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Milestones in Catalonia's self-determination before 2012 massive pro-independence demonstration

On Sunday, Catalans are being called to give their opinion about independence in a participatory process, organised by the Catalan Government in cooperation with more than 40,000 volunteers and many town halls, which replaces the original consultation vote also scheduled for the 9th of November. The Spanish Government appealed against the first vote, the Constitutional Court suspended it, the Catalan Government launched an alternative process and the Spanish Government filed a new appeal, accepted by the Constitutional Court. However, this time the non-binding participatory has been maintained with a wide consensus among Catalan institutions a wide representation from the civil society. These are the three last steps of an intense self-determination process, which started with the approval and trimming of the Catalan Statute of Autonomy and was shaped by four massive demonstrations and a series of "no" and threats by the Spanish authorities. Here is a summary of the main milestones of this process before the massive pro-independence demonstration of 2012.

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08 November 2014 09:03 PM

by

ACN / Gaspar Pericay Coll

Barcelona (ACN).- On Sunday, Catalans are being called to give their opinion about independence from Spain in a participatory process, organised by the Catalan Government in cooperation with more than 40,000 volunteers and many town halls, which replaces the original consultation vote also scheduled for the 9th of November. The Spanish Government appealed against the first vote, the Constitutional Court suspended it, the Catalan Government launched an alternative process and the Spanish Government filed a new appeal, accepted by the Constitutional Court. However, this time the non-binding participatory has been maintained with a wide consensus among Catalan institutions, most of the existing town halls, a two third majority of the Catalan Parliament and a wide representation from the civil society. These are the three last steps of an intense self-determination process, which started with the approval and trimming of the Catalan Statute of Autonomy and was shaped by four massive demonstrations and a series of "no" and threats by the Spanish authorities. Here is a summary of the main milestones of this process before the massive pro-independence demonstration of 2012; a process that has its roots in Madrid's recentralisation policies and the rise of Spanish nationalism in early 2000.


The reasons for the increase of the support to independence in Catalonia over the last few years are manifold and they follow a chronology. However, it could all be summed up by the concepts of "respect" and "trust". A majority of Catalan citizens have shifted in their attitudes and no longer trust the Spanish State institutions, as they think these institutions do not fully respect Catalan language, culture, national identity, self-government and economic interests. In fact, many Catalans think that the Spanish State does not work for them and does not protect their interests. On the contrary, they are convinced it even works against them. However, this feeling has somehow been massively shared by a wide majority of Catalans for at centuries.

Catalanism had been trying to modernise Spain for the last 150 years

For the last century-and-a-half the majority of the political movement defending Catalan culture and economic interests, known as Catalanism, believed they could change Spain, modernise it and make it work to defend Catalonia's interests. In fact, Catalanism has been one of the main modernising drives in Spain for the last 150 years, including in the last few decades; the two republics, the modernisation of the economy, the fight against Franco, the democratic transition, the EU membership, access to the Euro and the first austerity measures in the current crisis were all pushed by Catalanism and they might have not been successful without it. The big difference now is that a majority of Catalans no longer trust the Spanish project and no longer believe that Catalonia will ultimately find a comfortable accommodation within Spain.

Now, the majority of Catalanism has given up on trying to change Spain

In the last few years, after many failed attempts in democracy and within the peaceful framework of the European Union – which rules out a military repression, the majority of Catalanism forces have given up in trying changing Spain. They have reached the conclusion that a majority of Spain does not want to be changed and will never recognise Catalonia's nationhood, will never fully respect Catalan language, will continue to constantly invade Catalan jurisdiction and will continue to refuse to address Catalonia's large fiscal deficit (which represents some 8.5% of its annual GDP). These issues are all heavy and tedious weights for the Catalan society and economy, as it is extremely tiring effort consuming and trying to always have to ask the Spanish institutions to respect financial agreements, self-rule and cultural diversity.

