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13th Apr 2024

Catalonia launches countdown to independence vote

  • A referendum in October will ask a yes or no question: "Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a Republic?" (Photo: Nonegraphies)

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont announced Friday (9 June) that the region will hold a much anticipated and controversial binding referendum on independence from Spain on 1 October, despite strong opposition from Madrid.

Catalans are set to answer the yes or no question: "Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a Republic?"

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"We have repeatedly pursued a deal," said Puigdemont. “We have communicated directly to the Spanish government and its president our firm will to sit down and negotiate a solution.”

"But we have come to the end of our legislature and we have not had a single positive answer," the Catalan leader said, adding that his coalition party entered and won the last regional election in 2015 on the promise of carrying out the "legitimate right to self-determination."

"The answer that our co-citizens will give in, in the form of a yes or a no, will be a mandate that this government is committed to implement. It is time for the Catalans to decide their future," Puigdemont said, whilst noting that either of the two outcomes of the referendum would be respected.

The Spanish government has repeatedly said that there will be no referendum in Catalonia.

On Wednesday, the Spanish deputy prime minister, Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, stated that "they can announce this referendum as many times as they want, and delay it for as many weeks as the want, and summon all the acts they want, but that referendum is not going to be held."

Another Spanish official, the minister for education, Inigo Mendez de Vigo, said: "There will be no referendum on 1 October because it is illegal."

"The government wants to make clear to Mr. Puigdemont that any act signed, will be appealed," he added, speaking on behalf of the government in Madrid shortly after the Catalan referendum announcement.

"We want the Catalans to know that the national government looks out for their interests and that it will not allow for illegalities to take place in Spain."

However, according to polls, nearly 80 percent of Catalans are in favour of a referendum, and around 47 percent of Catalans are in favour of the region becoming an independent state, whereas 42 percent are against it.

At the 2014 consultative referendum, 80 percent voted "Yes" to independence, but just over a third of eligible voters turned up to cast their ballot.

Court battles

That referendum was declared illegal by the Spanish Constitutional Court.

Earlier this year, the Catalan Supreme Court found the then regional leader, Artur Mas, as well as two former minsters, guilty of disobeying the Spanish Constitutional Court by holding the non-binding referendum.

They have all appealed the case.

Nevertheless, Puigdemont and his government ministers might well find themselves in the same situation as the previous government.

"The danger of carrying out the referendum – and the mere fact of calling it – is that it involves disobedience of the suspension that the [Spanish] Constitutional Court has repeatedly made,” Xavier Arbos, professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Barcelona, told the EUobserver.

This could lead to criminal prosecution for disobedience and maybe also for the misuse of public funds, Arbos added.

Another risk could be the intervention from Madrid in the Catalan government.

Risky intervention

The government in Madrid could decide to put into force Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, which allows for – after several political debates – the intervention in some parts of the regional government.

Alternatively, Madrid could opt for a faster means of intervention and declare the Catalan referendum a situation of national security and, for example, immediately take control of the regional police force.

"I think these are the two main risks" said Arbos about Catalonia holding a referendum against Madrid’s will.

"My perception is that Puigdemont will not be able to hold a referendum that adjusts to the general consensus, with the guaranties of impartiality," Arbos said.

He added that: "Because the state will most likely interfere, and therefore maybe not all the government officials will agree [to participate in the referendum], so they might have to use volunteers – and the referendum might be impaired."

Barcelona and Madrid have been in a dead-lock over the future of Catalonia since the Spanish Constitutional Court in 2012 overturned an agreed regional statute, which would have given Catalonia more autonomy.

Those seeking independence see a break from Spain as a divorce, whereas Madrid and other Spanish regions see it as performing an amputation on Spain.

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