Monday, October 6, 2014

Spanish Government to expand Constitutional Court appeal and Catalan Parliament to challenge Court President

The judicial battle for the 9th of November's vote was intensified in these last few hours by Catalan authorities and the Spanish Government. On Thursday evening, the Catalan Parliament's Bureau agreed to challenge 2 of the 12 Constitutional Court members for their closeness to the People's Party (PP), which runs the Spanish Government, in order to prevent them from participating in the debate and final verdict. They are the Court's President, Francisco Pérez de los Cobos, who was a PP member until 2011, and Pedro José González-Trevijano, who is directly dealing with the Spanish Government's appeal. In addition, on Friday, the Spanish Government announced that it will include the recent developments in the appeals it filed on Monday to the Constitutional Court, against the Catalan Law on Consultation Votes and the decree calling a self-determination consultation vote on the 9th of November. 

Those recent developments are the election of the members of the Control Commission for consultation votes (a sort of electoral body), which was voted for on Wednesday by the Catalan Parliament and ratified by the Catalan President on Thursday, despite the Constitutional Court's temporary suspension of the law on which it is based. Catalan authorities believed that the temporary suspension cannot apply to actions which do not have a direct effect, according to the previous decision of the Constitutional Court on other matters. Despite the election of the Control Commission members, the Commission will not be created until the temporary suspension is lifted. The Spanish Government does not share this opinion and thinks that all the decisions related to the temporarily suspended law and decree should be cancelled.


The Catalan Parliament challenges 2 of the 12 Constitutional Court members for being biased

On Thursday evening the Bureau of the Catalan Parliament started the legal process to ask for 2 of the 12 members of the Constitutional Court to be prevented from participating in the debates and the verdict affecting Catalonia's self-determination consultation, because they are too close to the PP and therefore not cannot be impartial on this issue. The Catalan Parliament will challenge the Court's President, Francisco Pérez de los Cobos, who would have a casting vote if there were a draw, and Pedro José González-Trevijano. The challenge action was approved with the votes of all the parties, except those from the representatives of Spain's two largest parties (the PP and the PSOE, represented by the PSC in Catalonia), the same two parties which appointed all the members of the Court. In fact, the 2 representatives of the PP and the PSC refused to sign the challenge action. The document was signed by the representatives from the governing centre-right pro-Catalan State coalition (CiU), 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.

Catalan authorities believe that these two members cannot have a balanced view on what is going on in Catalonia and therefore cannot act as impartial referees. The Catalan Parliament already tried to have Pérez de los Cobos put aside last year, in the debate regarding the Declaration of Sovereignty approved by a two-third majority of the Catalan Chamber on the 23rd January 2013. He became the Court's President in June 2013, but he has been a member of this body since 2010. However, Pérez de los Cobos was a member of the PP and had hidden his membership, which was discovered by 'El País' newspaper in July 2013. Party membership is not strictly illegal, but many think that such a delicate office should be bound to higher non-partisan standards. Furthermore, the PP membership is a problem in all the debates somehow involving this party.

In addition, Pérez de los Cobos had published a book in the late 2000s with many statements against Catalonia and Catalans, as well as against people from other nationalities, using old-fashioned stereotypes, sometimes in a rude way. He made xenophobic statements against English and Italian people, such as “Englishmen were taught how to clean themselves by their cats” and “Italians are the people with the least respect for the law”. However, Pérez de los Cobos is most critical of Catalans and Catalonia. “Not a single political act in Catalonia takes place without a demonstration of masturbation”, he stated. He also said that “money is the rationalising balm in Catalonia”, which refers to the Spanish stereotype that Catalans are miserly. On top of this he wrote “When a Catalan is satisfied he expresses it by saying: ‘It works for me’” accusing them of being selfish. He also criticised Catalan nationalism saying it was “a nightmare”.

The other challenged member is González-Trevijano, who has strong Spanish nationalist stances. In addition, he has worked with the PP's political think-tank, the FAES foundation, on many occasions. On top of this, he defended the continuity of the religious space hosting Franco's remains, which was built between 1940 and 1958 by war prisoners through slave labour and where each year neo-Nazi groups pay tribute to the Spanish dictator.

The Spanish Government will appeal against the decision to elect the Control Commission

On Friday, the Spanish Deputy Prime Minister, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, announced that the appeals filed on Monday to the Constitutional Court against Catalonia's self-determination vote will be expanded with the actions of the last three days. Sáenz de Santamaría was extremely insistent that the Court's temporary suspension affects "all the areas" linked to the affected law and decree. According to her, Catalan authorities are not even entitled to approve minor regulations or decisions that do not require implementation nor those that do not have a direct effect. However, the legal services of the Catalan Parliament and Government state the contrary, as in the past the Constitutional Court has allowed this on other matters, given that the suspension is temporary and does not predict the final result of the verdict.

The Deputy PM stated that the Spanish "Government will do its duty" and will take those last developments to the Constitutional Court. However, Sáenz de Santamaría was directly asked by the press whether the Catalan President, Artur Mas, had committed a legal offense by ratifying the Control Commission members' elections and she refused to give a clear answer. She added that the Catalan Government would have to bear this possibility in mind considering "the precautions" included in the decree ratifying the decision, which makes its implementation conditional to the Court's final decision. Despite this answer, Sáenz de Santamaría emphasised that the Catalan President has to fully respect the law. "He can defend whatever he pleases, but always within the legal framework", she concluded.

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