Updated: 10:50 am EST
Spain’s constitutional crisis has just moved into uncharted territory. After Catalonia’s regional parliament voted to declare independence Friday, the Spanish government responded by authorizing direct rule over the region.
The developments mark the most significant escalations in the prolonged standoff over Catalonia’s secessionist ambitions so far. The world’s eyes are now anxiously watching for how the confrontation between Barcelona and Madrid plays out.
Catalan lawmakers voted on the motion — that “We shall constitute the Catalan Republic as an independent, and sovereign, democratic and social state of law” — in a secret ballot Friday afternoon. With the opposition boycotting the vote, it passed 70-10, with two abstentions.
Supporters of independence gathered outside the Catalan parliament in Barcelona cheered and waved Catalan flags as news of the result broke.
Madrid responded swiftly, with lawmakers in Spain’s senate voting to take direct control of the region under Article 155 of the Spanish constitution — a measure that has never been taken before. Lawmakers in Madrid voted 214-47 in favor of the extraordinary measures, following an urgent appeal by Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy earlier in the day. The extraordinary vote authorizes Madrid to fire Catalonia’s president Carles Puigdemont and his cabinet and suspend the region’s autonomy.
“Exceptional measures need to be adopted when there are no other ways back to normality,” he said, to applause from lawmakers.
“The thing that Catalans need protecting from is not what they’re calling Spanish imperialism, but a minority who, in an intolerant way, declare themselves the owners of Catalonia.”
Catalonia’s leading secessionist group, the Catalan National Assembly, shot back at Madrid’s takeover, ordering civil servants not to listen to Spain’s government and instead respond with “peaceful resistance.”
Like the referendum that preceded it, the Catalan vote is likely to be declared illegal by Spain’s constitutional court, and any declaration of independence is unlikely to be widely recognized internationally.
As tensions rose Friday ahead of an imminent confrontation between Madrid and Barcelona, Rajoy called on all Spaniards to remain calm, as Catalan secessionist leaders called on civil servants in the region to respond to orders from Madrid with peaceful resistance.
Catalan authorities say that the overwhelming majority of voters in the Oct. 1 referendum supported independence, but only about 43 percent of eligible voters took part, with most opponents of secession staying away from the banned ballot. Puigdemont later made an ambiguous declaration of independence on Oct 10., “suspending” the effects of that statement to allow for talks with Madrid, but they never took place.
Uncertainty from the standoff has seen hundreds of businesses relocate from Catalonia, a wealthy region in northeast Spain, and caused alarm among Spain’s European neighbors, who fear it could give momentum to other separatist movements on the continent and create another unwelcome crisis in the bloc.