Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Catalan institutional referendum campaign blocked, for now

The Catalan government decided on Tuesday to halt, ''as a precautionary and temporary measure'', an advertising institutional campaign for the planned November 9 independence referendum. 
The announcement was made at a press conference by Catalan government spokesman Francesc Homs after Spain's constitutional court ruled on Monday to suspend the referendum. 
The spokesman noted that Artur Mas's government would be appealing the decision and asking for an immediate revocation of the suspension.

Homs said that the halt of the institutional campaign "Tu Decideixes" ('You Decide') - started on Saturday by the Catalan government in various media outlets  - was decide by Mas to prevent his officials from risking prosecution and being barred from public office by Spanish courts. ''Our concern is to protect third parties - officials and individuals,'' he said. 

''We can't allow them to carry the consequences of our decision on their shoulders.'' He added that anyone who continued to provide information or propaganda on the referendum would be doing so ''under their own responsibility'', but that the suspension did not mark the end of the process for independence. (ANSAmed).

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Monday, September 29, 2014

Constitutional Court temporarily suspends Catalonia's self-determination non-binding referendum vote

The Constitutional Court has accepted the Spanish Government's two appeals filed on Monday against the 9th of November's self-determination vote decree and the Catalan Parliament's law upon which it is based. 
This decision automatically represents the temporary suspension of the law and the decree, which could be extended after 5 months should the Court not yet have reached a definitive verdict. 
In addition, it also suspends "the rest of actions" deriving from the law or the decree's implementation, including those taken "by third parties", as a way to refer to the 92% of Catalan town halls that approved motions supporting November's consultation vote. 
The decision has been made in an urgent and non-scheduled plenary meeting, which was organised just 5 hours after the Spanish Government had filed the appeals. The Constitutional Court's plenary never meets on Mondays and its next meeting was scheduled for the 7thof October. The Court justified the urgency as being for the "constitutional and political transcendence of the questions under discussion". Now the Catalan Government will have 15 days to present its allegations and therefore appeal the Court's initial decision.

Reactions in Catalonia to the Court's sentence

The President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas, has criticised "the supersonic speed" by which the Court has met, since it met on the same day the Spanish Government was filing the appeals and Catalonia's vote was scheduled to take place in a month and a half’s time. Mas asked this body to act as "the referee of all and not only of a part". He criticised the Spanish Government for having already said it was illegal and he questioned the separation of powers. The Catalan President also stressed that November's vote "is not a hidden referendum" but "a non-binding consultation vote" to gather the opinion of the Catalan people on Catalonia's political future.

Furthermore, the centre-right pro-Catalan State coalition CiU, which runs the Catalan Government, emphasised that never in the Constitutional Court's history had it met in such an urgent way and that the Council of State, which is the Spanish Government's advisory body, had never met on a Sunday evening, as they did in order to allow the Spanish PM to file the report on Monday. The left-wing Catalan independence party ERC stated, a few minutes before they knew about the Constitutional Court's decision, that they will follow "the democratic mandate" in case there is a legitimacy clash. 
The Catalan green socialist and post-communist coalition ICV-EUiA stated that the fact that the Constitutional Court organised an early meeting this Monday was "shameful", as it seriously compromises the separation of powers. The ICV-EUiA also accused the Spanish PM, Mariano Rajoy, of trying to solve political problems through the Constitutional Court.

In addition, the President of Spain's main employers association CEOE, Juan Rosell, who is Catalan, stated that the Constitutional Court's intervention "does not end the Catalan problem", which is "a complex one" and "it is not a Catalan invention". Rosell advised Madrid politicians "to spend two months in Barcelona" in order "to understand the Catalan problem".

The Court already issued an extremely controversial and politicised verdict in 2010

The Spanish Constitutional Court has reacted as was expected considering its past decisions and the fact that the majority of its members have been directly appointed by the People's Party (PP), which runs the Spanish Government and holds an absolute majority at the Spanish Parliament. In fact, the Court's President used to be a PP member himself, even at the time when he was already a member of the Court and he did not reveal this detail when he was appointed.

The Court has suspended the Catalan Government's decree calling a self-determination consultation vote for the 9th of November as well as the law on which it is based, which was approved by the Catalan Parliament with 80% support. The Law on Consultation Votes was already provided for in the 2006 Catalan Statute of Autonomy – which is Catalonia's main law after the Constitution – and it was validated by the Constitutional Court in the verdict it reached in 2010, which greatly trimmed the approved text and which is one of the causes for the current situation. In fact, in 2010, an entirely politicised Constitutional Court issued a verdict that completely modified the main aspects of Catalonia's main law, which had been approved by the Catalan people through a binding referendum. In addition, it also reinterpreted the Spanish Constitution by highlighting "the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation" and by stating that Catalonia was not a nation, eliminating the plurinational nature of Spain.

The full recognition of Catalonia's nationhood is at the core of the current political problem. The 1978 Spanish Constitution partially recognises it when it states in Article 2 that Spain is formed of "nationalities and regions". This formula was a compromise during the transition to democracy with the forces of Franco's Spanish nationalist and military dictatorship in order not to derail the process and to partially recognise Catalonia's nationhood status. In order to balance this, the military imposed the inclusion of the "indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation" expression. Catalans massively voted for the Constitution with the implicit promise that, once democracy was consolidated in Spain, Catalonia's nationhood would finally be fully recognised. However, the opposite has happened, reaching a no-turning point in 2010 with the Constitutional Court's verdict, in a highly manipulated process, mostly by the PP.

