Thursday, October 2, 2014

Catalan Parliament elects Control Commission for non-binding referendum vote and PP threatens to bring MPs to justice

Based on a report from its legal services, the Catalan Parliament has carried out the election of the 7 members of the Control Commission that should supervise the correct development of the 9th of November's consultation vote on independence, as well as any other future consultation vote in Catalonia. 

The Parliament decision comes the day after Catalan authorities temporarily suspended the institutional campaign to inform citizens about November's self-determination vote as well as all the direct preparations for such a consultation after the Constitutional Court decided to temporarily suspend the law and the decree on which they are based. 

However, a two-third majority of the Parliament argue that this sort of electoral commission would not be formed immediately, as its creation has to be authorised by a future decree of the Catalan President and therefore it is not considered a direct preparation, according to a report from the Chamber's legal services on the issue and previous verdicts from the Constitutional Court that allowed the development of temporarily-suspended laws if it did not have any direct effect. In the same plenary, the President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas, stated that he "will not rectify [his] commitment to allow Catalans to vote" on their political future. Mas ruled out civil disobedience, although he acknowledged that many civil rights had been achieved by this method, and stated that the legal framework is being totally respected, since the Catalan Government is presenting its appeals against the Constitutional Court's decision, hoping the temporary suspension will be lifted and Catalan will be able to vote on the 9thof November. 

However, parties against the independence consultation vote due in less than 6 weeks think that it was not possible to elect the Control Commission and refused to participate in the Parliament's vote. On top of this, Spanish nationalist People's Party (PP), which runs the Spanish Government, has announced they will take the MPs who have elected such a Commission to justice, accusing them of committing an illegal action.


The Catalan Parliament took an important step this Wednesday, combining the respect for the Constitutional Court's decision but at the same time using all the legal possibilities to continue with the self-determination agenda by electing the members of the Control Commission of consultation votes. The allegations presented by the Catalan Parliament and Government against the Constitutional Court's decision, which was made in an urgent and controversial way on Monday (questioning the separation of powers in Spain), emphasise that the temporary suspension – which does not anticipate any verdict, as the Court stressed – cannot damage the consultation vote's development, which might be considered legal at the end. Therefore, Catalan authorities should carry out the preparations for such a vote if such preparations do not require immediate and direct implementation. This means that all the measures and decisions that can be adopted but somehow kept frozen until the Court lifts the temporary suspension or issues a definitive verdict could be adopted. And this is what the Catalan Parliament has done this Wednesday, despite the Catalan Government having suspended all the direct preparations on Tuesday, such as the institutional campaign informing the citizens about the 9th of November's consultation vote.

Different interpretations of the Court's temporary suspension

The Catalan Government's legal services as well as those of the Catalan Parliament argue that adopting decisions which do not have a direct effect respects the temporary suspension of the law and the decree. The Court already validated such an arrangement in 2001, in another case regarding the Spanish Government and a law approved by Castilla-la-Mancha's regional parliament. However, the Spanish Government and Spanish nationalists parties share a different opinion and consider that absolutely everything related to Catalonia's self-determination process and specifically related to the law and the decree that have been temporarily suspended have to be stopped immediately. The Constitutional Court stated that the temporary suspension decided on Monday affects all the direct development of the law and the decree, made by the Catalan Parliament, Catalan Government or third parties, but it did not specifically ban measures that can be frozen, which do not have a direct effect.

