Puigdemont: ‘We will hold the referendum’

  • 'We won’t leave the negotiating table without an agreement and we will wait until the last minute', the president said

22.05.2017 - 23:00
Actualització: 23.05.2017 - 16:26

Catalonia will celebrate an independence referendum no matter what happens. This is the message that Catalan President, Carles Puigdemont, Vice President, Oriol Junqueras, and Foreign Affairs Minister, Raül Romeva, defended during their conference in Madrid on Monday. “We won’t leave the negotiating table without an agreement and we will wait until the last minute” to achieve one, promised Puigdemont, urging the Spanish government to engage in discussions. “I invite you to address this issue seriously and meaningfully,” the Catalan President asked his Spanish counterpart, Mariano Rajoy, adding that it would be “irresponsible” not to offer a “serious, real, and sincere” solution to the Catalans’ demands. Puigdemont also warned that his government “will never” give up the Catalans’ democratic right to self-determination. Vice President Oriol Junqueras also stressed that the referendum will take place even if the members of government face “prosecution, are banned from office or are convicted”.

The conference ‘A Referendum for Catalonia: an Invitation to a Democratic Agreement’, by Puigdemont, Junqueras and Romeva was held at Madrid’s City Hall. During his speech, the Catalan President reminded the audience that the initial plan was to hold the conference in the Spanish Senate Chamber but “unfortunately” its Bureau “did not consider it appropriate”. “You can ask to use the Senate for all kind of activities, even private ones, but it turns out the Catalan Government cannot use it to explain what is happening and what it is proposing,” he complained.

Puigdemont addressed the last-minute invitation by the Spanish government to discuss his referendum proposal in the Spanish Congress. “Inviting us to Congress only as an international excuse to hide the Spanish government’s lack of political will is a mistake,” said the Catalan President, pointing out that he will only present his initiative to Congress if the Catalans and Spaniards previously reach a political agreement on the terms and conditions of the referendum. Puigdemont said that going to Congress without a prior agreement with the Spanish government would mean to “retrace the steps” followed by the Basque Lehendakari (President) back in 2005 or by a group of Catalan MPs in 2014, both of whom saw their petitions to hold referendums overwhelmingly rejected.

“It would be a failure, and a totally futile one,” he said. The political parties in Spain would only be willing to vote favorably on holding a referendum if there is a prior agreement, he suggested. Without one, he added, the Spanish government would be just using the chamber to reject the proposal and not engage in serious discussions about it.

In that sense, Puigdemont reminded the audience that back in the seventies, after Franco died, the Spanish government “acted responsibly” and reinstated Josep Tarradellas, who was then in exile, as President of the Generalitat of Catalunya, the Catalan Government. “There was no Constitution back then, there were no laws contemplating the legitimacy of the Republican institutions but they recognized the demand of the Catalan people,” he explained, urging Rajoy to now do the same.

According to Puigdemont, Spain needs to show a “sincere willingness” to find a solution to the Catalan challenge and realize that procedural issues should not be allowed to be “a problem nor an excuse” for doing so. “Is there a political will to address the Catalan demands?” he asked the Spanish government. The Catalan President said that he and his government will try to achieve an agreement up until “the last minute” but won’t give up the right of the Catalan people to hold a referendum.

“We will hold the referendum,” promised Puigdemont, adding that after the vote, even if it is celebrated without an agreement, Catalans will again reach out to the Spanish government with a “new proposal for dialogue and negotiation”. “But this time, the objective won’t be to hold a referendum, but to implement its results,” he warned.

Nothing will stop the Catalans

In his speech, the Catalan Vice President, Oriol Junqueras, said that the referendum will happen even if the members of government face “prosecution, are banned from office or are convicted”. Junqueras, leader of the Republican Left Party, said that the “commitment” and the “willingness” of the Catalan Government to hold a referendum “surpasses” any potential threats coming from the Spanish government or the judiciary.