The Court suspends a law and a decree widely supported in Catalonia

This Monday, the Constitutional Court has temporarily suspended the Law on Consultation Votes, which was approved with 80% support at the Catalan Parliament on the 19th of September. The law was also approved ten days ago with the votes of the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC), which is part of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE). Paradoxically, this Monday the PSOE has backed the Spanish Government's appeal against this law, since it strongly fights Catalonia's right to self-determination.

In addition, the Court has also suspended the decree calling the 9thof November consultation vote on Catalonia's political future. This decree is the result of a wide pact of two-thirds of the Catalan Parliament, reached in December 2013 between 6 political parties, ranging from the Christian-Democrats to the Alternative Left, from the Liberals to the Greens, from the Social-Democrats to the post-Communists. The agreement was reached after a clear majority of Catalans, in the highest turnout in years, voted for parties supporting Catalonia's right to self-determination and the organisation of a "legal" self-determination vote in the elections held in November 2012. The Spanish Government ignored the democratic mandate and has refused to sit and talk about it during the last 2 years. Besides, in the last 10 days, 92% of Catalonia's town halls, 37 of the 41 county councils and all the 4 provincial councils have issued explicit motions supporting November's self-determination vote. Many representatives of the PSC voted for these motions, despite the party leadership being against November's vote.

The Court has asked two of its members to prepare the initial analyses of the two appeals, one for each of them. The high magistrates who will have to write the initial report are representatives from each of the sectors: the conservative and the progressive one, although most of the members of both sectors are quite Spanish nationalists. Juan Antonio Xiol, who is one of the most progressive members and quite sensitive towards the idea of a plurinational Spain, will be in charge of the appeal against the decree. The conservative Pedro González-Trevijano, who supported the decision not to remove Franco’s remains from a basilica where people can pay tribute to them, will be in charge of the appeal against the Catalan Parliament's law. Then, both reports will be discussed and modified by the rest of the members. Once there is a consensus on a possible decision, the Court's plenary will vote on the verdict. This process can take years or a few weeks, depending on the Court's internal debates. The temporary suspension is for an initial period of 5 months. Before this period is over, the Court will decide whether the temporary suspension is extended or lifted until it reaches the definitive decision.

A last-minute controversy

Furthermore, there has been a last-minute surprise surrounding the appeals, as the Spanish Government published them on its website with two significant mistakes: the names of both the Catalan Parliament's law and the Catalan Government's decree were wrong. 

Instead of referring to the law 10/2014 and the decree 129/2014, the appeals were against the inexistent law 10/2004 and decree 129/2004. It is not clear whether such mistakes were in the originally filed documents, but in any case the Court has accepted them. Many Madrid-based media, have not even mentioned this detail.

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Catalonia in Contention

On September 11, during the eve of the Scottish independence referendum, another Western European independence movement was brewing 1,300 miles to the south. Hundreds of thousands of residents of the Autonomous Region of Catalonia gathered in the streets of the capital city of Barcelona to demand a vote for their region’s independence from Spain. As many as 1.8 million people participated in the demonstration, making it one of the largest the nation has seen this millennium. The historic turnout made at least one thing clear: the lid could no longer be kept on the Pandora’s box of socioeconomic grievances that Catalonians have been voicing for decades. But behind the romantic notions of separatism that have engulfed the Spanish northeast lie a set of concrete, legitimate economic incompatibilities driving the push for an independent Catalonian state.

It is important to acknowledge the plethora of social and political factors associated with the recent spike in the desire for Catalonian independence. These include the region’s long history as a sovereign entity, its own language, spoken alongside Spanish by a vast majority of residents, and its unique culture, which, for example, denounces the popular Spanish tradition of bullfighting as inhumane. But perhaps the most important considerations for the independence movement are the potential economic consequences of independence for the area.

If Catalonia were to form its own sovereign country, its 7.5 million residents would make it the 99th most populous in the world. The gross domestic product of the region—$314 billion—would rank it as the 34th largest economy, with a GDP exceeding those of Portugal, Hong Kong, and Egypt, to name a few. Its GDP per capita, at $35,000, is greater than that of South Korea, Israel, and Italy. It’s therefore likely that an independent Catalonia would fare better than many on the global economic stage. That fact alone, however, isn’t enough to justify outright separation. The relevant question is whether or not the region’s fiscal relationship with the rest of Spain is more of a detriment than a benefit.

A Parasitic Relationship

Leonid Peisakhin, a political science professor at New York University, discussed Catalonia’s economic prospects with the HPR. “Catalonia is the economic engine of Spain in many ways: certainly when it comes to established industries, but also in the service sector,” he said. “It’s just a lot more diverse than many other regions [of the country].”

To give some numbers, Catalonia serves as home to approximately 20 percent of Spain’s total economic activity, and contributes roughly 25 percent of the central government’s tax revenue.

Madrid, however, directs a mere 11 percent of its spending back toward the region. Some officials in Barcelona claim that their constituents pay about $19 billion more to the nation’s capital each year than they receive in return. An economically imperiled Spain has no choice but to redirect some of the revenue from its most booming region toward its struggling ones. Nevertheless, the current system seems to unfairly and ironically punish Catalonians for their relative success. It’s easy to see why 60 percent of the area’s population wants out.