Therefore, if the Spanish State does not work for the Catalan interests and even goes against them, instead of continuing to allocate great efforts in changing Spain, which tends to bring deep collective frustration and is a never-ending story, it is better to pool efforts in creating Catalonia's own state, think a majority of Catalans. In this vein, they have disconnected themselves from the Spanish State and its institutions, which they do not consider their own any longer, and they are working on building their own new State.

The Spanish Government's attitude during the last few years has confirmed the reasons to change

The Spanish Government's actions over the last few years – recentralising powers, downplaying Catalonia's fiscal deficit, asphyxiating Catalan public services, attacking the Catalan language, embracing Spanish nationalism, etc. – and the lack of empathy in the other parts of Spain and by the main opposition parties have just confirmed the path taken by the majority of Catalanism towards independence.

The economic crisis has also spurred the phenomenon, as Catalonia's fiscal deficit is much more painful when each euro coin counts, when the Spanish Government does not invest in essential infrastructure for local and multinational companies in Catalonia but continues to spend money in building high-speed train lines to rural zones in the rest of Spain with money from Catalan taxpayers, when public services in Catalonia – which have been infra-budgeted for decades – have to go through draconian budget-cuts while in poorer parts of Spain austerity measures are lighter and citizens are offered better public services and even tax discounts. The economic crisis made Catalonia's perpetual fiscal deficit unbearable. In addition, the high unemployment rates, the thousands of house evictions, the increase of poverty levels and the many corruption scandals have made citizens realise that a great political change is needed and have awoken a citizen consciousness in many people to get further involved in politics and with their community.

The controversial approval of Catalonia's Statute of Autonomy, the last attempt to change Spain

16th November, 2003. Catalan elections in which almost all parties promised to reform the Statute of Autonomy, which is Catalonia's main law immediately after the Constitution.

Parties representing 89% of the Catalan Parliament launched the reform of a new Statute of Autonomy to increase self-government, following the promises made during the campaign and the mandate resulting from the elections. The electoral promises were made after years of recentralisation policies during the conservative governments of the People's Party (PP) led by José María Aznar (particularly after the year 2000) and the rise of Spanish nationalism once again, which brings extremely bad memories to Catalans.Furthermore, the previous Statute of Autonomy from 1979 was not fully developed because of the Spanish Government's blocking attitude and the Constitutional Pact from 1978 was not fully respected since Catalonia's specificity and nationhood status were not fully recognised at Spanish level. A coalition of three left-wing parties started to run the Catalan Government in December 2003, including pro-independence party (ERC), which had 17% of the Catalan Parliament seats (in 1999 it had 9%). With this new Statute, the ERC was temporarily putting its objective to get Catalonia's independence aside, prioritising the increase of autonomy levels within Spain.

30th September, 2005. The Catalan Parliament approves the proposal to reform the Statute of Autonomy.

The proposal for new Statute of Autonomy was approved by 120 MPs of the 135-seat Catalan chamber, getting the support of all groups except the People's Party (PP), which was already led by Mariano Rajoy. Following the Constitutional provisions, the text was sent to the Spanish Parliament for its approval. The proposal was defining Catalonia as "a nation", in line with Article 2 of the 1978 Constitution, which says that Spain is formed of "nationalities and regions". This formula was a concession made during the Constitution's negotiations with the old Franco regime and the military, implicitly suggesting that, once democracy would had been consolidated in Spain, Catalonia's nationhood would be fully recognised. The contrary happened. Moreover, the new Statute fixed a new funding scheme for the Catalan Government, which collected all taxes. In addition, Catalonia was devolved judicial powers, Catalan language was better protected and the Catalan Government would have a bilateral relationship with the Spanish authorities. This was Catalonia's proposal for a better accommodation within a Spain that would increase its decentralisation and fully recognise its plurality and diversity as a nation of nations.

2nd November, 2005. Catalan representatives present the proposal for a new Statute of Autonomy to the Spanish Parliament, with great controversy from Spanish nationalists.

