The Catalan crisis was sparked by a disputed referendum held in the region in October, which had been barred by the Spanish courts.
According to Catalan officials, the independence campaign won 92% of the vote, from a turnout of 43%. Many of those who were against independence did not cast votes, refusing to recognize the legitimacy of the referendum.
Spain’s government responded to the referendum by dissolving the Catalan parliament, imposing direct rule, and calling a snap regional election on December 21.
Since the crackdown by Madrid, Catalonia’s sacked President Carles Puigdemont has gone into self-imposed exile in Belgium, and his top allies have been prosecuted.
Spanish law dictates that elections must be held within six months of Article 155 being triggered, but the prime minister said it was imperative that the vote be held much sooner.
Catalonia’s regional government held a referendum to ask residents of the region if they wanted to break away from Spain.
Of the 43% of Catalans said to have taken part, 90% voted in favor of independence. However, many anti-independence supporters boycotted the ballot, arguing it was not valid.
Carles Puigdemont and other regional leaders then signed a declaration of independence, but immediately suspended it in order to allow for talks.
He then defied two deadlines set by the national government to clarify Catalonia’s position, and the government announced it would pursue Article 155.
Article 155 of the Spanish constitution allows the national government to impose direct rule over Spain’s semi-autonomous regions in the event of a crisis. It has never before been invoked in democratic Spain.
The article says that if a region’s government “acts in a way that seriously threatens the general interest of Spain”, Madrid can “take necessary measures to oblige it forcibly to comply”.
Catalonia currently enjoys significant autonomy from Spain, including control over its own policing, education and healthcare.
Mariano Rajoy’s conservative Popular Party (PP) holds a majority in the Senate, meaning the proposals are likely to pass.
Catalonia accounts for about a fifth of Spain’s economic output, and supporters of independence say the region contributes too much to the national economy.
Opponents argue that Catalonia is stronger as a part of Spain, and that breaking away would lead to economic disaster for the country as a whole.
Nearly 1,200 companies based in Catalonia have re-registered in other parts of Spain since the referendum, hoping to minimize instability, according to the AFP.
This week, Spain cut its national growth forecast for 2018 from 2.6% to 2.3%, blaming uncertainty over the future of Catalan independence.
Following the October 1 referendum, Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont signed a declaration of independence, but halted its implementation to allow negotiations.
Carles Puigdemont has called for talks to take place over the next two months.
However, the Spanish government has warned that Catalonia must revoke the declaration or face direct rule from Madrid.
Carles Puigdemont has also angered Madrid by refusing to clarify whether or not he declared independence last week.
The Catalan president, who has been given until October 19 to clarify his position, hit out at the government on Twitter following news of Jordi Sánchez and Jordi Cuixart’s detention.
“Spain jails Catalonia’s civil society leaders for organizing peaceful demonstrations. Sadly, we have political prisoners again,” he wrote.
In a video recorded before his court appearance and released on his Twitter account after his detention, Jordi Cuixart instructs separatists to “never lose hope because the people of Catalonia have earned their future”.