The Spanish government has said today that it will trigger article 155 of the Spanish constitution which will suspend Catalonia's autonomy and impose direct rule.
The announcement of the unprecedented measure came after Carles Puigdemont, the Catalan president, ignored two deadlines set by Madrid to clarify his position regarding the region's independence intentions and after Puigdemont threatened a unilateral declaration of independence if the Spanish government did not agree to talks on the issue.
Puigdemont was given until 10 a.m. local time Thursday (4 a.m. ET) to withdraw the declaration of independence he made — albeit ambiguously — last week.
Before the deadline passed Puigdemont said the regional parliament could vote on a formal declaration of independence from Spain if no talks were held between Catalonia and Madrid. He again failed to clarify whether the region had declared independence.
Article 155 of Spain's 1978 constitution, which cemented democratic rule after the death of dictator General Franco three years earlier, allows Madrid to impose direct rule in a crisis but it has never been invoked.
In plain English, the article means that if a self-governing community, like Catalonia, has acted in any way to undermine the interests of Spain, the national government will "take all measures necessary" to force it to meet its obligations to the state.
This is the first time in Spain's history that the article has been activated.
Given the unprecedented nature of the situation it's still unclear how the Catalan government will respond to Article 155. It's also uncertain how Madrid would actually go about seizing powers from Catalonia. While taking control of its police force and ousting local officials are possibilities there could be a public backlash if it tries to do so.
The effects of Article 155 are not likely to be felt for several days due to it requiring approval from the upper house of parliament.
The unprecedented triggering of Article 155 is a constitutional crisis for Spain and is likely to spook financial markets.
It could also provoke more social unrest in Catalonia, radicalising the Catalan society and playing into the hands of the Catalan government.
This is by far Spain’s biggest political crisis for 40 years, whose repercussions would be felt not just in Spain but will probably be felt all over Europe.