Thursday, November 6, 2014

Catalan Government keeps November 9’s participatory process on-going despite Constitutional Court’s suspension

On Tuesday, Spain’s Constitutional Court accepted to take into consideration the Spanish Government’s appeal against Catalonia’s participatory process about independence, which has been organized by the Catalan Executive as an alternative to the original non-binding referendum vote that was banned by Spanish authorities five weeks ago. 
The Constitutional Court has unanimously accepted the Spanish Prime Minister’s new appeal. According to the Constitution, this represents the automatic and temporary suspension of the object appealed against until a definitive decision is reached (a process that can take months or even years). However, the Catalan Government replied that all the participatory process’s preparations are ready and that Catalans will be able to cast their vote on next Sunday. Furthermore, a judicial complaint will be filed against the Spanish Government for not respecting Catalans’ basic rights and freedoms.


The Catalan Minister for the Presidency and Government Spokesperson, Francesc Homs, emphasised that the Spanish Executive is appealing against “a hidden referendum” and the continuation of the original non-binding referendum vote, while the new participatory process is a different thing, he underlined. “They are banning something that we are not doing”, Homs highlighted. For this reason, he insisted that the alternative participatory process is still in place although he did not disclose specific details about how exactly the vote will avoid the Court’s suspension. Moreover, he also announced allegations against the Court’s temporary suspension.

In addition, the Catalan President will call an urgent meeting of the National Alliance for Self-Determination, which brings together more than 3,000 political, business, social, cultural and sports civil society organisations as well as Catalonia’s main institutions. The National Alliance should back Sunday’s participatory process, although it is not clear already whether it could even replace the Catalan Government at the last minute as the vote’s organiser in order to bypass the suspension.

On top of this, Homs also announced that in the next few days the Catalan Government will file a judicial complaint to the Supreme Court against the Spanish Government for not respecting Catalans’ basic rights and freedoms, such as freedom of expression, the right to political participation and freedom of ideology, among others, by stopping citizens from giving their opinion on independence in a non-binding process based on the Catalan Government’s powers over citizen participation.

As expected, the parties against the self-determination process have urged the Catalan Government to give up and stop organising the vote, while those supporting November 9’s participatory process have requested that it be maintained. The Spanish Government focused its reaction on the Catalan President, Artur Mas, and asked him to obey the Court’s suspension.

The Court’s suspension is an automatic mechanism regardless of the final decision

The ordinary plenary of the Constitutional Court, which is meeting this week from Tuesday to Thursday, has unanimously accepted to take into consideration the appeal filed by the Government chaired by Mariano Rajoy. This time, the Court did not force the procedure nor rush to accept Rajoy’s appeal, as it did on the 29th of September with the original non-binding referendum vote. By accepting the appeal, the Court has committed itself to analysing the case and giving a definitive answer on the appeal in the coming months or years. However, according to Article 161.2 of the Spanish Constitution, when the Constitutional Court accepts an appeal filed by the Spanish Government, the object appealed against is automatically suspended for an initial period of 5 months, regardless of the Court’s final decision. The Court can always lift the temporary suspension and it can also decide to extend it after the 5 months have passed.

This is what has happened this Tuesday morning, when the Court’s 12 members voted to accept the Spanish Government’s appeal against the participatory process scheduled for the 9th of November. After debating for two and a half hours, they have unanimously accepted the 49-page appeal, which considers the alternative process to be “a hidden referendum” and “an abuse of the legal process”. The Court has admitted the appeal because “the legal conditions of admissibility are met”, explicitly mentioning Article 161.2 and the consequent temporary suspension. In addition, they have underlined that such a suspension does not anticipate what will be finally decided. Besides, the Court gives 20 days to the Catalan Government for presenting its allegations.

The Court explicitly suspends preparation actions

According to the Court’s decision, “the actions appealed against” are suspended as from Friday 31st of October (the day the Spanish Government filed the appeal) for the parties involved, being the Catalan Government. For third parties, meaning town halls, political parties and civil society organisations, the suspension will only affect the actions taking place after the publication of the Court’s decision on the Spanish State’s official journal (BOE), which is likely to take place on Wednesday.

The Court has explicitly suspended the “remaining preparation actions of this non-binding referendum vote” or those “related to it”. This means that it bans setting ballot boxes, any political propaganda action and the publication of the Catalan Government’s participation information website participa2014.cat.

Constitutional Court does not include a warning for President Mas, as requested by the Spanish Government

However, the Court has not included a specific warning to the President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas, to obey the suspension, as had been requested by the Spanish Government. The 12 members were divided on this issue, but a majority of them have decided not to include such a warning, taking into account the fact that the Catalan President already obeyed the suspension of the original non-binding referendum vote. The Spanish Government wanted a reminder that all the public powers are obliged to honour the law and another one about “the responsibilities” of not respecting such a ban, which would be paving the way for a potential criminal prosecution of the Catalan President.

Catalan Government reacts by stating that the participatory process is still in place

After its weekly Cabinet Meeting and an hour after the Court announced the temporary suspension, the Catalan Minister for the Presidency, Francesc Homs, gave a press conference in which he announced that Sunday’s participatory process is still on-going. He also stated that the Catalan Government’s preparations are all ready for the vote to take place and he stressed that people running it are all volunteers. In fact, more than 40,000 people have registered as volunteers in the last few weeks, including many civil servants. The vote should mainly take place in high-schools run and owned by the Catalan Government and in municipal centres in the towns and villages without a high-school. Homs stressed that this Tuesday ballot boxes and ballots have been all distributed, and that citizens know where they have to vote.

