Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Rajoy gives another “no” to Catalonia and offers a banned Constitutional reform

On Tuesday 8th evening the Spanish Parliament rejected a motion to transfer to the Catalan Government the power to organise a specific non-binding self-determination referendum, using Article 150.2 of the Constitution. 86% of all Spanish MPs rejected a motion presented by the Catalan Parliament to this effect, which was backed by some two-thirds of Barcelona’s Chamber. The People’s Party (PP) – which runs the Spanish Government and holds an absolute majority at Madrid’s Parliament -, the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) – including the MPs from the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) -, and the minority populist and Spanish nationalist party Unión Progreso y Democracia (UPyD) voted against the motion. 
The remaining MPs, mostly representing parties from Catalonia, the Basque Country, Galicia, the Canaries and the alternative left, backed it. 299 MPs voted against the Catalan petition, 47 MPs backed it and there was 1 abstention. The Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy finally participated in the debate and rejected the petition using his own interpretation of the Constitution, stating that Catalans could not possibly hold a vote on this issue within the current legal framework and therefore he could not authorise it. However, he pointed out that the Constitution could be reformed, although at the same time he has been blocking this way in recent years and has refused to talk about it so far. The Catalan Parliament representatives stressed that allowing a self-determination vote was only a matter of political will. Furthermore, they stressed that today’s “no” would not stop Catalonia’s self-determination process, since there are other legal ways open. 
The President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas, did not participate in the debate since it was a parliamentary initiative, but he made an official statement from his office in Barcelona. Mas highlighted that Catalonia's offer to talk will still be there if the Spanish authorities want to negotiate later on. In the debate, Catalan representatives insisted on several occasions about their will "to negotiate about everything". However, Mas also warned that the self-determination process will carry on using other legal and democratic ways.

The three Catalan MPs opened the debate laying out the motion approved in Barcelona and the reasons for allowing the Catalan people to vote in a self-determination referendum, using 10 minutes each. Then the Spanish PM spoke for 45 minutes and after him it was the turn of a representative from each of the parliamentary groups, who spoke for some 30 minutes each. After this first round, which lasted almost 5 hours, all the speakers had the opportunity to talk once again and the debate lasted until 11pm, when the motion was officially rejected.

Among all the interventions that of Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, Secretary General of the PSOE and leader of the opposition, was particularly relevant. The Socialist MP rejected the motion because the proposed vote would be "politically binding" and he opposes the right to self-determination and independence. However he proposed a Constitutional reform to transform Spain into a "federal" country with clearly identified powers for each government level and where, according to him, Catalans should feel more comfortable. However, he did not give further details of the reform, besides talking about modifying the current Senate in order to transform it into "a true territorial chamber". Nothing was said about recognising Catalonia's national status or the protection of Catalan culture and language. Rubalcaba said he would try to convince Rajoy about this reform, which is something he has been trying to do for the last year with no result so far. In fact, Rajoy has publicly rejected this reform and the PP has been blocking its debate in the Spanish Parliament.

Authorising a self-determination vote is a matter of political will

In further debate two representatives from Catalan parties and that of the United Left (IU) insisted that it was absolutely possible to authorise a self-determination vote in Catalonia under the current Constitution. Josep Antoni Duran i Lleida, Spokesperson of the Centre-Right pro-Catalan State Coalition (CiU) – which runs the Catalan Government – provided thorough arguments to defend that holding a consultation referendum about Catalonia's political future was fitting into the current Constitution. Duran i Lleida stressed that depending on how the main law was being interpreted it could fit into it or not, and therefore it was not a legal but a political matter. In addition, he highlighted the will "to negotiate about everything". "Set a place and a time to talk", he directly asked Rajoy. In addition, the Spokesperson from the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), Aitor Esteban, also shared the view that the vote was fitting into the Constitution. However pointed out that those who are not sharing this view – referring to the PP and PSOE – could change the Constitution in a week and half, as they did in September 2011 reforming Article 135 in order to introduce limitations to public deficit and debt, just through a parliamentary vote.

The Catalan MPs insisted that the first priority is a negotiated referendum

The three representatives of the Catalan Parliament were Jordi Turull, Chairman of parliamentary group of the CiU, Marta Rovira, Secretary General of the Left-Wing Catalan Independence Party (ERC), and Joan Herrera, Chairman of the parliamentary group of the Catalan Green Socialist and post-Communist Coalition (ICV-EUiA).

Turull spoke first and expressed the will to work with the PP and the PSOE for an agreed self-determination vote in Catalonia. The first priority is to find a negotiated way out to allow the Catalan people to hold a self-determination vote, he said. “The Catalan people is not in any dead-end, but it has started out on a no return, peaceful and democratic path to decide on its future”, he stated. The CiU MP emphasised that “a great majority” in Catalan society has reached the conclusion that “they cannot and they do not want to continue this way” and “they are tired of having tried absolutely everything to find a comfortable accommodation for both sides” in the last 35 years of democracy. In fact, Turull highlighted how Catalan forces have contributed to the modernisation of Spain in this period. However, he regretted the attitude of the Spanish authorities, not recognising Catalonia’s nation status, not respecting legal agreements and making continuous attempts to recentralise powers. Therefore, in the face of these attitudes, the Catalan people is motivated by “re-affirmation and not by resignation” and is looking for new horizons.

