The regional parliament in Catalonia has voted to declare independence from Spain as lawmakers in Madrid approved emergency powers to impose direct rule on the region. Catalan lawmakers have called for the establishment of a new Catalan Republic.
The Catalan parliament announced just before 3:30 p.m. local time on Friday that 70 lawmakers had voted in favor of a motion to secede from Spain. Ten lawmakers voted against the motion while the opposition Socialists and Citizens parties boycotted the vote.
Thousands of people who were gathered near the parliament in Barcelona erupted in cheers as the news was announced, prompting some people to set off fireworks. But the response was more subdued in Madrid, where the Spanish Senate was meeting to approve emergency powers.
Responding to the news, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called for calm and said the rule of law would be restored in the autonomous region. “What the parliament approved isn’t just illegal, it’s a criminal act,” he said.
Lawmakers in Madrid voted overwhelmingly in favor of Article 155 of the Constitution to transfer powers from Catalonia to Madrid. Article 155, often referred to as Spain’s “nuclear option,” had never been used before.
Spain’s cabinet is due to hold an emergency meeting at 7 p.m., though it’s unclear which steps Madrid plans to take to impose direct rule in Catalonia. It is also highly uncertain whether Catalonia could enforce its declaration of independence, as Madrid could take control of the region’s police force.
Regardless, Friday’s developments are certain to escalate what is already the country’s worst political crisis in decades.
European Council President Donald Tusk said on Twitter that Friday’s declaration of independence would change nothing for the European Union, which had previously declined to negotiate between Barcelona and Madrid.
“For EU nothing changes. Spain remains our only interlocutor,” Tusk said in a tweet. “I hope the Spanish government favors force of argument, not argument of force.”
In the United States, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department expressed support for Spanish unity. “Catalonia is an integral part of Spain, and the United States supports the Spanish government’s constitutional measures to keep Spain strong and united,” she said.
No country has recognized or publicly expressed support for an independent Catalonia. But in Finland, Mikko Kärnä – a member of the Centre Party – said he would submit a motion in parliament next week in an attempt to secure recognition of the Catalan Republic.
More than 90% of ballots cast during a referendum on October 1 were in favor of independence, but the vote was declared illegal and turnout was only 43%. A police crackdown – in which 893 people were injured – may have decreased turnout as police seized ballot boxes and closed dozens of voting stations.
Catalonia has insisted for weeks that it will seek to implement the results of the vote, even though Spain’s constitution requires that a referendum on sovereignty takes place nationally, not regionally. It allows Madrid to suspend the regional government’s authority or, in the worst case, send in security forces.
Catalonia, which has a total population of 7.6 million people, has long sought independence from Spain. Many of its residents feel that the wealthy region contributes far more to the Spanish economy than it gets back through central government funds.
Earlier this year, former Catalan President Artur Mas was fined 36,500 euros ($40,860) and banned from holding public office for 2 years for organizing a non-binding independence referendum in 2014. The conviction and a recent recession led to a renewed push for independence.
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