Artur Mas, the region’s right-leaning president, has been pushing for a fiscal pact with Madrid, by which Catalonia would be allowed to collect and manage its own taxes. Spanish officials, however, have been turning a blind eye toward the issue. “Basically what the central government is doing right now is pretending the problem doesn’t exist,” Peisakhin explained. “They are trying to establish tough credentials early on in the negotiations and say that whatever concessions [they] do make won’t be substantial.” Mas has declared that without an agreement, he will be forced to support a referendum on secession.

Even under the current system of tax collection and redistribution, what little money the region does receive from Madrid is invested unwisely. The central government directs funding without consideration for Catalonia’s export economy, which is based largely on small- and medium-sized enterprises. The rest of Spain’s economy, excluding the agricultural sector, tends to rely on large corporations with strong ties to the state. Therefore, business leaders in Barcelona claim that much of Madrid’s spending decisions are politically rather than economically motivated. A popular example is the €41 billion bailout of Bankia, an entity formed through a state-sponsored merger.

If Catalonia wants to reach its economic potential, investment in infrastructure is crucial in order to facilitate international trade. The region is currently responsible for 35 percent of Spain’s exports, including 45 percent of high-tech exports. The direction of state funds toward small-scale firms is also a priority for the city’s commercial elite. Unfortunately, Catalonians can no longer rely on the Spanish government, which has political interests and an economic model different from their own, to invest responsibly in their regional economy.

Dídac Querlat, a political scientist at the Juan March Institute in Madrid, told the HPR that “the Catalonian authorities have reached the conclusion that the promises and commitments that come from Spain are not credible anymore. They [no longer] believe that they can reach a better economic and political agreement [through cooperation with Madrid].” Without control of its own taxes, remaining politically attached to Madrid only hinders Catalonia’s progress as a region.

Even so, anti-separatists point toward the region’s massive debt, the largest of any territory in Spain, as a reason to keep the country unified. While Catalonia’s debt is sizeable, it amounts to only 80 percent of its GDP—less than the EU average. As an independent state controlling its own tax program, therefore, the region would have the ability to gradually repay what it owes. It certainly would not be able to do so with Madrid continuing to siphon off its economic resources.

The EU Question

However, one major reservation many Catalonians still hold is the uncertainty of the would-be new nation’s entrance into the European Union, especially with Spanish officials fervently declaring that they would block its incorporation. The region’s export-driven economy relies on easy access to the markets of other EU member states. Additionally, since 70 percent of imports to the other 16 regions of Spain flow through Catalonia, a healthy economic relationship with Spain is particularly crucial to the area’s commercial success.

But it is exactly this codependence that would preclude the Iberian nation from blocking Catalonia’s entrance into the European Union. Unless an already financially crippled Spain would be willing to pay higher tariffs for goods passing through a non-EU member, it would have no choice but to accept the new country into the union. Furthermore, if Spain refused to officially recognize Catalonia, the latter would carry no responsibility for assuming a portion of the former’s debt (as other nations in the Eurozone currently do). In its current state, Spain would have almost no hope of reducing its more than $1 trillion debt without its economic powerhouse. Transferring some of its financial obligations to Catalonia—and thus recognizing the new state—would be critical to Spain’s own self-interest should the region break away.

Moreover, many other EU powers have a stake in Catalonia’s quick entrance into the union. Over half of Germany’s investment in Spain, for example, is directed toward Catalonia. Berlin surely would like to avoid exchange fees in its transference of capital to Barcelona. Furthermore, even if Catalonia were initially unable to enter the EU after secession, the effects, according to Queralt, would not be catastrophic. “There are many other countries with close ties to the union, who have various trade agreements and pacts. In the first couple of years, the GDP would drop,” he acknowledged, “but only by maybe 2 or 3 percent.” Queralt, like many in Spain, speculates that the EU member states wouldn’t allow Catalonia’s absence from the free trade zone to persist for more than a few years.

Nevertheless, Catalonia’s potential membership in the European Union is far from guaranteed. Application to the European Union requires adherence to complex set of political and economic regulations as well as a unanimous approval by member states. Although no nation besides Spain presently appears intent on blocking an independent Catalonia’s entrance into the union, a variety of economic and political factors could motivate such action. For instance, a country might aspire to move into the market space once occupied by Catalonian firms. Even so, Catalonian leadership evidently feels confident that the interests of the entire continent would encourage a smooth transition into the Eurozone for the nascent nation.

A Forced Detour

A consideration of the economic rationale behind the growing sentiment for Catalonian independence, without even delving into the wide array of sociopolitical concerns in play, is enough to see why many in the region want secession. Understandably, however, Spain won’t easily let go of 16 percent of its population and one-fifth of its GDP. Central authorities have been resisting regional officials’ call for a November 9 referendum on independence. They claim that the maneuver would be unconstitutional and plan to block it in court.

Queralt proposes a likely solution: “The [Catalonian] government would call for a new regional election, which is completely legal and constitutional. The parties that favor secession would add the statement in their party manifestos, and so people would know that by voting for these parties they are voting for secession.” Queralt calls the method “imperfect,” but says it’s an acceptable alternative to calculate the popular support behind the independence movement.