The Catalan President: "I will not rectify"

Before voting the members of this sort of electoral commission, there was a government control session by the MPs, where the President of the Catalan Executive, Artur Mas, was urged by the Spanish nationalist parties to give up all the self-determination plans, as if the self-determination process was totally driven and spurred by Mas alone. The Catalan President stated that he "will not rectify [his] commitment to allow Catalans to vote" on their political future. Mas emphasised the Constitutional Court's suspension is temporary and that it could be lifted before the 9th of November's vote. Mas insisted that at this point, the self-determination consultation vote has not been declared illegal by any Court and instead is deeply rooted in the Catalan legal framework. The Catalan President emphasised that right now all the efforts have to be focused on convincing the Court to lift the temporary suspension and that Catalonia's vote is legal. He insisted that Catalans will vote anyway and that the PP and the Spanish authorities will not be able "to stop it". However, he also added that at this point Catalan society is not in a situation for "civil disobedience", although he acknowledged that many freedoms and rights have been won by this method. At the same time he underlined that "civil disobedience does not always brings victory" and asked all those supporting self-determination to "learn from history" and be patient, which means waiting for the Constitutional Court to answer the allegations from Catalan authorities.

A tense parliamentary debate

Considering these different interpretations, the parties supporting the self-determination vote – which hold 65% of the seats – carried on with the plenary's schedule and voted on the names that will form the independent Control Commission that is supposed to supervise all the consultation votes in Catalonia within the next 4 years. However, the parliament's vote does not mean the immediate creation of such a Commission, since the Catalan President would still have to sign an additional decree authorising its creation. Therefore, the election of the people who will have to form the commission is more a task carried out in advance, in order to have it done if in the end Catalans are allowed to vote on the 9th of November and the organisation has to take place in a short space of time.

Spanish nationalists say to the vote can have "penal" consequences

However, the parties opposing November's vote have refused to participate in the Parliament's vote. The Spanish nationalist and populist party Ciutadans (C's) even abandoned the plenary room, stating that participating in such a vote could have "legal and penal" consequences. The People's Party stayed in the room but all its MPs raised their hands during the vote, in order to show that they were not pressing any voting button, not even the abstention one. Furthermore, the PP Spokesperson, Enric Millo, threatened to bring all the MPs participating in the parliamentary vote to justice. "We are facing a very serious moment", emphasised Millo. In addition, the PP MP who sits in the Parliament's Bureau, Pere Calvo, warned that he will not sign any document regarding this vote, as it is "an illegal action".


MPs from the PP raising their hands as a protest during
the Catalan Parliament's vote (by R. Garrido)
The Catalan Socialist Party (PSC), which voted for the Law on Consultation Votes (the one being temporarily suspended) also refused to participate in the Control Commission's election but stayed in the room and gave a more nuanced speech. The PSC opposed the decree calling November's vote saying that the Law on Consultation Votes could not be used as its legal base. However, many PSC representatives in town halls throughout Catalonia have supported explicit motions backing a legal self-determination consultation vote on the 9th of November. Until this Wednesday 911 of the 947 existing municipalities in Catalonia had given their explicit support to such a consultation vote, meaning that 96% of Catalonia's town halls back this process. The PSC Spokesperson, Maurici Lucena, said they had "serious doubts" about whether the Catalan Parliament could hold such a vote and for this reason they decided not to participate in the Commission's election.

Parties supporting November's vote argue for electing the Control Commission

The 7 members of the Control Commission have been elected with 86 votes of the 135-seat Parliament (64%) from 4 different political groups representing 6 different parties. The parties supporting this election were the governing centre-right pro-Catalan State coalition CiU (which bring together Liberals and Christian-Democrats), the left-wing independence party ERC, the Catalan green socialist and post-communist coalition ICV-EUiA and the alternative left and radical independence party CUP. All of them justified their participation in the vote in the report issued by the Catalan Parliament's legal services.

The CiU insisted that with such an election they will be carrying out work in advance and accused the PP and C's of not honouring their obligations as MPs when they are displeased with a vote. The ERC emphasised that the Constitutional Court "did not have the time to assess the Law" on Consultation Votes, and therefore that the law could not be considered as being illegal. The ICV-EUiA insisted that voting in the Parliament is "their responsibility" as MPs and that by doing this they are "not putting anyone at risk". Finally, the CUP highlighted that they are following "the Catalan legal framework" and said they did "not recognize" the authority of the Constitutional Court.

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