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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