The droves of Catalonians who occupied the streets of Barcelona on September 11 weren’t just there for show. It’s becoming clear that the secessionist movement that has long been building in the Spanish northeast is reaching its boiling point. In recent months the region’s leaders have demonstrated focus, determination, and a strong case behind their cause. The very foundation of liberal democracy is the citizenry’s right to abandon a government that fails to serve their interests and construct another, more effective one. There are few better contemporary examples of such a situation than Catalonia’s one-sided economic relationship with the central Spanish government. Whether they decide to stay or to leave, therefore, Catalonians should at least be given the power to choose their own fate.

Image source: The Guardian

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In Spain there is no separation of powers, no democracy at all

The President of the Court that refuses to allow the Catalans to vote, Francisco Pérez de los Cobos, was a member of the governing party while he was a judge, even though the article 127 of the Spanish Constitution forbids it. He was not Sismissed.
In Spain there is no separation of powers. They call it democracy, but obviously it is not.

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Spain mounts roadblock to Catalonia independence vote

The Spanish government on Monday rolled out a legal roadblock to stop the Catalonia region voting on independence, branding the planned ballot an affront to the sovereignty of Spain.

After Catalonia's president Artur Mas staked his leadership on the issue by calling the vote for November 9, the national government responded by filing a constitutional challenge.

Conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said he "deeply" regretted Mas's move, saying it "divides Catalans, alienates them from Europe and the rest of Spain and seriously harms their welfare".

He said the government had sent the appeal to the Constitutional Court and that Mas's measures would be suspended as soon as that tribunal accepted the appeal, pending a final decision by its judges.

Buoyed by mass street demonstrations, Mas has pushed ahead for a vote in defiance of Rajoy's warnings.

Since he signed a decree on Saturday calling the vote, a luminous clock on Barcelona's historic Sant Jaume square has been ticking down the seconds to November 9.

Pro-independence Catalans celebrate in Barcelona after the signing of a regional law to vote on inde …

"You cannot use the law to prevent people indefinitely from stating their opinion," Mas said in a television interview on Sunday in anticipation of Monday's appeal.

"Voting on November is the best thing for everyone because it will allow us and also the Spanish government to know what the Catalan people's opinion is."

Rajoy retorted on Monday that the right to decide on a region's status belonged to "all of the Spanish people" under the country's 1978 constitution -- the keystone of Spain's democracy after the death of the dictator Francisco Franco.

"There is nothing and no one, no power nor institution, that can break this principle of sole sovereignty," Rajoy told reporters after an extraordinary cabinet meeting.

- Catalans defiant -
President of Catalonia's regional government Artur Mas delivers a speech after signing a regiona …

The appeal did not put off supporters of independence, who vowed to continue preparing for the vote, setting up a tense standoff over the coming weeks.

"We are committed to voting on November 9," said Oriol Junqueras, leader of the left-wing Catalan nationalist party ERC, which is allied with Mas's conservative CiU grouping in the regional parliament.

"We are aware of the great difficulties we will face in the coming days but we are ready to face those difficulties."

Fired up by Scotland's independence referendum earlier this month, vast crowds turned out in Barcelona on September 11 to demand their own vote.

Scottish voters eventually chose not to be independent from Britain.

Pro-independence Catalans hold a flag reading "We are a nation" as they rally in Barcelona …

But like Scotland, Catalonia "wants to be heard and it wants to vote," Mas said.

Mas has vowed to let Catalans vote on independence but has also promised to respect Spanish law.

He has hinted that if the government blocks the vote, he could put his leadership at stake in an early regional election, which could serve as a plebiscite on the issue.

Catalonia is Spain's economic powerhouse, accounting for about a fifth of the country's economy. But like the rest of Spain, it suffered from the 2008 property crash and resulting economic downturn.

Proud of their Catalan language and culture, many of the region's 7.5 million inhabitants feel short-changed by the government in Madrid which redistributes their taxes.

The independence movement in Catalonia has gathered strength in recent years as Spain's economic crisis has increased unemployment and hardship in the region and swelled its debts.

Catalonia formally adopted the status of a "nation" in 2006 but the Constitutional Court overruled that claim.

The main opposition Socialist Party is calling for a constitutional reform instead of a vote to answer Catalan demands for greater autonomy.

The Socialists' leader Pedro Sanchez on Monday said the referendum plan "deeply damages Spanish democracy".

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Spain’s offensive to block the referendum begins

La Vanguardia, 29 September 2014

“The State implemented switfly yesterday its political and institutional response to the Catalonian Parliament’s bill calling for a consultation” on the region’s independence, writes La Vanguardia the day after the Council of State, the Spanish State's highest advisory body, “approved unanimously” the legal framework of Madrid’s strategy to block what it says is a de facto referendum. The Council met on the day after Catalonia’s president, Artur Mas, signed a decree formally convoking the vote on 9 November.

The daily explains that the government says that the consultation in Catalonia would be a covert refendum, something that, under the Spanish Constitution, it is the only one with the power to call and that all Spaniards must have a say. The government is to hold an emergency cabinet meeting on 29 September to launch a lawsuit in the Constitutional court aimed at blocking the vote. Should the court agree to hear the case, the vote could be delayed until a final decision is taken, which could take months, adds La Vanguardia. Meanwhile, Mas said in a tv interview that “ballots will be in place on 9 November”.

