Constitutional Court bans Catalan Law on Consultation Votes and call for original independence vote
Spain’s Constitutional Court has ruled against the Catalan Parliament’s Law on Consultation Votes, approved in September, and the President of the Catalan Government’s Decree calling for a consultation vote on independence on 9 November last. The Constitutional Court had already temporarily suspended both legal measures in October, but it still was yet to issue its definitive verdict. After the temporary suspension, the Catalan Government promoted an alternative and symbolic vote on independence run by 40,000 volunteers, also on 9 November, in which 2.35 million people participated despite the Spanish authorities’ full opposition and even threats. The Catalan President, Artur Mas, stated that the Constitutional Court’s final decision “leaves 27 September [early elections] as the only way to consult the Catalan people” about their collective future. Meanwhile, the Spanish PM, Mariano Rajoy, highlighted that the Court’s decision “has been adopted unanimously” and that “governments have to honour laws”.
Barcelona (ACN).- Spain’s Constitutional Court has ruled against the main articles of the Catalan Parliament’s Law on Consultation Votes, approved in September, and the President of the Catalan Government’s Decree calling for a consultation vote on independence on 9 November last. The decision has been taken unanimously, after weeks of internal debates among the 12 members of the Madrid-based body, which is controlled at the moment by a conservative majority of members appointed by the People’s Party (currently running the Spanish Government). The Constitutional Court had already temporarily suspended both Catalonia’s legal measures on 29 September, but it still was yet to issue its definitive verdict. After the temporary suspension, the Catalan Government promoted an alternative and symbolic vote on independence run by 40,000 volunteers, which also took place on 9 November. 2.35 million people participated in the vote despite the Spanish authorities’ full opposition and even threats.
After being made aware of this Wednesday’s judgment, the Catalan President, Artur Mas, stated that the Constitutional Court’s final decision “leaves 27 September [early elections] as the only way to consult the Catalan people” about their collective future. On this day, citizens will be called to vote a new Catalan Parliament and pro-independence parties will transform these elections into a ‘de facto’ referendum on independence from Spain. Meanwhile, the Spanish PM, Mariano Rajoy, highlighted that the Court’s decision “has been adopted unanimously” and that “governments have to honour laws”.
During the past two-and-a-half years, Rajoy has rejected out of hand any talk about Catalonia’s self-determination and how to modify the current legal framework to allow a mutually-agreed vote, similar to the one held in Scotland in September last. Catalan parliamentary elections took place in November 2012 and 80% of the new chamber had promised to support a legal referendum on independence, but Rajoy decided to ignore this democratic mandate.
A Court dominated by Spanish nationalist and conservative judges
Five days before the initial temporary suspension was due to expire, the Spanish Constitutional Court has once again shut the door on Catalonia’s right to self-determination. The Court, whose members are appointed by the majority in the Spanish Parliament, is currently dominated by a conservative and Spanish nationalist majority. Indicative of this, the Court’s official website no longer has versions in Catalan, Galician and Basque (co-official languages for more than 40% of Spain’s population) and instead only has versions in “Spanish”, English and French. However, according to the Constitution, Spain’s official language is “Castilian”, not “Spanish”, which is how this language is known in the rest of the world. In fact, the Constitution states that Catalan, Basque, Galician and Castilian are all “Spanish languages”. In the last few years, official bodies in Spain have gradually starting to use the term “Spanish” to refer to Castilian, coinciding with the rise of Spanish nationalism.
The 12 members of the Court have unanimously approved the judgments prepared by the conservative member Pedro González –Trevijano, who ruled on the Catalan Law on Consultation Votes, and the liberal Juan Antonio Xiol, who analysed the Decree calling the Consultation Vote on independence on 9 November. In the last weeks, internal debates have been taking place among the Court members to reach a consensus on these important judgments. In the end, they agreed on issuing the verdict on the same day and in a co-ordinated way. In fact, this Wednesday’s plenary session only lasted 45 minutes, since the preparatory work had already been done and the definitive agreement had been reached in advance.
