Tuesday

26th Mar 2019

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."

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • 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.

Spain prepares to stop Catalan vote

Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy has said he is ready call an extraordinary cabinet meeting if Catalonia's authorities table a bill to organise the vote on 1 October.

News in Brief

  1. May admits 'not sufficient support' for third Brexit vote
  2. Orban vows more EU 'information campaigns'
  3. May 'effectively out of power', says Scottish leader
  4. May under pressure to resign over Brexit endgame
  5. Million march against Brexit, five million sign petition
  6. Italy first G7 country to sign China Belt and Road deal
  7. EU leaders at summit demand more effort on disinformation
  8. Report: Corbyn to meet May on Monday for Brexit talks

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Latest News

  1. Romania presidency shatters EU line on Jerusalem
  2. The Spitzen process - a coup that was never accepted
  3. Russia and money laundering in Europe
  4. Italy takes China's new Silk Road to the heart of Europe
  5. What EU leaders agreed on climate - and what they mean
  6. Copyright and (another) new Brexit vote This WEEK
  7. EU avoids Brexit crash, sets new date for 12 April
  8. Campaigning commissioners blur the lines

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  2. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  4. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  7. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  8. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  9. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  11. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  12. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us