Journalists asked him in many different ways whether the Catalan Government would be the one running the vote on Sunday, but Homs always referred to his initial answers: “The Government keeps the participatory process on-going” and “everything is ready for the vote to take place”.

Catalan Government is “acting within the legal framework”

Furthermore, Homs insisted that next Sunday’s participatory process is a different thing that the original non-binding referendum vote, suspended by the Constitutional Court. In fact, the Minister highlighted that the Catalan Government respected such a suspension and cancelled the preparations for the original vote and launched a non-binding alternative process to respect the Court’s suspension but to guarantee the freedom of expression of the Catalan people by gathering their opinion. Homs emphasised that the Catalan Government has not been working on the original vote for many weeks, although the Spanish Executive is arguing that the alternative process is the same thing as the original non-binding referendum vote. Homs stressed that the new vote is not “a hidden referendum”, as Rajoy is arguing. Therefore, he pointed out that the Constitutional Court “cannot ban what we are not doing”, since the Catalan Government is not working on the original non-binding referendum vote any longer neither on a hidden referendum.

The Catalan Minister emphasised that the Catalan Government is always “acting within the legal framework” and that they are totally convinced they will be doing so regarding next Sunday’s vote. Journalists asked him if he could guarantee that civil servants have nothing to fear if they run polling stations on Sunday, and Homs answered that they are doing so in their capacity of volunteers, not as civil servants, and therefore they have nothing to fear.

A judicial complaint against the Spanish Government and a meeting of the National Alliance for Self-Determination

National Alliance for Self-Determination
Moreover, announcing that the participation process is on-going and that allegations will be filed against the Constitutional Court’s decision, Homs also made two other main announcements. Firstly, the National Alliance for Self-Determination will meet before Sunday. As was announced last Friday, the Catalan President will make use of his right to call an urgent meeting of this large-scale body representing a wide part of Catalonia’s civil society and institutions. There have been speculations on whether the National Alliance, which groups more than 3,000 organisations, could replace the Catalan Government as the organiser of the participatory process if the Court were to suspend it. Homs did not explicitly reject this possibility but he did not confirm it either, insisting only that the vote will take place. It is expected that the National Alliance, which brings together all the chambers of commerce, many employer’s associations, the main trade unions, the main NGOs, many cultural and social associations, sport organisations such as the FC Barcelona, political organisations and parties, as well Catalonia’s main institutions, will back Sunday’s vote.

Secondly, the Catalan Executive will file a judicial complaint to Spain’s Supreme Court against the Spanish Government. Homs accused the Spanish Government of “abuse of power and abuse of the legal process” by taking the participatory process to the Constitutional Court and filing an appeal against it, looking for the automatic suspension that does not allow the Catalan Government to give its version before the suspension comes into force. Furthermore, Rajoy is using the Constitutional Court to solve a problem that is strictly political. On top of this, the Spanish Government is not respecting the Catalan Executive’s powers on citizen participation and is preventing Catalans from expressing their opinion. Therefore, the judicial complaint will accuse the Spanish Government of not respecting basic rights and freedoms, such as the right to political participation, freedom of ideology and freedom of expression.

Parties against self-determination are asking Mas to give up

The parties against the self-determination process have welcomed the Constitutional Court’s suspension. The People’s Party (PP), which runs the Spanish Government but only has 14% of the Catalan Parliament’s seats, has asked the Catalan President, Artur Mas, “not to disobey” the Constitutional Court and “stop all the preparations for November 9. Furthermore, the PP stated that neither the Catalan Government nor civil society organisation will be allowed “to use the ballot boxes, the ballots and the venues” on November 9. The populist and anti-Catalan nationalism party Ciutadans (C’s) stated that the Court’s decision was “to be expected” and they asked Mas “to assume the failure”. He also asked Mas to “call early elections” in order to allow Catalan citizens to judge on “his misgovernment”.

The Catalan Socialist Party (PSC), which opposes the current self-determination process although it ran in the last elections promising a legal self-determination vote, asked the Catalan President “to stop the preparations for November 9”. However, the PSC also added that if the participatory process were in the end run by civil society organisations, they “do not have any problem with it”.

Parties supporting self-determination ask to keep going

As was also expected, the parties in favour of November 9’s participation process, asked the Catalan Government to keep working on it. The governing centre-right pro-Catalan State coalition CiU emphasised that the Catalan Government is respecting the legal framework and that Spanish institutions cannot ban freedom of expression. The left-wing Catalan independence party ERC stated that the Constitutional Court and the Spanish Government want “to shut down ballot boxes” but they added that “they will never be able to put Catalan people in a cage”. Furthermore, the “notarized letter” sent by the Constitutional Court will not stop the self-determination process, the ERC concluded. The Catalan green socialist and post-communist coalition ICV-EUiA asked the Catalan Government to guarantee that Catalans will be able to participate in the process scheduled on November 9. Furthermore, they stated that the Spanish Government’s appeal is “a great political mistake”. Finally, the alternative left and radical independence party CUP backed the Catalan Government’s response to the Constitutional Court’s suspension. However, they will be vigilant in making sure that there will be ballot boxes on November 9.

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