A decision issued on the same day of the most important parliamentary debate
The Court’s meeting was called extraordinarily by its President, Francisco Pérez de los Cobos (famous for his anti-Catalan statements in the past), since no plenary session had been scheduled for this week. The meeting and final decision coincides in time with the Spanish Parliament’s annual Debate on the State of the Union and has given the Spanish Prime Minister fresh arguments to oppose Catalonia’s self-determination and any talks on this issue. However, the Court had already modified its schedule to accept the Spanish Government’s appeal against these two measures, by calling an urgent plenary session that took place just 5 hours after the appeal was filed and when no session had been scheduled for that week. Normally, the Court takes weeks to accept an appeal. On top of this, the Court met on a Monday for the first time in the 37 years of democratic rule. Such an irregular meeting followed the irregular meeting of Spain’s State Council (the Spanish Government’s main advisory body) which had met the day before, meaning it had met on a Sunday for the first time in its history, in order to allow Rajoy to file the appeal on Monday morning.
Banning the main parts but keeping the rest
The Court has suspended two precepts of Article 3 of the Catalan Law and the entire Decree. This way, the Court aims not to invalidate the entire bill, which is in line with Catalonia’s Statute of Autonomy, approved by the Spanish Parliament and the Catalan people through a binding referendum in 2006 and later on trimmed by the Constitutional Court in 2010, after an extremely controversial process with open political manoeuvres to change the body’s majority, mostly made by the People’s Party (PP).
The Court stated that consultation votes that take place in the whole of Catalonia on “general” issues are in fact a referendum, and therefore they should have the explicit and previous authorisation of the Spanish Government, as stated in the Constitution. However, Catalan representatives were arguing that such consultation votes are not binding and they can ask Catalan citizens about their opinion about more general topics in order to better guide the policies and actions of Catalonia’s public institutions.
On top of this, the Court also argued that consultation votes organised by the Catalan Government cannot go beyond the powers it exclusively manages. Therefore, Catalans could never be asked whether they want to modify such powers, as it is a decision to be taken by Spanish authorities. According to the Court, such a vote would go against the Constitution. Regarding a vote on independence, the Court stressed that “national sovereignty” belongs to the Spanish people as a whole and therefore Catalans cannot unilaterally decide on this issue. Therefore, the Constitutional Court, the majority of the members of which have been appointed by the same party that runs the Spanish Government, validates the Spanish Government’s approach. Despite ruling against the main elements of the law and the Decree, the Court recognises the Catalan Government’s right to unilaterally call consultation votes on sector issues, if they affect their powers only.
The Court bans two legal measures with great support in Catalonia
The Constitutional Court has suspended the core of the Law on Consultation Votes, which was approved with 80% support in the Catalan Parliament on 19 September 2014. The law was approved with the votes of the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC), which is part of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE). Paradoxically, the PSOE backed the Spanish Government's appeal against this law, since it strongly fights Catalonia's right to self-determination.
The Court has also banned the Decree calling the 9th of November consultation vote on Catalonia's political future. This decree was the result of a wide pact of two-thirds of the Catalan Parliament, reached in December 2013 between 6 political parties, ranging from the Christian-Democrats to the Alternative Left, through the Liberals to the Greens, and from the Social-Democrats to the post-Communists. The agreement was reached after a clear majority of Catalans, in the highest turnout in years, voted for parties supporting Catalonia's right to self-determination and the organisation of a "legal" self-determination vote in the elections held in November 2012. The Spanish Government ignored this democratic mandate and refused to sit and talk about it, unilaterally imposing a ‘no to everything’ attitude.
Spanish authorities ignore the fact that Spain is formed of "nationalities and regions", according to the Constitution
The full recognition of Catalonia's nationhood is at the core of the current political problem. The 1978 Spanish Constitution partially recognises it when it states in Article 2 that Spain is formed of "nationalities and regions". This formula was a compromise during the transition to democracy with the forces of Franco's Spanish nationalist and military dictatorship in order not to derail the process and to partially recognise Catalonia's nationhood status. In order to balance this, the military imposed the inclusion of the "indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation" expression. Catalans massively voted for the Constitution with the implicit promise that, once democracy was consolidated in Spain, Catalonia's nationhood would finally be fully recognised. However, the opposite has happened, reaching a no-turning point in 2010 with the Constitutional Court's verdict, in a highly manipulated process.
In 2010, an entirely politicised Constitutional Court issued a verdict that completely modified the main aspects of Catalonia's main law, which had been approved by the Catalan people through a binding referendum. In addition, it also reinterpreted the Spanish Constitution by highlighting "the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation" and by stating that Catalonia was not a nation, eliminating the pluri-national nature of Spain. The daily consequences of this are not fully respecting Catalan language and culture, reducing Catalonia’s self-rule and not recognising Catalan citizens’ right to decide their own collective future.