Sunday, February 16, 2014

Experts from Catalan and Andalusian Academia and Civil Society debated about the Right to Decide at the University of Seville

The Public Diplomacy Council of Catalonia, in collaboration with the Faculty of Law of the University of Seville, organized this morning in Sevilla a conference on “The Political Future of Catalonia: Citizen Consultation and Legal Framework.”. Antonio Merchán, Dean of the Faculty of Law of the University of Seville, and Albert Royo, Secretary General of the Public Diplomacy Council of Catalonia inaugurated the event. Merchán opened the conference at the Faculty of Law of the University of Seville stressing that the Constitution is a covenant on power for freedom, "it is a pact between citizens". He added that there are geographical realities with long history, which are not satisfied, as demonstrated by the Parliament of Catalonia. He also stressed that the Generalitat wants more power for autonomous management, "it is said" he added, "that it wants to be a federal state or an independent state. This is a problem that deserves attention.” He ended by underlining the need for dialogue to find a common meeting point. Royo, for his part, thanked the University of Seville for hosting the debate, and clarified that “from Catalonia this was not perceived as a problem but as a challenge that we must all face together.” He added that "Catalonia is experiencing a unique political process, facing legality and legitimacy. In Europe of the XXI century Catalan people ask to decide on their political future. According to the polls, 80% of the public demands to hold a referendum on self-determination. The Council of Public Diplomacy”, he concludes, "feels that it is necessary to reach out to Spanish public opinion, and therefore we are holding conferences like this one today."

The conference was divided into two parts. During the first, moderated by Bartolomé Clavero, Professor of History of Law and Institutions, addressed the question of the legality and legitimacy of the democratic Right to Decide for Catalonia. Javier Pérez-Royo, Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Seville, started his contribution by defining the Right to Decide as the right constituted by democracy. "Democracy and the Right to Decide should go together, nobody in Spain can be deprived of the Right to Recide". He clarified that when one talks about the Right to Decide, one refers to the legal framework within which this right is exercised. The Constitution itself provides procedures for its own revision, but according to Perez Royo "amending the Constitution is science fiction, and even more so if done in a unilateral way by Catalonia. The Spaniards have the right to decide what they want," he added, "and this should be accommodated in the Constitution."

After that, Enoch Albertí, Dean of the Faculty of Law and Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Barcelona, said that under current Spanish law it is possible to hold a referendum in Catalonia and explained five ways allowing to do so. He added that "the key thing is to know what you ask. Asking for independence is not constitutional. He also added that the key to the question for the constitutional referendum question lies in the terms of a mandate from the people of Catalonia to the Catalan institutions, to initiate a process of negotiation with the State, to reach a particular scenario. At the end of his speech, he stated that any of the five possible ways need the permission of the state and this therefore shows that “it is a political, and not a legal problem.”

Finally, Jean-Baptiste Harguindéguy, Doctor of Political and Social Sciences and Professor at the University Pablo de Olavide, treated the subject from the point of view of political theory. He referred to the constitutional framework as a generator of competencies between regions to obtain resources. He added that "if a territorial unit aims to modify the framework, it lies within its right to do so." Harguindeguy also pointed out that a possible solution to the Catalan situation is an intermediate stage between the status quo and separation, which is seeking a consensus. This could for example be the inclusion of elites of the Catalan society into institutions of the central government. He ended his academic presentation adding that "to solve this, beyond legal mechanisms, we need imagination and courage."

During the second part of the conference, moderated by journalist Jorge Bezares, Catalan and Andalusian civil society exchanged their views on their role in the democratic process of the right to decide.

Carmen Calvo, Executive Vice President of the Foundation Alfonso Perales started the dialogue with the remark that "Catalonia has the right, in the legal framework, to make its query." He added that perhaps the future of Spain will see the day of a federal model that involves more diversity at regional level." He defended the reform of the Constitution and ended by asking for clarity about what all stakeholders want regarding the Catalan case. Lluís Cabrera, President of the association Other Andalusians, said that in Catalonia "We all politically consider ourselves Catalans." He added that his association wants to collaborate with the new discourse of Catalonia. He referred to the Catalan National Assembly as a grassroots movement, which was born out of civil society was and partly inherited from the Assembly of Catalonia that was a very active anti-Franco player.

Alfons Labrador, Director of Studies of The Catalan Workers’ Commission CCOO and editor of the resolution on the Right to Decide, pointed out that the Right to Decide has massive support amongst the Catalan society. He emphasized that "it is a process that is not run by political parties, and even less so by economic leaders." He added that maintaining positions of immobility is the main obstacle to find possible roads to future alternatives to the status quo and independence.

Manuel Medina, Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Seville, concluded the conference with his remarks on “the need for dialogue to know what we want and to be able to identify the right way to achieve it. He recalled that “it has been shown time and again throughout the day that we have a political problem, not legal one.” Jordi Vilajoana, Secretary General of the Presidency of the Generalitat of Catalonia recapitulated the event by emphasising “the importance of debates like the one held today in Seville in order to bring the case of Catalan civil society to the rest of Spain.” He remarked that the movement has its base in civil society and in Catalonia the will is for this to be a peaceful, democratic process”, and making the point that "consultation is the beginning of a process that can be long.”

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