Impact on Catalonia of six months under direct rule

How has the country fared since a declaration of independence in October led the Spanish government to suspend self government?

An image of the Catalan Parliament empty on January 2018 (by Rafa Garrido)
An image of the Catalan Parliament empty on January 2018 (by Rafa Garrido) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

April 27, 2018 01:13 PM

It is now six months since Catalonia’s self-government was suspended and direct rule from Madrid was imposed by the Spanish executive. After the Parliament made a declaration of independence on October 27, Spain’s president Mariano Rajoy dismissed the Catalan government, dissolved the Parliament and called a fresh election for December 21. The mechanism used to take control of Catalonia’s institutions was article 155 of the Spanish Constitution.

Although the pro-independence camp held on to its majority, four months since the election there is still no Catalan government in place, with direct rule set to continue until there is. Yet that is not proving easy. The pro-independence camp has tried to swear in three candidates for president on four occasions, but each attempt has been blocked by the Spanish courts. Parliament has until May 22 to appoint a president or a fresh election will be triggered.

In the meantime, Catalonia remains under direct rule, with all the consequences that has had, and is having, on its society, institutions, public figures, projects and accounts. In the past six months, the country has lived through an unprecedented political scenario, and what follows is a brief overview of some of the main areas that have been most affected by, the now infamous, Article 155 and the suspension of Catalonia’s self rule. 

Foreign offices closed

One of the first measures taken was to close all of the government’s foreign offices except for the one in Brussels. The director general of foreign affairs Marina Borrell was sacked when deposed minister in exile Lluís Puig attended an event in the Belgian office. The Permanent Delegate of the Catalan Government to the EU, Amadeu Altafaj, was also dismissed, and the Diplocat diplomacy council was closed down.

254 sackings

In its last report in February, the non-profit organization ServidorsCAT reported 254 sackings since direct rule was imposed. Among some of the prominent dismissals, other than those mentioned above, were the head the Public Administration School, Agustí Colomines, and the head of the Institute of Public Security of Catalonia, Annabel Marcos. ServidorsCAT also reported that 92 contracts and 21 subsidies were also cancelled.


The Spanish government has also used direct rule to take various legal steps. One example is including the Catalan government in the charge of misuse of public funds against former president Artur Mas and some of his ministers for organizing a non-binding independence referendum in November 2014.


Forceful removal of works of art

One effect of direct rule that made a profound impression came in December, when a Spanish judge ordered the forceful removal of disputed works of art from Lleida Museum. Originally from the Sixena monastery, experts’ warnings about the potential damage to the Romanesque treasures were ignored as police accompanied the artworks back to Aragon. This was after a long-disputed conflict between the administrations in Catalonia and Aragon. The Catalan authorities had judicially fighted for the works to stay in the country for years, but with its government under Madrid control, no further legal dispute was carried out from Barcelona.

Working language in schools

A hugely controversial effect of Article 155 was the threat posed to Catalan as the working language in schools in Catalonia. The Spanish government revealed plans to offer parents an option on school enrolment forms that would ensure their children would receive 25% of their schooling in Spanish. After a widespread outcry, the plans were dropped.

Centralizing taxation plans on hold

In taking control of all of the Catalan government accounts, Madrid’s direct rule also cancelled the agreements to centralize taxation issues in Catalonia, while funding for various Catalan government projects were put on hold, such as the reform of legislation governing savings banks in Catalonia, or the chambers of commerce law.

Police prevented from new anti-terror measures

The Catalan police, the Mossos d’Esquadra, complain that direct rule has prevented the adoption of new anti-terror measures, while the force no longer has access to reserve funds used to finance anti-jihadi operations. The Mossos also say that a detailed list of all imams in Catalonia has not been provided as was promised.


Historical memory project halted

Reports by and the Ombudsman have condemned the suspension of payments to fund compensation owed to former political prisoners of the Franco regime. At the same time, the Catalan government’s project to open mass graves from the period has been cancelled.

Public projects cancelled

A number of key public projects have also been cancelled, such as the plan to prevent lorries from using the N-340 main road, one of the country’s most dangerous roads. Also the 13-million-euro spending for primary care centres has been cancelled, as has research into breast cancer by Lleida’s Biomedical Research Institute.

Social services suspended

A number of social services have been suspended, such as the creation of a national body defending LGBT rights, and the programme to provide attention to unaccompanied underage migrants. A social welfare agreement between the Catalan government and Barcelona city council has also been stopped, while there have been delays in paying subsidies for programmes related to youth issues and drug dependency.

Freezing of plan for park rangers

Direct rule has also seen the freezing of the strategic plan for park rangers, which includes a new regulation allowing them to carry weapons. This initiative was a consequence of the Aspa case, in which a hunter shot two park rangers dead.