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Divendres  17.01.2014  01:01

Catalan Parliament votes to ask Madrid for power to hold independence referendum

64.4% of the Catalan Parliament voted in favor of transfering powers to organize referendum to Catalan Government. The bill was backed by 87 MPs from 4 different groups and 5 political ideologies (Christian-Democrats, Liberals, Social-Democrats, Greens and Communist).


The Catalan Parliament approved a resolution Thursday to formally request the Spanish Congress to transfer the powers to organize referendums to the Catalan Government, as allowed by Article 150.2 of the Spanish Constitution. This mechanism will allow the Catalan Executive to directly call a self-determination referendum, which is a similar formula to the one used in Scotland.

The Catalan Parliament approved a resolution Thursday to formally request the Spanish Congress to transfer the powers to organize referendums to the Catalan Government, as allowed by Article 150.2 of the Spanish Constitution. This mechanism will allow the Catalan Executive to directly call a self-determination referendum, which is a similar formula to the one used in Scotland.

87 Members of Parliament, representing 64.4% of the Chamber, backed the proposal and 43 MPs, representing 31.8% of the Parliament, voted against it. The groups that entirely backed the bill are the Center-Right Catalan Nationalist Coalition (CiU), the Left-Wing Catalan Independence Party (ERC) and the Catalan Green Socialist and Communist Coalition (ICV-EUiA). Furthermore, 3 MPs from the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) also backed the text, rebelling against the party leadership’s instructions to vote against the resolution. This vote creates a schism within the PSC, which is facing many dissensions and might eventually disintegrate.

In addition, 3 Members of the radical left-wing and independence party CUP have abstained, although they were part of the agreement to hold a self-determination vote on the 9th of November. The CUP argues that they do not think Spain has anything to say on Catalonia’s self-determination and therefore does not have to be asked to allow anything.

The parties that voted against the bill are the People’s Party (PP), which runs the Spanish Government, the anti-Catalan nationalism and populist party Ciutadans (C’s), and most of the PSC MPs, whose leader imposed the ‘no’ vote despite the PSC having defended a legal self-determination vote to be organized this term as one of their campaign promises in the last elections.

64.4% of the Catalan Parliament is backing the request to transfer to the Catalan Executive the powers to organize a referendum. The bill has been backed by 87 MPs from 4 different groups and 5 political ideologies (Christian-Democrats, Liberals, Social-Democrats, Greens and Communist), with most of them supporting independence and a minority opposing it. However, they were all united by one main idea: the Catalan people have the right to decide on their own collective future and therefore to hold a self-determination vote.

Spain’s 'no' will not stop the process

'In the 21st century, if there's one thing that cannot be stopped, it is democracy,' stated the CiU’s Spokesperson, Jordi Turull. 'Do you mean that asking to vote is unconstitutional? Perhaps banning a vote is what is pre-constitutional [referring to the pre-democratic time under Franco’s dictatorship]”, wondered Turull.

The ERC’s Secretary General and ‘number 2’ of the party, Marta Rovira, directed her comments to the Spanish Prime Minister and the PP when she said, 'this is the last opportunity to resolve this political tension democratically. Blocking and threatening don't get us anywhere,' she said. In addition, Rovira stated that even if the Spanish Government keeps 'vetoing' Catalonia’s self-determination process, this will not stop it. Indeed, if the PP does nothing more than block the process, the self-determination vote will have earned 'all its legitimacy'.

The ICV-EUiA’s Spokesperson, Dolors Camats, pointed out that the Catalan Parliament’s bill is 'the main democratic challenge' that the Spanish Congress and Government will face. Furthermore, she insisted that 'the likely negative answer' will 'give Catalans more of a right' before the international community 'to continue with a process that aims at putting our country’s political future in the citizens’ hands'.

The CUP backs self-determination and independence but abstains from voting

The 3 MPs from the CUP abstained in the end despite totally backing self-determination and independence. If they had explicitly supported the bill, 90 ‘yes’ votes would have been reached, representing a two-thirds majority. However, the CUP rejected voting ‘yes’ and preferred abstention despite being part of December’s agreement to stipulate the exact wording of the question wording and the date on which to hold a self-determination vote. They said they cannot back the bill because they have historically campaigned against the Spanish Constitution and the Statute of Autonomy, and therefore they reject the idea of asking the Spanish authorities for permission to hold a vote. 'We reject the subordination to the Spanish State and to the agreements reached with the Franco Regime elites [referring to the Constitution],' said CUP MP Quim Arrufat.

