave office when the federal government retakes control. If they choose not to comply, it is highly likely that their actions will encourage more vigorous civil resistance amongst the large minority of independence-supporting citizens; as well as potentially encouraging pro-Spanish groups to demonstrate against their actions. The actions, then, of the Mossos d’Esquadra, will likely define the success or failure of national law enforcement agencies to contain the unrest.
In the aftermath of civil unrest, the imposition of Article 155, if successful, will likely lead to a restoration of economic confidence in the region and substantially ease the business environment. If unsuccessful, with unrest continuing until a unilateral declaration of independence, widespread capital flight can be expected as businesses actively seek to remove assets from Catalonia. They will be pushed to do so by continued access to EU markets and a desire to avoid the high likelihood of disruption caused by operating in a proto-state. The high likelihood of this has been evidenced by two banks having already relocated their headquarters since the 01 October 2017 referendum. It is likely that this will, in turn, lead to further civil unrest as anti-capitalist elements join pro-Independence protesters in response to these actions by businesses. Again, some limited protests have already taken place targeting CaixaBank and Banco Sabadell following their decision to vacate their headquarters from Catalonia, this is highly likely to persist in the context of Catalan independence.
At this stage travellers to Catalonia should maintain a heightened level of awareness and monitor local media in order to remain aware of potential security threats. There is no need, at present, for additional security measures throughout a visit; however, travellers should ensure they have a viable resilience plan, which may include evacuation, as the situation could degrade rapidly.
It is recommended that political rallies and protests are avoided. It is highly likely that police and agitators will clash, with some elements seeking to incite violence. Due to the mix of local and federal law enforcement, policing of protests may be inconsistent. Travellers should retain a low profile throughout any periods of unrest and are advised to avoid booking hotels in close proximity to government buildings or regional monuments as these may act as focal points for protests.
Businesses in the area, particularly those with close ties to Spain or other EU nations should be aware that their actions in response to this political crisis may act to incite or galvanise protests. Public relations management and facility security should be assessed and prepared to respond to any such developments.
Solace Global would advise clients to employ a travel tracking system with an integrated intelligence feed, to allow employers to effectively execute duty of care, and permit the traveller to remain up to date with potential threats.
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