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Political Research Exchange - PRX

The Secessionist Conflict in the Spanish “State of Autonomies”

Comparative Politics
Southern Europe
Adam Holesch
Institut Barcelona d'Estudis Internacionals – IBEI
Adam Holesch
Institut Barcelona d'Estudis Internacionals – IBEI

Federal or state coercion means the power of a central government to safeguard that its constituent states comply with their obligations under federal or state law. The most extreme violations with constitutional obligations have been attacks on the unity of states which ended in the Civil War in the United States 1862-1866 or the Sonderbund War in Switzerland in 1847. While in the German Reich (1871-1918), the use of federal force had elements of an “integrative” character against the secession of sub-state units, the Art 48.1 and 48.2 of the Weimer Constitution (1919-1933) were primarily used as anti-revolutionary instruments, most prominent being the suspension of autonomy of Prussia in 1932.
After WW2, military intervention becomes rare in consolidated democratic states and state unity shall be defended by the mere suspension of autonomy. However, while some of the constitutions of federal or regionalized states included articles, which allowed for such instrument, “de facto” federal coercion was barely used and autonomy scarcely suspended. Consequently, the application of the Art.155 in the Spanish “State of Autonomies”, which suspended temporarily the Catalan autonomy in 2017, is an interesting momentum, which can shed lights on the question of federal/state coercion.
In this article, I compare first the particular articles on federal coercion in different multi-level structures. Then, I examine its de facto application in the years 2017-2018 in Spain. I distinguish between de facto and de jure – aspects and argue that the depth of the application of federal coercion depends on the level of disobedience of the sub-state unit, which could trigger even military intervention.
This article develops a theoretical account showing the implications of the article 155 for the theory of federal states arguing that the application of federal coercion is a “natural” last step of a state in order to preserve its territorial integrity, because as much decentralized as a State can be (even federal), its constitutive principle will always be its unity.

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