The PSC is divided on the issue

The PSC’S Spokesperson, Maurici Lucena, stated that the 'unilateral' proposal made by the Catalan Parliament 'will make the agreement between the Spanish and Catalan Governments more difficult' and 'even impossible'. The PSC stated that the bill forces the Spanish authorities to accept the pro-self-determination views and they are therefore rejecting it. The PSC ran in the last election on a platform that included a legal self-determination vote but in the last few months it has retreated from this promise, since it is federated to the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) and the latter was on the verge of splitting up with them. The PSOE, which is firmly against the right to self-determination (although in 1978, during the Constitutional debates it defended it), has managed to convince the PSC leadership to change its stance. However, a number of the PSC MPs feel very uncomfortable with this change and 3 of them supported the bill in the end, breaking party lines.

The Spanish Government will not accept being 'blackmailed'

The President of the Catalan branch of the PP, Alícia Sánchez-Camacho, emphasized that the Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy 'will not accept being imposed upon or blackmailed'. Sánchez-Camacho repeated that Rajoy 'has offered dialogue', although Spain’s unity is off the table. In addition, she emphasized that Rajoy will never accept 'the break up of Spain'. The PP leader said that the Catalan President, Artur Mas, was acting 'outside democracy'. In addition, she asked the people supporting self-determination 'to accept the ‘no’ from the [Spanish] Congress'.

The President of C’s, Albert Rivera, asked the Catalan President to step down and call for early elections. Furthermore, he repeated that if the Spanish Congress does not agree on transferring the powers, 'you cannot organize the referendum vote' on Catalonia’s self-determination. Therefore, since the CiU and ERC will have failed in what he called 'their only objective this term', Rivera asked them to go home and call early elections.

The Spanish Constitution allows such a transfer

The Catalan Parliament is formally requesting the Spanish Congress to approve the delegation of 'the powers to authorize, call, and organize a consultative referendum' to the Catalan Government, since currently those powers are in the hands of the Spanish Executive. The Catalan Chamber can send a bill to the Spanish Congress to discuss and approve such a request. In this case, the bill has to be approved in the Spanish Congress by a two-thirds majority since it is an organic law, or fundamental law. The bill is made of one single article, which is this aforementioned transfer of powers allowed through Article 150.2 of the Spanish Constitution. The article foresees 'the transfer or delegation to the Autonomous Communities, through an organic law, of the powers regarding State matters that might be susceptible to be transferred or delegated because of their own nature'. Therefore, the Spanish Congress could decide that the Catalan Government has the powers to organize a referendum.

The Spanish Congress will debate the motion in March

The Catalan Parliament’s motion will be piled up among the other resolutions sent by other Autonomous Communities. If the Spanish Congress' Board does not prioritize the resolution, which seems likely, the bill might have to wait until September to be discussed. In order to avoid such a delay, Catalan MPs will file the same bill directly to the Spanish Congress' register in order to speed up the process and hold the debate within the next two months. Therefore, it is likely that the bill will be debated in March.

However, it is also very likely that the Spanish Congress will reject it. The People’s Party (PP), which runs the Spanish Government, holds an absolute majority in the Chamber and is absolutely against the initiative. In addition, the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) is also against allowing this transfer. Both parties – PP and PSOE – hold almost 90% of the seats in the Congress. However they are against Catalonia’s right to self-determination and do not recognize Catalonia as a political subject with the sovereignty to freely and democratically decide on its own political future.

The Catalan Parliament will approve its own law on referendum votes

If the Spanish Congress finally closes this door, the Catalan parties defending the right to self-determination will use the new Catalan law on referendums as the legal framework in which to call a referendum. This new law is currently being debated in the Catalan Parliament and is expected to be approved in March. The Catalan Statute of Autonomy, which was approved by the Spanish Congress and the Catalan people through a binding referendum in 2006, allows the Catalan Government to call referendums, once the corresponding law is approved.