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Article 155 does not protect the public order, but the constitutional one, and the Government trusts in not having to apply it

José Antonio Zarzalejos Saturday, 12/10/2019 – 09:42

Picture-Aragonès and Torra, in the Parliament. / ALBERT BERTRAN

The response to the ruling of the TS is expected to be hard but the three police forces ensure that a Hong Kong scenario does not occur

This October will not be October 2017. That is what we aspire to. Neither the secessionist authorities of Catalonia will reiterate the unacceptable institutional behavior of two years ago nor, as a consequence, exceptional response measures by the State will be necessary. It is sure that the already imminent ruling of the Supreme will cause a strong reaction in the streets of Catalonia. But the voltage of the events will depend on the scale of the reaction of the Generalidad and the citizens. They have the right to freedom of expression and can legitimately express themselves and express their dissatisfaction and criticism of the judicial resolution.

It is an individual citizen right – with its logical collective expression – that must abide by limits: it cannot restrict other rights bordering with those of free expression and demonstration. There are forms of protest that do exceed the constitutional protection: collapsing public transport, cutting communication ways, occupying infrastructures, assaulting official buildings, burning urban equipment, attacking the police, intimidating citizens who manifest themselves in a contrary way or paralyzing by force the social and economic life of the country. Otherwise, civil disobedience is not a right, but a practice of resistance that, depending on the circumstances, may have legal consequences of a different order.

But in the event that there is even a vandalism drift in the streets, the maintenance of public order would not require, in principle, exceptional measures. The Generalidad has a well-equipped police force that is supported by and coordinated with the state security forces and bodies in a long-planned police presence similar to the one established on December 21, 2018 on the occasion of the celebration in Barcelona of the Council of Ministers.

The call for a plenary session next Thursday is the most delicate decision, according to government sources

In the police leadership in Madrid there is confidence that the Catalan police will follow in any case professional criteria and not to politicians who try to contribute to give volume to the protests by protecting, by means of passive attitudes, behaviors that exceed the exercise of the rights of expression and demonstration.

The withdrawal of the upper echelons of the Mossos from the act of the Civil Guard last Wednesday is a setback that in the expression of government sources “should not have occurred” and, according to other police sources, is described as “overacting” by both sides.

The State assumes subsidiary protection of public order if the Catalan police were overwhelmed by the events and that is the reason why qualified personnel have been transferred under commanding officers with precise instructions: scenes similar to those of the 1-0 2017 should not be repeated (they will not do it again). The intention of not repeating that October seems reciprocal in many instances. But not in all.

The great police exercise that is being forged is, therefore, preventive, without improvisations, tying loyalty to the legality and regulatory criteria and updating the communication and coordination mechanisms between political authorities and professional high officers of both parties. It would seem that there is – and it is very possible that this is so – , after so many lessons previously learnt, a will not to cause – neither to one side nor the other – more damage in coexistence, nor more erosion of the credibility of the political system, nor more erosion of the reputation of Spanish society, including the Catalan part of it.

Articles 155 and 116

Exceptional measures (on which the Government warns repeatedly opening “all scenarios”) would only be essential if, in an insurrectionary environment and taking advantage of the emotional tension of the moment, the autonomous institutions (the Government of the Generalidad and the Parliament of Catalonia) adopt some type of decision capable of fitting into the provisions of article 155 of the Constitution (serious attack on the general interest of Spain for breach of the Constitution or other laws).

That precept has already been interpreted by the Constitutional Court and the Government has studied the possibilities of applying it even if it is acting and the Senate represented only in its Permanent Deputation. The hypothesis accounted for is that no one will cause another uprising. However, it is considered as a “very delicate” situation an eventual plenary session of the Parliament next Thursday if the Board decides to convene it.

Concern about the complacency of institutional secessionism with the street reaction and the possible insurrection in town halls

The eyes are also set on the possible agreements of several city councils to which an insurrectional deployment would have been delegated by the secession parties; in these cases the central government has strong powers under local administration legislation and, among them, dissolution of the city councils.

Therefore, it is necessary to distinguish – and in Madrid it is very much distinguished – between a strongly altered public order situation and institutional decisions that undermine the Constitution. In the first case, police action; in the second, 155.

And if, by misfortune, the public order overflows, it could even resort to article 116 of the Constitution that provides for the states of alarm and exception. The bet, now, is that this arsenal of extraordinary measures will not be necessary.

There is a voluntarism perception that no one will do what was done (wrong) two years ago. Because the alternative would be the disaster, that is, a Hong Kong-like scenario. And it would make certain again the appreciation of the historian Enrique Ruíz-Domènech according to whom “the history of Catalonia isn’t but an eternal repetition”.


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