Spain is dusting off a never-before-used emergency clause in its constitution in a bid to end the push for independence in Catalonia. How things will turn out remains very much up in the air. Specifically, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy says he is beginning the process to invoke Article 155 of the constitution, which allows Madrid to suspend Catalonia's autonomy and impose direct rule, reports CNN. Spain could theoretically remove Catalonia's current leaders and take over the police and all government institutions, notes Reuters, but much is unclear because Article 155 has never been used. It was put in place after the downfall of the dictator Francisco Franco 40 years ago, intended for use only in a crisis. This is the first such crisis in the eyes of Madrid.
All this was set off when Catalonians voted overwhelmingly for independence in a referendum deemed illegal by Spain. However, Catalonian leader Carles Puigdemont immediately suspended a declaration of independence and said he wanted to negotiate. Puigdemont has since dodged two deadlines from Madrid seeking clarification, prompting Rajoy to say Wednesday: “It’s simple and it’s not that difficult. It’s answering one question. Have you or have you not declared the independence of Catalonia?" If the answer is yes, he added, "the government is obliged" to "act in a certain way.” The next steps could drag out for weeks, explains the BBC. Rajoy's Cabinet meets Saturday to formalize the decision to invoke Article 155, which then needs to go through parliament. Then Catalonia would likely be given time to issue a formal response.