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Spain: Catalonia independence referendum 'unconstitutional'

The Spanish government has rejected a call by Catalonia's president for the region to hold a referendum on independence.

Catalonia’s president on Saturday formally called a referendum to decide whether Spain’s richest region should be independent, in a defiant move immediately rejected by Madrid as anti-constitutional.

Shortly after President Artur Mas set the vote for November 9, the Spanish government said the referendum would not be allowed to take place, with Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria warning that no one “was above the national will of the Spanish people”.

The government immediately began the process of appealing to the Constitutional Court, which is expected to annul the decree signed by Mas.

Fired up by Scotland
The independence movement in Catalonia has gathered strength in recent years.

Fired up ahead of the referendum in Scotland earlier this month, 1.8-million people protested in Barcelona on September 11 to be allowed to hold their own vote.

“Catalonia wants to express itself; it wants to be heard and it wants to vote,” Mas said after he signed the decree calling the referendum in a ceremony at the Generalitat Palace in Barcelona.

The Spanish government’s response was swift, with Saenz de Santamaria telling a news conference in Madrid: “This referendum will not take place because it is unconstitutional.”

“We deeply regret the president’s move and we consider it to be a mistake – it will cause Catalan society to fracture, it will divide the Catalans and distance them from Europe,” she said.

Mas has vowed to let Catalans vote on breaking away but has also promised to respect Spanish law.

Catalonia is Spain’s economic powerhouse, although it too suffered in the property crash and subsequent crisis unleashed by the 2008-2012 global financial turmoil.

Proud of their Catalan language and culture, many of the region’s 7.5-million inhabitants feel short-changed by the government in Madrid, which redistributes their taxes.

‘Build a new country’
Catalonia formally adopted the status of a “nation” in 2006 but the Constitutional Court threw out the attempt.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has described a Catalan vote on independence as illegal and said he would fight to defend the unity of Spain.

Opposition Socialists said they supported the idea of allowing a vote but urged Catalonia to obey the law. “We are in favour of a reform to the constitution ... but first, we must respect it,” party spokesperson Antonio Hernando said.

The government appeal to be lodged with the Constitutional Court will trigger a suspension of the referendum pending a final ruling from the judges.

Mas has hinted that if the government blocks the vote, he could call early regional elections in Catalonia which would effectively act as a plebiscite on the issue.

A group of pro-independence protesters who had gathered in front of the Generalitat, waving the independence banner, praised Mas’s move.

Tanha Bueno, a 34-year-old civil servant, said: “What was until now just a dream is now within reach and I am filled with hope.”

Josep Pena (59) said: “The president must do what the people are demanding – build a new country ... If the Spanish Constitution won’t allow it, then the problem is with the Constitution.”

While the Scots recently voted with a 55% majority to remain part of the United Kingdom, British Prime Minister David Cameron offered them increased autonomy if they rejected independence.

Catalonia’s leaders watched the process in Scotland closely.

Hinting at his own ambitions, Mas said before the Scottish referendum that he was sure an independent Scotland would be swiftly re-admitted to the European Union.

But Rajoy described the independence ambitions of the Scottish National Party and Catalonia as a “torpedo” to European integration.

He has so far refused to give more decision-making powers to Catalonia.

The region’s economy generates 20% of Spain’s wealth.

Catalonia is also a popular tourist destination and home to the Barcelona football team of Argentinian Lionel Messi, which is one of the world’s richest sports clubs. – AFP

29 SEP 2014 11:22 DANIEL BOSQUE

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Madrid plans legal attack against Catalonia poll

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is hoping the country's Constitutional Court can kill off plans for an independence vote in Catalonia. Photo: Jaime Reina/AFP

Spanish government ministers are holding an extraordinary meeting on Monday morning to draw up measures designed to block an upcoming vote on the issue of independence in Spain's Catalonia region. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is expected to make a statement at 12.30pm

The critical meeting comes after the President of Catalonia Artur Mas on Saturday officially called the non-binding poll on whether the region should split from the rest of Spain.

Madrid has repeatedly labelled the unilateral vote illegal, arguing it is unconstitutional.

The central government responded immediately to Mas's calling of the vote on Saturday, saying it would began the process of appealing to the Constitutional Court, a body which is expected to annul the decree signed by Mas.

In doing so, they will have the backing of the Spanish Council of State which on Sunday ruled Catalonia did not have the power to hold the vote.

This legal appeal to the Constitutional Court and other measures are expected to be addressed at Monday's meeting of ministers although the exact details of the government's plan of attack remain unclear.

According to Spanish daily El País, the government will also appeal against a law recently passed by Catalonia's regional parliamentallowing for the holding of the controversial vote. 

However, the daily noted the government has not outlined how it will respond if the Catalan government continues to push ahead with a poll despite a legal roadblock from Madrid.

Legal experts consulted by the paper said in such an event, the poll results would be considered null and void. Opinions on whether the Catalan government would face legal punishment were mixed, with some experts arguing that scenario was unlikely.

But one former prosecutor with Catalonia's Supreme Court, José María Mena, said that once the bill allowing for holding of the independence referendum had been suspended, anyone involved in promoting the referendum would be charged an punished. 

Catalan President Mas, meanwhile, has said he is confident Spain's Constitutional Court will allow the November 9th vote to be held.