The Catalan Vice President said that without the right to vote, “democracy loses its meaning” and pointed out that the Catalans supporting a ‘yes’ vote and those in favor of ‘no’ share a commitment to “a more important thing”, namely this “right to vote” about their future. Junqueras also asked the Spanish government to “respect the results” of the referendum, as Catalonia has always done with decisions taken by the Spanish people in the polls. “We have always done so, even when the results were not what we would have hoped for,” he said.

The Catalan Vice President argued from Madrid that “the best way to have a relationship of equals” between Spaniards and Catalans is through “freedom”. Junqueras said Catalan society is “open-minded” and faces the future with the aim to shape it using “the best tools at its disposal” and with the willingness to take responsibilities. “We like responsibilities so much that we want to have all the responsibilities,” he said, in a clear pro-independence statement.

Civic proposal

Foreign Affairs Minister, Raül Romeva, started his remarks by denouncing that the Catalan issue is “deliberately being blurred”. Romeva appealed to the Spanish government to listen and respond to the Catalans’ petition of a referendum and in this way overcome the “walls” that the “antiquated” state institutions suppose. He said that the Catalan government’s reaching out for dialogue is a “triple opportunity”: for Catalonia, for the Spanish state, and for Europe as a whole. He confirmed that they have the opportunity to be “a model on a continental level” if they listen to this request and he concluded by saying: “Accept the invitation. Don’t do it for Catalonia, but do it for Spain and as an investment for the future”.

The Catalan Foreign Affairs Minister, Raül Romeva, defended that the government’s proposal of a referendum is not an extremist way of seeing things based on “some against others”. “Catalonia is not against anyone,” he claimed. And he added that it is up to everyone to decide how the relationship should be between them and about how to deal with their “differences”.

The minister explained that what is being proposed is a “civic, peaceful” proposal “and with an obvious desire for dialogue” and he said that it is this will which brought them to Madrid this Monday, a city which he qualified as “cosmopolitan and open”. He complained, though, that these values of the Spanish capital collide “against the walls of the antiquated state institutions which are controlled by vested interests” and he assured that the state is being “questioned” in its essence and that it is “fragile” in its conception. The Catalan minister recognized that it is “powerful”  and he accused the state for “refusing to listen or talk about reaching an agreement”.

On the other hand, Romeva defended the links Catalonia has with the rest of the Spanish state, links, he assured, they do not want to lose upon the constitution of a Catalan state. And he affirmed that the only interest Catalans have is “to build bridges by means of new meeting points and reestablishing the relationship on the basis of full mutual recognition”. To do so, he said to the Spanish government, “tradition, inertia and convenience will not work as an excuse”.

European context

Romeva contextualized the Catalan process in a general movement within Europe, assuring that there is a general demand for “more and better democracy” and in which different European peoples are deciding how to reconfigure their coexistence and articulate a common project based on their “respective sovereignties”. The minister asked the Spanish government to look at the Catalan issue “from a European point of view” and he claimed that this reconfiguration of Europe should be done based on freedom “and not by imposition”. Looking toward the past, Romeva verified that the European map has often been the result of different historical “avatars” and he said that what the Catalan government is planning is that “it will definitely be the popular will” who decides now.

Romeva also rejected the arguments about Catalonia wanting to isolate itself, he assured that these arguments are false and that the country has always been characterized by its connections with Europe and with the rest of the Mediterranean. “What we propose is to freely find ourselves again without impositions in the context of a Europe that accept each one’s identity and that knows how to generate a new European identity coming from the will of living together,” he said.

In this way, he has asked the Spanish state to act “differently” from how they have acted over the past three centuries and to “break with the logics of disagreements” in order to “compare themselves” with Europe. He also confirmed that way the equation is resolved between the citizens’ democratic aspirations and their necessity of strengthening the synergies between people “can mark Europe’s future”. “We have the opportunity of being a model at a continental level, an opportunity we should not lose”, he requested.


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