On the same day, the PP took the Catalan draft to the Constitutional Court since they wanted to reject the entire proposal. On top of this, the PP started a campaign to get signatures throughout Spain against Catalonia's Statute of Autonomy. Mariano Rajoy actively participated in the initiative, which obtained more than 4 million signatures. Such a campaign was extremely controversial since many PP volunteers were asking for signatures "against Catalonia". Later on, Rajoy acknowledged it had been a mistake and the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) referred to it a "Catalonophobia". The campaign was combined with a commercial boycott of Catalan products throughout Spain, such as Cava wine sales, which dropped by 7% in 2005.

10th May, 2006. The Spanish Senate approves the definitive version of Catalonia's Statute of Autonomy, which had been previously approved by the Spanish Parliament.

During several months, the Spanish Parliament's Constitutional Commission debated about the Catalan Parliament's proposal and substantially modified it, significantly reducing self-government provisions and not defining Catalonia as "a nation" any longer but "as a national reality that the Catalan Parliament agreed to call nation", a definition that was also only included in the text's preamble, without legal validity. In fact, essential elements of the text were totally modified.As the parliamentary Commission's President, Alfonso Guerra (PSOE), stated: "we have whittled it down like a carpenter ". In addition, the Spanish Prime Minister José Luís Rodríguez Zapatero did not honour his electoral promise "to support the text that the Catalan Parliament approves", despite Catalans having massively voted for him in 2004 and being the key to his victory, as he got a 15-MP difference over the PP.

18th June, 2006. The Statute of Autonomy is finally approved through a binding referendum ofthe Catalan people.

The last step in the new law's approval was its ratification by the Catalan people. After the important reduction of self-government and not fully recognising Catalonia as a nation, pro-independence parties campaigned against the text or for abstention. In addition, many citizens were very disappointed and tired with the controversial approval process. At the end, the Statute received 73.9% support and 20.8% no votes, with a low 49.4% turnout.

9thAugust, 2006. The new Statute enters into force and the PP takes it to the Constitutional Court.

The People's Party filed an appeal against Catalonia's Statute of Autonomy on the 31st of July, 2006, challenging 113 of the 221 articles, including the most important ones. In addition, 5 regional governments, all run by the PP, filed 5 other appeals against the Catalan text. Finally, the Spanish Ombudsman – which had been appointed by the PP in 2000 – also filed a seventh appeal. Despite the appeals, the Statute got into force on the 9th August, 2006. On top of this, some articles of the Catalan Statute were literally copied by other Autonomous Communities in the reform of their own Statute; the PP did not appeal those articles, despite there being identical to others from Catalonia's Statute it had appealed against.

Spanish State's loss of legitimacy and first reactions of the civil society independence movements

1st November, 2006. Catalan elections, after which a second three-party left-wing coalition is formed with the same parties.

Parties demanding greater self-government powers obtained an 87.5% support, including the pro-independence party ERC, which got 15.6% of the seats. The Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) – which is part of the PSOE, the ERC and the Catalan green socialist and post-communist coalition ICV-EUiA again formed a government coalition, despite the centre-right CiU having won the elections. They started to develop the provisions foreseen in the new Statute of Autonomy.

5th February, 2007. The Constitutional Court accepts the PP's request to exclude 1of its 12 members from the debate on Catalonia's Statute of Autonomy.

A series of political and dark manoeuvres started to modify the Constitutional Court's composition, which was initially offering a tiny majority to the so-called progressive sector. However, the PP got a first member of the Court excluded from the debate and verdict on Catalonia's Statute of Autonomy, shifting the majority towards the conservative sector. There was a series of attempts to exclude other Court members by the PP, PSOE and the Catalan Government, with the acquiescence of the Constitutional Court, which lasted until 2010.

November, 2007. The 9-year terms of 4 Constitutional Court members expire, but they will not be replaced until December 2010 because the PP and PSOE cannot agree on new candidates.