Proud of their distinct Catalan language and culture, many of Catalonia's 7.5 million inhabitants feel short-changed by the national government in Madrid, which redistributes their taxes.

Catalonia formally adopted the status of a "nation" in 2006 but Spain's Constitutional Court later overruled that claim.

The Local

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Sunday, September 28, 2014

Don't let them tell us we can't

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Catalan President signs decree calling self-determination referendum vote on 9 November

The President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas, has formally called a consultation vote on the 9th of November in order “to know the [citizen] opinion” about “Catalonia’s political future” to launch “the legal, political and institutional initiative” with the aim of negotiating the necessary changes at Spanish level. The Spanish Government has immediately replied that such a vote “will not take place” and that it will take it to the Constitutional Court, as it had already announced. 

The Spanish Executive assumes the Court will suspend the decree and the law on which it is based, and that these actions will stop November’s vote from happening. The decree has been signed on Saturday morning, in an exceptional ceremony held in Barcelona where Mas was surrounded by all the Catalan Ministers and most of the political leaders supporting November’s vote. The signature took place just after the Law on Consultation Votes had entered into force, which was approved by the Catalan Parliament with an 80% support a week ago. In addition, 92% of Catalonia’s municipalities have approved motions backing November’s vote. Mas insisted on the democratic and clear mandate from the last Catalan elections – held in November 2012 – to organise a self-determination vote to decide Catalonia’s political future. Furthermore, “as all the other nations in the world, Catalonia has the right to decide its own future”, he stressed. 

The Catalan President also emphasised that “Catalans want to be heard”, mentioning the massive pro-independence and peaceful demonstrations of the last 3 years. He also sent a message to the international community and the rest of Spain: “democracy is the most civilised way of solving the difficulties between nations”, praising the countries that have allowed similar votes to happen. Mas underlined the four principles guiding Catalonia’s self-determination process and the consultation vote call: broad social majorities, political consensus, constant search for dialogue and respect for legal frameworks. The decree has entered into force this morning and, immediately after, the Catalan Government has already signed further regulations and protocols for holding the consultation vote in 6 weeks time. In addition, the instutional campaign to inform about the vote has also been launched.

After several days waiting for the decree calling the 9th of November’s consultation vote, the document has been formally signed and has entered into force this morning. With this non-binding consultation vote, the Catalan Government aims to gather the opinion of those living in Catalonia about the country’s political future and its relationship with Spain with the objective “to exercise the legal, political and institutional initiative” at Spanish level for making the necessary changes in accordance with the consultation vote’s results. The Catalan Government is using its legal prerogatives to consult the citizenry about Catalonia’s political future. Once their opinion will be known, the Catalan institutions will use their legal powers, explicitly recognised by the Spanish Constitution, to launch a negotiation process with the Spanish authorities to totally review Catalonia’s relation with the rest of Spain, in line with the opinion explicitly expressed by the majority of the people living in Catalonia.

A self-determination process based on four guiding principles, stated Mas

The Catalan President has emphasised the respect for the legal framework as a guiding principle of the current self-determination process. The three other principles are listening to broad social majorities, moving forward with a broad political consensus and having a constant and open attitude to talk.

In fact, a two-third majority of the Catalan Parliament reached an agreement on the 12th of December, 2013 to organise such a vote on the 9th of November, 2014, after the Spanish Government rejected to talk about the democratic mandate resulting from the last Catalan Parliament elections, held in November 2012. Those elections were called earlier, after 1.5 million Catalans peacefully demonstrated in Barcelona to demand independence from Spain. They registered the highest turnout in decades and self-determination was the central issue, with parties clearly supporting or rejecting this idea. Back then, 80% of the elected MPs explicitly supported a legal self-determination vote during the electoral campaign. After the elections were held, the Catalan President emphasised: “We have a clear democratic mandate”.

“We are open to negotiate” until “the very last minute”, but “we will not fall into the trap of the do-nothing attitude” imposed by the Spanish Government in order to avoid any change, stated Mas. “Catalonia wants to speak up, wants to vote”, he stressed. “Voting should not scare anyone”, Mas emphasised. Catalonia is a nation and “as all the other nations in the world, Catalonia has the right to decide its own future”, stressed the 129th President of the Catalan Government. In fact, Mas pointed out that the Catalan Government – called Generalitat – was founded in the 14th century and that, in those 700 years, “only external impositions have suspended our self-government”.

The Spanish Government has already activated its veto actions

The Spanish Deputy Prime Minister, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, addressed the press to announce the measures to be adopted to stop the vote from happening. Sáenz de Santamaría referred to the non-binding consultation vote as a “self-determination referendum”, insisting that it was a de facto referendum on Spain’s sovereignty. “There is nothing above the sovereign will of the Spanish people” and “all the Spaniards are those who have to decide on what is Spain and how it should be organised”, she stated. Furthermore, she added that “no government is above the sovereign will of Spaniards as a whole”. In addition, Spanish Deputy PM highlighted that “without law there is no democracy”. “The Government of the Nation has the obligation to protect the law and the right of all Spaniards”, she concluded in order to justify the appeals to the Constitutional Court to stop Catalonia’s consultation vote. According to her, such a vote “breaks and splits” Catalan society, “keeping them away from Europe and from the sense of the [current] times”.

