Catalan Prime Minister Removed from Office – New Riots in Barcelona?

Catalonia is facing the next constitutional crisis. On Monday, Spain’s Supreme Court confirmed a ruling by its Catalan counterpart from last December suspending the incumbent Prime Minister of Catalonia, Quim Torra, from holding any political office for a year and a half. He had been charged with disobedience to an order issued by the Spanish electoral authority.

Following a complaint by the liberal party “Ciudadanos” (Citizens) during the height of the Spanish election campaign in March 2019, the electoral authority had repeatedly demanded that posters protesting against the imprisonment of the leaders of the illegal Catalan independence referendum of 2017 be removed from public buildings in Catalonia. Torra did not want to comply with this demand and left the posters up. In the ruling, the Supreme Court emphasised that Torra was free to use symbols or posters reflecting its political identity, but that he could not do so during election campaigns, as the electoral authorities had explicitly instructed him to do.

With the judgement, he will have to give up his office as “president” in the next few days, unless he tries to appeal to the Constitutional Court for a suspension of the judgement. This, however, is unlikely to be successful. According to media reports, Torra is already looking for office space as former prime minister, apparently in Girona, about 100 km north of Barcelona. He would be the first ex-“president” to have an office outside the Catalan capital, which in the past was not Catalan enough for him.

Yesterday’s verdict is the latest chapter in a long series of political-legal skirmishes between Catalan supporters of independence and Spanish politics on the one hand and the independent judiciary on the other. It also falls within a heated debate about an initiative of the centre-left government of Spain under Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to negotiate a pardon for the “political prisoners” of the referendum, as they are called by the independence advocates, some of whom have been sentenced to several years in prison.

It is not yet clear what will happen in Catalonia. In the short term there could be civil unrest in major cities, particularly Barcelona. A first rally was called for Monday evening at 19:30. Legally sound trials and judgments have also become weapons in the fight for a “Catalan Republic” – they serve as evidence of the “oppression” of the Catalans by the Spanish institutions, which merely carry out their constitutional mandates. Respect for the rule of law and reason has long been undermined here – and indeed is clearly being forced. In Catalonia, for example, some regulations are deliberately enacted, although it is clear that the constitutional court will overturn them again for lack of jurisdiction – only to stylise itself afterwards as a victim of the central power.

It is also still unclear whether there will be new elections, which Torra could still call in his last days as prime minister (which he has so far refused to do), or whether his deputy Pere Aragonès will continue in office as acting prime minister. 28 years after the Olympic Games in Barcelona, not much of the spirit of optimism of that time remains.

David Henneberger

Project Director, FNF Spain, Italy & Portugal