Saturday, September 27, 2014

Catalonia to call self-determination vote on Saturday and Madrid to appeal it on Monday

The President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas, will finally sign the decree calling the 9th of November's self-determination consultation vote on Saturday, a week after the Catalan Parliament approved the Law on Consultation Votes with 80% support. Mas will sign the decree surrounded by all his Cabinet and most of the leaders from the political parties supporting November's vote. In addition, 867 town halls, representing 91.6% of Catalonia's municipalities, have already approved motions supporting such a vote, including Barcelona and other important cities. Besides, the Spanish Government will hold an exceptional Cabinet meeting on Monday – instead of waiting until Friday (when they are normally held) – to approve the two appeals against the new Catalan law and the decree calling November's vote. The appeals will probably be filed on Monday to the Constitutional Court, which then has to decide whether it accepts them or not in a plenary session. Should the Constitutional Court accept the Spanish Government's appeals, from this very moment, the law and the decree would be temporarily suspended. The next Court's plenary is on the 7th of October, but an extraordinary plenary could be organised this week in order to discuss these two appeals, regardless of the other pending issues the Court has to decide upon. Therefore, the law and the decree will be in force for a few hours or a few days, depending on how fast the Spanish authorities ban them.


The legal battle for the 9th of November's self-determination vote is about to start. After days waiting for the Catalan President to sign the decree calling such a vote, Mas will finally do this on Saturday. The Catalan President has been using his legal prerogatives to control when the recently approved Law on Consultation Votes would enter into force through publication in Catalonia's Official Journal (DOGC), since it legally has a 15-day window to do so after the Catalan Parliament has passed it. The publication in the DOGC was conditional upon when Mas would sign the decree calling November's vote, since it uses the new law as its main legal base. Since the Spanish Government had announced it would immediately appeal the new law and would try to have it suspended, Mas' tactic was to sign the decree before the Spanish Government had time to appeal against it and before the Constitutional Court could accept the appeal. At the same time, it wanted to have the decree entering into force in order to have officially called Catalan citizens to vote on their collective future on the 9th of November.

Catalan representatives will need "courage and cleverness"

By signing the decree on Saturday, Mas will have waited an entire week in order to gather additional institutional support throughout Catalonia and to disturb the Spanish authorities' veto strategy. Mas said this week that Catalan representatives will need "courage and cleverness" in order to make "the weaker one prevail over the stronger one". The Catalan President stated that the Spanish authorities are very strong and compared them to a Goliath that does not allow Catalans to vote. "David did not defeat Goliath because he was very strong but because he was very clever and skilful", stated Mas on Thursday.

By waiting to sign the decree this last week, the Catalan President has avoided the plenary session of the Constitutional Court, which was meeting from Tuesday to Thursday and who next plenary is scheduled on the 7th of October. The Spanish Government's appeals have to be accepted after a debate of the Court's plenary. The Court can call for an exceptional meeting next week, but by doing this, the Catalan Government will emphasise the lack of independence of such a body from the Spanish Executive. In fact, the People's Party (PP), which runs the Spanish Government, holds an absolute majority at the Spanish Parliament and has appointed the majority of the Constitutional Court members, which seriously questions separation of powers in Spain. On top of this, such a Court lost most of its legitimacy in 2010, when it trimmed the Catalan Statute of Autonomy despite it having been approved by the Spanish Parliament and the Catalan people through a binding referendum.

91.6% of Catalan municipalities support the self-determination vote

During this week, 867 of the 947 existing town halls in Catalonia (91.6% of the total) have approved motions explicitly supporting the organisation of a self-determination consultation vote, most of them approving the same text explicitly backing the 9th of November vote. In addition, 37 of the 41 county councils and all the 4 provincial councils have also backed November's consultation vote. Many of those motions have been approved thanks to the explicit support or the abstention of members of the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC), whose leadership decided to side with the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) and stop support for November's vote despite having run in the last elections with a promise of a legal self-determination vote. In fact, the PSC was one of the 7 parties that gave their support to the Law on Consultation Votes, which was approved on the 19th of September with 79% support in the Catalan Parliament. Furthermore, such a law was already foreseen in the 2006 Catalan Statute of Autonomy and was validated in the controversial verdict of the Constitutional Court in 2010.

On Saturday morning, Mas will sign the decree at the Generalitat's Palace, the seat of the Catalan Government. The signature will be framed within a short ceremony, to emphasize that this decree is not the decision of a single and isolated Catalan president, but it answers the mandate from the 2012 elections and the social demand expressed through massive demonstrations organised by the civil society and the motions presented in most of Catalonia' town halls. Mas will sign the decree surrounded by all the Catalan Ministers and the leaders of the political parties that had supported the agreement for the 9th of November self-determination vote, reached in December 2013. However, the leader of the Catalan green socialist and post-communist coalition (ICV-EUiA), Joan Herrera, announced on Friday that he was not expecting to attend the decree signature as it was "a governmental event", despite the fact that he and the coalition he leads explicitly support November's vote.

Depending on the reaction of the Spanish authorities, the law and the decree will be in place for a few hours or a few days. The Catalan Government will use this window time to speed up preparations for the consultation vote and approve minor regulations related to it, regarding the organisation of ballot stations, the electoral register, etc.

The Spanish Government will react in an "agile and fast way"

The Spanish Deputy Prime Minister, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría stated on Friday that the Spanish Government will answer Mas' signature of the decree in an "agile and fast way". She did not rule out the possibility of organising a Cabinet meeting on Saturday, although the Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, said that it would be organised on Monday. Rajoy, who is on an official trip to China, confirmed that the Spanish Government will hold an extraordinary meeting in any case and will not wait until the next regular meeting, meetings which are organised on each Friday on a weekly basis.

On top of this, Sáenz de Santamaría stressed that the moment the Constitutional Court will suspend the law and the decree, Mas and the Catalan Government will no longer be authorised to work on November's self-determination vote and will have to stop all the preparations, since the legal basis of such a vote will be out of effect. However, the Constitutional Court authorised in 2001 to continue developing a law that had been temporarily suspended in order not to damage its implementation if the suspension is finally lifted. The Catalan Government could argue that, if the Court was temporarily suspending the measures but lifted them before the vote, the measures to guarantee that Catalan citizens can freely and democratically vote have to be developed in advance. The Constitutional Court's temporary suspension could be lifted at any time and within a 5-month period, the Court will have to explicitly decide if it is being extended or lifted, while it reaches a definitive decision on the matter. The Court's definitive verdict could take years.

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