Sáenz de Santamaría announced that the Spanish Government has already asked for a report to the Council of State, its main advisory body, which is a mandatory but non-binding legal step before filing a constitutional appeal. The report is expected within 48 hours. Then, the Spanish Government will hold an exceptional Cabinet meeting to approve the two appeals against the Catalan Law on Consultation Votes and the decree signed this Saturday. Sáenz de Santamaría announced in early September that the two appeals had already been prepared, weeks before the law’s and the decree’s approval and before knowing their definitive and exact wording. The appeals will be filed to the Constitutional Court and then, in its plenary session, this institution will decide whether it accepts the Spanish Government’s appeals or not. The next plenary session is scheduled on the 7th of October, but an early one could take place next week, although it would contribute to underline the Court’s lack of independence from the Spanish Government.

Watch the entire speech here

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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Video: Message of the President of Catalonia, on self determination decree

Message on self determination decree

The President of the Catalan Government gave an institutional speech after having signed the decree. The speech was mostly in Catalan, although a part was also in Spanish in order to sent a message to all the Spanish citizens, insisting that Catalonia’s self-determination process does not go against anyone but that it aims to build a better future and to keep the manifold fraternity bonds with Spaniards. In addition, a last part of the speech was in English, in order to send a direct message to the international community and, particularly, to the European Union institutions and Member State governments.

“I have just signed the executive decree that will make it possible for all Catalans to voice their opinions on the political future we want for our country on November 9th.

It has taken the mass mobilization of citizens and many months of work to arrive at this day, a day which we will remember forever. It was November 2012 when the people of Catalonia, through their votes in an election with strong participation, chose a parliamentary majority in favor of their right to decide Catalonia’s political future for themselves – a right we are now preparing to exercise.

Since then, four principles have guided this process: broad social majorities, political consensus, constant search for dialogue and respect for legal frameworks.

- Social majorities, which are the fruit of the massive popular demonstrations [occurring over the past several years] and, above all, of the free and democratic expression of citizens at the ballot box. Social majorities which through their votes elected a Parliament with a wide political majority in favor of the right to decide and to find a political solution for our future, a solution upon which all Catalans must be consulted. This is the way in which democracies express themselves and political projects are born: through voting. It is the responsibility of democrats to not deny reality, to listen to the voice of the citizenry expressed at the ballot box and to carry through with electoral commitments, which are the mandates of that citizenry that we must always seek to fulfill.

- Political consensus which recognizes Catalonia as a nation, as a source of sovereignty that deserves to be consulted on its own future. Political unity to come to an agreement on a date, a question and the legal frameworks to make the consultation possible. Political unity within ideological diversity to build, to generate consensus. Political unity which contrasts with those who are brought together only by the will to deny, to say ‘no’ to everything, to present neither a project nor an alternative. To not do anything, and to not let anything be done. Or even to do everything possible to not let anything be done.

- Constant search for dialogue in order to speak and negotiate. No one will be able to deny that we have extended our hand to dialogue at every moment. We have been open to coming to an agreement on the question, the date and the legal framework. We have been open, and will continue to be open until the last moment, to coming to an agreement on the conditions under which it would be possible to hold the consultation. What we cannot do, however, is fall into the trap of immobility, the trappings of legality, and do nothing at all. What a contrast with those democratic states that let the nations which comprise them voice their opinions and decide their own future! Democratic states that talk and let their people talk; that come to an agreement so that people may vote; and that use the law to listen to their people and not to silence them.

- And finally respect for the legal framework. It is pursuant to the law on consultations approved by the Parliament of Catalonia on September 19th that I sign this decree so that Catalans will be able to voice their opinion on the political future they want for Catalonia. A law that is the result of the exclusive competency on consultations defined by the Statute [of Autonomy of Catalonia] that is currently in force. A constitutional and statutory law which we demand be respected. A law that protects the consultation, that should allow the Generalitat to exercise its rightful legal, political and institutional powers with which it is endowed. What better way to exercise this competency than by hearing the opinion of the people of Catalonia?

I have the honor of being the 129th President of the Generalitat of Catalonia, an institution created in 1359 which, since the first presidency of Berenguer de Cruïlles, has reflected over the course of nearly seven centuries the Catalan people’s desire for self-government. Through those seven centuries, only external impositions have caused the suspension of self-government. Self-government which the will of the Catalan people has always sought to reclaim. Our roots are deep, as is the strength of our feelings and our will to survive in the future. We want to decide, we want to decide our future for ourselves, and we now have the legal framework and are at the right moment to do it.

I would also like to use this solemn moment to deliver a message to all Spanish citizens: Catalonia wants to decide its own political future, peacefully and democratically. The bonds of brotherhood that bring us together with the other peoples of Spain are intense and deep. We have a long history in common, a history that will continue with the desire to construct the Europe of the 21st century together with each other. In a democracy, we must solve the challenges that lie ahead of us with more democracy. It should scare no one that somebody expresses their opinion with a vote at the ballot box. This is our commitment, as this is the mandate that has been given to us by a large majority of Catalans through their votes in the last regional elections. Catalonia wants to talk, it wants to be heard, it wants to vote. The Catalonia that wants to vote is the one that is comprised of seven and a half million people; people of diverse origins, many of them from Spanish lands, and also of diverse languages. This Catalonia, a land of crossings and warm receptions, a land of cultures which over the course of centuries have crossed this corner of the Iberian Peninsula and the Mediterranean Ocean, is the Catalonia that wants to vote. And once Catalonia has expressed itself democratically, we will find the necessary frameworks for dialogue in order to construct the future. A better future for all. That is our desire. 

