Madrid warns Catalan government: if public order is not guaranteed, Spanish police will intervene

Socialist executive hardens tone over "breach of duty" accusations against Catalan police as protests heat up

Catalonia's home affairs minister, Miquel Buch (right), and his Spanish counterpart, Fernando Grande-Marlaska (by Aina Martí)
Catalonia's home affairs minister, Miquel Buch (right), and his Spanish counterpart, Fernando Grande-Marlaska (by Aina Martí) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

December 11, 2018 11:18 AM

The central government has warned Catalan officials that Spanish police officers will be deployed to Catalonia if its own law enforcement agency, the Mossos d'Esquadra, fails to guarantee public order.

Three ministers in Madrid sent letters to their Catalan counterparts, reproaching them for the Mossos' "breach of duty" at last weekend’s protests by pro-independence groups.

On Saturday, the Committees in Defence of the Republic (CDR) cut one of the main highways in Catalonia, disrupting traffic for around 15 hours. On Sunday, they lifted toll barriers on major roads as thousands of citizens returned home after the bank holiday weekend. The Mossos did not intervene.

In response to the letters, Catalan vice president Pere Aragonès said that the Mossos "always" follow technical criteria, ruling out any political interference by the pro-independence government to go soft on protesters.

Hardening the tone

The Spanish government, led by Pedro Sánchez, has hardened its tone ahead of the cabinet meeting to be held in Barcelona next week, which is set to spark protests by pro-independence supporters.

José Luis Ábalos, Spain's infrastructure minister and one of Sánchez closest allies, put into question whether the cabinet meeting should take place as planned—a possibility later dismissed by the president's office.

The Assemblea Nacional Catalana (ANC), one of the major pro-independence civic organizations, has already announced that it will organize demonstrations against the cabinet meeting. CDR groups, meanwhile, are calling for protests with the hashtag "#ComençalaRevolta21D" (revolution starts on December 21).

The relationship between the executives in Catalonia and Madrid has plummeted since pro-independence parties helped the Socialists oust the conservative Mariano Rajoy from power last spring, leaving Sánchez’s minority government in a fragile situation.

Opposition demands direct rule

The leader of unionist Ciutadans in Spain, Albert Rivera, called on Sánchez to trigger article 155 of the Constitution to impose direct rule on Catalonia—an exceptional measure that was first used by Rajoy following the declaration of independence.

Rivera said Catalonia is a "lawless land", and accused Sánchez of going "hand in hand with those that block roads and want to destroy Spain."

The leader of People's Party in Catalonia, Alejandro Fernández, joined the call for direct rule as a measure to oust the current Catalan president, Quim Torra.

"He believes we're in the Balkans, that Spain is a dictatorship, and that there'll be an international intervention," said Fernández on Torra.

In a speech at the Spanish Senate, vice president Carmen Calvo said that Sánchez's government is not considering the possibility of imposing direct rule on Catalonia.