The 12 Court members are elected for a non-renewable mandate of 9 years. 4 of the 12 members should have ended their term in office in November 2007. The PSOE and the PP were not able to agree on any candidate to renew the Constitutional Court, as the Right-Wing PP did not accept any other candidates but the ones proposed by them, making any negotiation impossible. The situation lasted until December 2010, once the Court had already decided on Catalonia's Statute of Autonomy. The situation became even worse when one of the Court members died in 2008. The attempts to exclude members in order to modify majorities, the failure to renew the Court (not respecting the Constitutional provision) and the egos of Court members making statements on the Statute of Autonomy eliminated most of the institution's legitimacy as an unbiased interpreter of the Constitution.

December, 2007. Electricity and short-distance train infrastructure crisis.

In the summer of 2007, there were several electricity black-outs in the Catalan provinces of Girona (where the Costa Brava is located) and Barcelona due to the poor maintenance of the network and a lack of investment by Red Eléctrica and Endesa, both companies partially owned by the Spanish Government. These power blackouts coincided in time with daily problems in the short-distance train network of Greater Barcelona, which was entirely managed by the Spanish Government at the time through several public companies. The short-distance train problems continued during autumn and the first winter weeks, with almost daily incidents also due to the poor maintenance of the network and a lack of investment. This happened while Madrid's short-distance train network, which serves a similar amount of people, was receiving millions of euros of investment, new lines were being opened and its extension was double that of Barcelona's. In December 2007, a major demonstration took place, with the banner "we are a nation and we have the right to decide on our infrastructure".

13th September, 2009. First unofficial vote on independence, organised by civil society in the town of Arenys de Munt.

Many pro-independence supporters and people wanting greater self-government for Catalonia started to be deeply disappointed with the political game in the Spanish institutions,in the middle of the Constitutional Court's debate on the Catalan Statute of Autonomy. In addition, the most impatient independence supporters were also critical of the "too-institutional" path taken by the ERC being part of a regional government in its decision toprioritise the Autonomous Community way over independence.

On the 4th June, 2009,Arenys de Munt, a small town governed by pro-independence parties, agreed to support an unofficial independence consultation vote by providing a space to host the polling station. The motion had been filed by the alternative left and radical independence party CUP. On the 3rd of September, a Barcelona court was suspending the Town Hall's support initiative after an appeal by the Spanish Government; a decision ratified on the 9th of September by the same court. The unofficial vote took place four days later in a civil society centre, with demonstrations from the Spanish extreme-right. The turnout was 41.0%, with 96.2% voting "yes" and 2.3% voting "no". This was the first of many unofficial votes, which took place in 5 additional times until 10th April, 2011, when it was held in the city of Barcelona.Some 60% of Catalonia's municipalities hold such informal votes, organised by the civil society.

25th November, 2009. The Catalan press published a shared and unprecedented editorial article on their first-pages.

A total of 12 daily newspapers edited in Catalonia, including the main important ones such as 'La Vanguardia' and 'El Periódico', published on their front-page a shared editorial article in which they asked for a fair decision on the Constitutional appeal on the Statute of Autonomy. This was a totally unprecedented action, which illustrates the importance of the moment and the Constitutional Court's verdict. They were rejecting the political manipulation of the Court, complaining for the 3.5-year delay in issuing a verdict and stressing that the Constitutional Pact from 1978 could be seriously damaged or even broken depending on whether the Court was not recognising Catalonia's nationhood. In addition, they warn about the legitimacy issue of ruling on a text that has been approved 3 years ago by the Catalan people through a binding referendum.

The trimming of the Statute of Autonomy outrages Catalans and damages the Constitutional Pact

28th June, 2010. The Constitutional Court finally issues its verdict on the Statute of Autonomy, with a 4-year delay and manifold political interferences.