Following the signing of this executive decree calling the consultation, the Government will use all of its powers to make it possible for Catalans to vote. Now is the moment to contrast opinions, ideas and proposals. Now is the moment for each one of us to offer what they believe is best for our collective future and for everyone to say their piece. Now is the moment for each one of us to exercise our individual responsibility at the ballot box, to decide what we think is best for the future, for our future, and for the future of our children and grandchildren.

In this great hour for Catalonia, I would especially like to remember all the generations of men and women that have struggled for our country and have believed in it. Generations of Catalans, Catalans from here and Catalans from elsewhere who have made this their home, who for centuries, decades or only years have made Catalonia a land of democracy, respect, tolerance, wellbeing and harmony.

To those who will not see or experience this great hour for Catalonia, or to those of you who will see it and live it in a different way, this decree is an homage that we make to you to give you our thanks and to tell you that without you, we would not have made it here.

And to all of those Catalans who make up the Catalonia of today and of tomorrow, this decree is the challenge that we put in your hands to decide and construct your own future. Today is the beginning of a new road that will represent a new chapter in the long history of Catalonia.

I trust fully that in the end, all will be well. And I ask all to help in this undertaking.

I would like to convey a message to the european leaders and the european peoples.

Catalonia, my country, is one of the oldest nations of Europe. Nowadays, it is a modern society composed of seven and a half million people, about 70% of them with a non-catalan origin.

As all the nations in the world, Catalonia has the right to decide its political future. This is exactly the message that broad majorities of the catalan people send to the world every year since 2012, by organising hudge peaceful demonstrations in the streets of Barcelona, our main town.

Two years ago, I called early elections. My purpose was to know how large the social majority in favour of the right of selfdetermination was. The turnout was the highest in three decades. The outcome was clear: more than two-thirds of the members of Parliament were in favour of the right to decide.

As a consequence of all that, today I called a consultation on November 9 to know the opinion of the catalan people above 16 about the question on selfdetermination. That question was agreed with the majority of the catalan political forces in December last year.

We stand for democracy, dialogue and peace. We believe that political issues must be resolved by negotiation and civilised attitudes. And we know that democracy is the most civilised way to resolve difficulties between nations. This is our will and our commitment.

Long live Catalonia!”

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President of Catalonia, Artur Mas signs independence referendum decree

The President of the Catalan government, Artur Mas, today signed a decree calling a referendum on independence from Spain to be held on 9 November. The decree would allow the Catalan people to cast a vote on whether they wish to secede from Spain and become and independent state. Specifically, the referendum would be putting a double question to a vote: ‘Do you want Catalonia to be a state?’ Voters who answer ‘yes’ to this question would then have the option of voting on another question: ‘Do you want this state to be independent?’

The coming days will be decisive in determining whether Catalans are given the chance to vote on 9 November on the matter of independence from Spain, a referendum that the Spanish government wants to prevent.

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Catalonia Defies Spain by Calling Secession Vote

The president of Spain's powerful northeastern region of Catalonia has formally called an independence referendum in the latest secession push in Europe and one of the most serious challenges to the Spanish state of recent years.

The conservative Spanish government insists the referendum, planned for Nov. 9, is illegal and won't take place.

Catalan leader Artur Mas called the referendum Saturday, flanked by most of the region's political leaders who support the vote.

The Spanish government is expected to hold an emergency cabinet meeting Sunday on the issue. It plans to challenge a recently-passed Catalan law permitting the independence referendum before the Constitutional Court, which it hopes will suspend it and halt the vote.

The announcement comes a week after Scotland voted against breaking away from Britain.

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Catalonia president signs independence referendum decree

Artur Mas wants Catalonia to hold a Scottish-style vote on 9 November, but does not have the backing of the central government in Madrid.

Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy has said he will block any referendum.

Catalonia, which includes Barcelona, is one of Spain's richest and most highly industrialised regions, and also one of the most independent-minded.

On 19 September Catalonian lawmakers voted by a margin of 106 to 28 in favour of authorising the referendum, known locally as a "consultation".

Mr Rajoy and the Spanish government believe any vote would be illegal.

The prime minister is expected to take action at a special cabinet meeting early next week, and is likely to take the dispute to the country's Constitutional Court.

However, Mr Mas says he can use local laws to hold a vote in a matter of weeks.

The BBC's Tom Burridge in Madrid says the focus of attention now will be on how far the Spanish government is prepared to go in order to stop a referendum.

The Spanish government has said a referendum on Catalan independence would be unconstitutional, despite protests

Mr Mas has previously insisted that the pro-independence movement would prevail, even if it faces stiff opposition.

"If they think in Madrid that by using legal frameworks they can stop the will of the Catalan people, they are wrong," he said in the wake of the Scottish "No" vote.

Until recently, few Catalans had wanted full independence, but Spain's painful economic crisis has seen a surge in support for separation, correspondents say.

There is resentment over the proportion of Catalan taxes used to support poorer regions.

The pro-independence movement in Catalonia believes that the region can go ahead with the independence vote after the decree is signed.

Earlier this month hundreds of thousands of Catalans formed a "V" for "vote" along two of Barcelona's main roads calling for their right to vote.

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