Catalonia's self-determination is not against Spain

Marta Rovira told the Spanish MPs that “the agreement depends on your will”. A self-determination vote in Catalonia “is possible, legal and democratic” and it would fit into the current Constitution if that is not interpreted in a restrictive way. Rovira highlighted that Catalonia’s independence "is not against Spain". "We love Spain" as well as its citizens and the Spanish culture and language, she said. Rovira insisted that Catalans want to have "the best relationship" with the Spanish people since they are "two brother peoples who own loyalty to each other". However, according to her, independence is the only way to guarantee the future of Catalan society, since the Spanish State does not work for the interests of Catalan citizens; it takes powers and resources away which put in jeopardy public services in Catalonia. She insisted that Catalonia no longer has “an accomodation” within Spain. Therefore, in a democracy, citizens vote on their own collective future and public powers do what is necessary to make it happen. “Ballot boxes” are the only way of knowing where the majority stands. However, she regretted that while Catalan parties have been willing to talk and presented numerous initiatives on this issue, the Spanish Government has not moved at all in all these years. On top of this, she criticised the “veiled threats and apocalyptic reports” against Catalonia’s independence issued by the Spanish Government in recent months. Finally, Rovira insisted that the process will not be stopped and that the Catalan Parliament will continue to make a self-determination vote possible since “it is the mandate of the Catalan citizens in the last elections”.

“An authoritarian solution” will not last since there is a social majority for self-determination

Joan Herrera criticised the Spanish Government and the PP for pretending that nothing was going on in Catalonia in recent years, neglecting the demands from a majority of the Catalan people. It is the same as is done with many social problems, he said, such as house evictions, unemployment and the dismantling of public healthcare and education. In addition, Herrera said that “it is not reasonable nor smart” to act in the way the Spanish establishment is doing. The ICV-EUiA MP praised the agreements reached between the United Kingdom and Scotland or between Canada and Quebec. “Your “no” will not make the problem smaller; on the contrary it will increase the distance” between the Spanish institutions and the Catalan people. “You can prolong the debate in time, but you will not be able to stop it; the most intelligent thing to do is to face the challenge” he said, and in democracy this means allowing the people to vote. However, if the answer is “an authoritarian solution”, Herrera forecast that it will not last, since there is a social majority that wants to vote in Catalonia; “around 80% of the people” according to the polls. In this vein, he accused Spanish nationalism of “breaking Spain” by trying to impose their own ideas on the rest of citizens.

Rajoy denies the Spanish Government having treated Catalonia badly

The Spanish PM decided to intervene after the three Catalan representatives, before the Spokespeople of the parliamentary groups. Until the last moment it was not certain whether he or the Deputy Prime Minister, Soraya Saenz de Santamaría, would represent the Spanish Government. Mariano Rajoy offered the longest speech of the session in which he basically rejected Catalonia’s right to self-determination since “national sovereignty” belongs to all Spaniards as a whole and therefore he is not legally allowed to decide about the issue, he said. In addition, he stated that "Catalonia's territory does not belong to the Catalans" but to all the Spaniards and that each Spaniard is "co-owner" of Catalonia. Those are the arguments he has been repeating over the past two years, making a restrictive interpretation of the Spanish Constitution. Furthermore, he presented the Catalan petition to transfer the power to organise a self-determination as if the Spanish Government would lose this power and he considered the vote to be legally binding almost with immediate effect, instead of considering a consultation that would allow further political negotiations. Rajoy repeated that an independent Catalonia would be out of “the EU, the Euro, the United Nations and international treaties” and that it would be “like Robinson Crusoe’s island”. Furthermore, he insisted that Spaniards share “the same blood” and that it is “the oldest nation in Europe”. On top of this he denied that Catalan language is persecuted and that Catalonia is fiscally discriminated against in relation to the rest of Spain, totally dismissing the fiscal deficit.

The only offer: a blocked Constitutional reform

In the last few days, there were rumours that Rajoy would made an offer to the Catalan people in terms of negotiating a new fiscal scheme for the Catalan Government. This fiscal negotiation is not an offer but a legal obligation, since the scheme expired on the 1st of January 2014 and talks for a new one have not started yet since Rajoy is delaying them. In fact, in September 2012, after the first massive pro-independence demonstration in Barcelona, the Catalan President Artur Mas asked Rajoy to discuss a new economic agreement for Catalonia, similar to the one the Basque Country and Navarra already have. Back then Rajoy refused to even discuss it and announced that Catalonia’s fiscal scheme would not start to be negotiated before the end of 2013 or early 2014. In any case, Rjoy did not made this offer today at the Spanish Parliament. He simply pointed out that the Constitution could be reformed in order to authorise a self-determination vote in Catalonia. However he did not engage in launching such a process. On the contrary, over the last few months, Rajoy himself totally rejected this idea and his party has blocked any parliamentary initiative asking to launch a revision of the Constitution. Therefore, Rjoy offered another “no” to the Catalan people and the only small door he pointed is totally blocked by himself and his own people.

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