Sunday

19th Nov 2017

Catalan authorities call independence vote

  • "Calling for a referendum will never be a crime," said Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont.

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont signed a decree on Wednesday evening (6 September), officially calling an independence referendum on 1 October, in a move that the Spanish government has vowed to block.

"No one has the authority to take away our right to decide" he said after signing. "Catalonia will decide its own future on 1 October."

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  • Catalan national day demonstrations next Monday will be an indication of the people's mood. (Photo: Helena Spongenberg)

He called on Catalans to "build a modern, democratic, and free state."

Earlier in the day, separatist parties in the Catalan parliament approved the bill that organises the referendum, which the regional government said will be binding, amid a tense atmosphere.

Seventy-two of the 135 deputies voted in favour of the bill and 11 abstained. The opposition parties - the Catalan Popular Party, Ciutadans, and the Catalan Socialist Party - walked out in protest ahead of the vote.

A last-minute amendment to the parliamentary agenda allowed for the bill to be fast-tracked, to have time to approve it before it could be blocked by the central government in Madrid.

Deep divisions

The Spanish government has repeatedly said that a referendum is "illegal" and that it will stop any kind of threat to the unity of Spain.

The parliament session showed deep divisions between Catalan lawmakers.

Pro-independence parties have a majority, but heated debates and filibustering over legal procedures interrupted Wednesday's session several times. Outside the building stood protesters both in favour of and against independence.

"We have not been able to go ahead with the referendum bill through an ordinary procedure because of the persecution of the Spanish government," said Marta Rovira from the separatist Junts pel Si [Together for Yes] coalition.

"Over the last two years, the right to self-determination has been met with legal prosecutions and criminal charges instead of respect for its development," she said.

"Calling for a referendum will never be a crime," Puigdemont told deputies. "Our wish is to make a country for all."

"This has been a blow to democracy and a violation of the rights of the opposition," Opposition leader Ines Arrimadas, of Ciutadans party, said.

She added that she will try to gather enough support with other opposition parties to call for a motion of censure against Puigdemont and provoke new elections.

In Madrid, deputy prime minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria had warned ahead of the vote that the Spanish government will "set in motion all the initiatives that allow us to defend the Constitution, democracy and freedom for the Catalans and for all of Spain."

"Voting for that proposition will have grave consequences," she said, adding that independence moves would be met with a "serene but firm" response.

Criminal cases

Spain's prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, has called his ministers for an extraordinary meeting in Madrid on Thursday. He will also meet with opposition leaders - socialist Pedro Sanchez and centre-right Albert Rivera.

Even before the bill was adopted, Rajoy ordered the state attorney to file a complaint before the Constitutional Court to declare the agreements, made on Wednesday in the Catalan parliament, null and void.

In a separate move, the public prosecutor of the Catalan Supreme Court announced that it will file a criminal complaint of disobedience and prevarication against the four members of the board of the regional parliament - including the speaker, Carme Forcadell.

Forcadell is already in another trial for letting the assembly vote twice on the independence process last year. She could face a ban from holding a public office and fines.

On Tuesday, Spain's Court of Auditors announced that 11 Catalan officials - including former regional leader Artur Mas - have two weeks to pay up to €5 million for the cost of an informal independence vote three years ago.

The symbolic and non-binding vote in November 2014 was organised by pro-independence campaigners. It was later declared illegal by Spain's Constitutional Court

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court of Catalonia ruled that Mas and three of his ministers at the time were guilty of disobeying the Spanish Constitutional Court, for holding the vote. They were fined and banned from holding public office for up to two years.

Officials involved in planning or holding a referendum on 1 October might well face both criminal charges and fines.

On Wednesday, the Spanish police visited a printing company in Catalonia that is believed to be printing documents for the referendum.

The referendum law

The law approved on Wednesday regulates the independence referendum, the consequences of the result, and the creation of a Catalan electoral office, which will be needed to hold the vote.

It argues that "the people of Catalonia are sovereign political subjects and, as such, can exercise the right to freely and democratically decide on their political condition."

It also establishes that if there are more votes in favour of independence than against, the parliament of Catalonia will formally declare independence within two days of the official result.

If the majority of votes are against the independence of Catalonia, there will be an immediate call for regional elections. There is no minimum turnout requirement.

Barcelona and Madrid have been in a deadlock over the future of Catalonia since the Spanish Constitutional Court, in 2010, overturned an agreed regional statute, which would have given Catalonia more autonomy.

Far from over

Another tense session in the Catalan parliament is expected on Thursday.

Deputies are expected to fast-track another bill, to work towards transitioning into becoming an independent state in case of a Yes vote in the referendum.

The transition bill would function as the supreme law of the Catalan legal system, and would be in force from the declaration of independence until the approval of a Catalan Constitution in another popular vote.

The Spanish government is expected to react with more legal steps on Thursday, in an attempt to find a line between stopping the vote and not upsetting the Catalans too much to draw more support for independence.

Next Monday (11 September) is the Diada, the national day in Catalonia, which over the past few years has seen hundreds of thousands showing up on the streets to demand a referendum on independence.

This year's demonstrations will be an indication of how upset the Catalan people are after this week's events in the parliament and in Madrid.

The European Commission on Wednesday refrained from taking position.

"We have no position, no opinion nor comments on issues that affect the constitutional order of our member states," said the institution's spokesman, Margaritis Schinas.

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