Spain found itself on the verge of a full-blown sovereign crisis on Saturday, after the “rebel region” of Catalonia rejected giving more control to the central government in defiance of authorities in Madrid who are trying to suppress an independence referendum on Oct. 1.
As tensions rise ahead of the planned Catalan referendum on October 1, and as Madrid’s crackdown on separatist passions took a turn for the bizarre overnight when as we reported Spain’s plan to send boatloads of military police to Catalonia to halt the referendum backfired with dockers in two ports staging a boycott and refused access, on Saturday Spain’s Public Prosecutor’s Office told Catalan Police chief Josep Lluis Trapero that his officers must now obey orders from a senior state-appointed police coordinator, Spanish news agency EFE reported on Saturday.
The Catalan Police, however, disagreed and as Bloomberg reports, the SAP union – the largest trade group for the 17,000-member Catalan Police, known as Mossos d’Esquadra – said it would resist hours after prosecutors Saturday ordered that it accept central-government coordination. The rejection echoed comments by Catalan separatist authorities.
“We don’t accept this interference of the state, jumping over all existing coordination mechanisms,” the region’s Interior Department chief Joaquim Forn said in brief televised comments. “The Mossos won’t renounce exercising their functions in loyalty to the Catalan people.”
The Mossos are one of the symbols of Catalonia’s autonomy and for many Catalans the prosecutor’s decision may be reminiscent of the 1936-39 Spanish Civil War and subsequent dictatorship of Francisco Franco, when the Mossos were abolished.
In a joint press conference today with the Catalan home affairs minister Joaquim Forn and the Mossos chief Josep Lluís Trapero, Forn said that the move by Spain was “unacceptable”.
“We denounce the Spanish government’s will of seizing the Mossos, as they did with Catalonia’s finances” Forn said adding that that “the Catalan government does not accept this interference, it bypasses all the institutions that the current legal framework already has in place to guarantee the security of Catalonia.” Additionally, Trapero expressed his intention to not accept the measure, which he described as “interference by the state”, and also warned that “it skips over all the bodies of the legal framework to coordinate the security of Catalonia”.
Catalan minister Joaquim Forn (L) with Mossos chief Josep Lluís Trapero
Earlier on Saturday, El Pais reported that Civil Guard Colonel Diego Perez de los Cobos, chief of staff of the Interior Ministry’s security department, was named by a prosecutor to coordinate the efforts of the Civil Guard, the National Police and the local Mossos. Spanish media reported unnamed Home Office sources as saying the measure did not mean withdrawing any powers from the Mossos formally, but rather requiring them to submit to a joint coordination operation to stop the Catalan referendum taking place on October 1.
However, shortly after the reshuffling, Catalan police chief Josep Lluis Trapero rejected giving up control to the central government during a meeting with the heads of the other police forces on Saturday, adding that all possible legal challenges would be studied. According to La Vanguardia Trapero “protested at that meeting about the decision to impose central government control” on the regional police force.
Also on Saturday morning, as the police meeting in Barcelona took place, the regional interior minister, Forn, published a defiant message on Twitter: “We will encounter many difficulties. The state wants to take control of our self-government, but they will not stop us! #HelloRepublic”.