The Court decided that 14 articles were unconstitutional and re-interpreted 27 others, totally changing their original meaning in most of the cases. The Court was rejecting the main elements of the new Statute of Autonomy, which had been the main reasons for starting to change it in 2003. In addition, it was particularly tough on the definition of Catalonia's "national reality", stressing that it did not have "any legal validity" and underlining "the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation", which is the "only" nation in Spain. This formula, included in the Constitution, was directly sent by the Franco military through a sealed envelope during the negotiations to draft the main law in 1978, warning that if a single comma was changed there might be a coup. In 2010, with Franco buried 35 years ago, the Constitutional Court was highlighting the formula imposed by the dictatorship military, which makes the recognition of other nations in Spain and the concept of a "nation of nations" impossible. The Court also trimmed the Catalan school model, which had been in place since the early 1980s, the use of Catalan language, the fiscal scheme, the decentralisation of Justice, etc.

10th July, 2010. Barcelona hosts its largest demonstration ever, in which Catalans claim "We are a nation; we have the right to decide".

This demonstration was the massive answer of Catalan society to the verdict of the Constitutional Court against the Catalan Statute of Autonomy. According to the Catalan Police, 1.1 million people demonstrated in downtown Barcelona. The demonstration was an inflection point. It started with a motto demanding to be recognised as a nation and to have the right to self-determination but very soon most of the crowd start to shout pro-independence chants. Even though it had not been organised as a pro-independence demonstration, it could be considered as the first massive pro-independence rally, considering what most of the attendees were shouting.

New political cycle in Catalonia and Spain, with recentralisation and homogenisation policies

28thNovember, 2010. Catalan elections won by the centre-right pro-Catalan State coalition CiU.

After 7 years of left-wing cabinets in Catalonia, the CiU – formed by a Liberal and a Christian-Democrat party – win the Catalan Parliament elections with 62 seats, while the absolute majority is at 68 MPs. Two of the main electoral promises were, firstly, to grant the people of Catalonia "the right to decide" on their own collective future as a nation, a euphemism for the right to self-determination. Secondly, they promised to obtain a fiscal agreement for Catalonia from the Spanish Government, similar to that of the Basque Country and Navarra. However, in the middle of the economic crisis, the new cabinet prioritised the control of public deficit and the reform of the public sector, starting to implement budget cuts and other austerity measures. However, in the rest of Spain, the other Autonomous Community governments and the Spanish Government were not undertaking such drastic budget cuts and reforms.

30thJune, 2011. First official poll on independence.

For the first time, the Centre of Opinion Studies (CEO), run by the Catalan Government, issued a poll that directly asked about independence from Spain. According to that poll, 42.9% of Catalans would vote yes, 28.2% would vote "no" and  23.3% would abstain in a hypothetical referendum on the issue.

20th November, 2011. Spanish General Elections won by the People's Party (PP).

After 7 years of a Socialist cabinet running the Spanish Government, the conservative and Spanish nationalist PP wins the General Elections and obtains an absolute majority at the Spanish Parliament. It wins practically all over Spain, with the exception of Catalonia and the Basque Country. In the first months in government, the PP issued a series of reforms to face the economic crisis that recentralise powers. However, such reforms are issued without any negotiation – using its absolute majority – and going against the decentralisation logics of the last 3 decades in Spain and particularly going against Catalonia's self-rule. Furthermore, it imposed strict austerity measures to the Autonomous Community governments and increased the control on its financial resources and decisions, including Catalonia. Furthermore, it used such measures to reduce the real autonomy of the Catalan Government and to increase the recentralisation of powers. This is in addition to the trimming of the Statute of Autonomy in June 2010. Finally, the PP insisted on attacking the Catalan language and culture, as it has been doing since the debate of the new Statute of Autonomy in 2003. This is perceived in Catalonia not only as a provocation but also as a serious threat to the Catalan language, culture and identity, and as a total lack of respect.

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  • People demanding independence from Spain in the rally against the Constitutional Court's verdict on the Catalan Statute of Autonomy, in July 2010 (by ACN / Maysun)

  • People demanding independence from Spain in the rally against the Constitutional Court's verdict on the Catalan Statute of Autonomy, in July 2010 (by ACN / Maysun)