Spain’s Article 155: the constitution’s ‘nuclear option’
Article 155 of the Spanish constitution would allow the government in Madrid to intervene in the running of Catalonia. But it is an extreme measure for exceptional situations which has never been invoked before.
Article 155 is the most extreme measure available to the Madrid government, allowing it to take over the running of an autonomous region, should it declare independence.
In political circles, the article is known as “the nuclear option.” Spain’s former Foreign Secretary Jose Manuel Garcia described it as “an atomic bomb.”
The Spanish Congress describes the article as an “exceptional or extreme” measure “for situations that are equally exceptional or extreme.”
The article allows “all measures necessary to compel the community to meet said obligations, or to protect the above-mentioned general interest.”
The measure has never been invoked in Spain. Similar provisions in other European countries have also never been invoked.
Spain’s constitutional court has moved to stop the Catalan government making a unilateral declaration of independence by suspending the regional parliament session in which the results of Sunday’s referendum were due to be discussed.
On Thursday, the court upheld a challenge by Catalonia’s Socialist party – which opposes secession from Spain – ruling that allowing the Catalan parliament to meet on Monday and potentially declare independence would violate the rights of the party’s MPs.
The court warned that any session carried out in defiance of its ban would be “null”, and added that the parliament’s leaders could face criminal action if they ignored the court order
Separatist lawmakers are mulling a unilateral declaration of independence, claiming they have a mandate from some 90 percent of the Catalan population.
The Spanish government, meanwhile, remains steadfast in its insistence that the constitution, in which the Spanish nation is “indivisible” be respected.
Spain’s King Felipe has appeared to hint that he might support the application of Article 155. “It is the purpose of the legitimate powers of the state to make sure that constitutional order is abided by,” he said after the independence referendum.
Spain has already shown a willingness to intervene in Catalan affairs, with Madrid last month imposing controls over Catalonia’s finances.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has warned Catalan separatists not to “force us to go where we don’t want to go.”
Catalonia timeline from 1932 to the October referendum date
Unstoppable force v immovable object
To invoke Article 155, Madrid would have to notify Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont that he must comply with any laws or duties in which the central government feels he is failing.
Puigdemont would then have to reject it. The central government would then have to go to the Senate, which represents the regions. The Popular Party has a comfortable majority there.
The Europa Press news agency has said the government thinks it could “technically” apply Article 155 within five days.
Given the anger that the withdrawal of autonomy would almost certainly provoke, it could be like letting the genie out of the bottle. It might also inspire solidarity for Catalonia in other wantaway regions of Spain, like the Basque Country.
“Pressing the button of 155 could open Indiana Jones’s Ark of the Covenant, it’s dangerously unpredictable,” one Catalan regional government was quoted as saying by Catalonia’s La Vanguardianewspaper back in July.