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Referendum law makes it to Parliament

Decisive day for Catalonia and Spain over the vote on independence underway


06 September 2017 10:21 AM


ACN | Barcelona

Crucial day in the long-expected clash of wills between Catalonia and Spain over the referendum on independence. The Catalan Parliament Bureau admitted the independence referendum law for debate Wednesday morning. The decision is raising the whole political temperature in Catalonia and Spain to unseen levels.

Discussion over agenda's alteration 

Ruling coalition Junts pel Sí asked for the plenary's agenda to be altered at 10.15am (CET) in order to fast-track passage of the bill and final vote. All the opposition parties took part in a debate immediately afterwards to discuss whether to accept the modification. The far-left pro-independence CUP supported voting on the referendum bill. “We have found no other way to carry out the will of this country,” said CUP spokesperson, Anna Gabriel. “We have found a State, a judiciary system and a majority in the Spanish parliament who think that beyond the indissoluble unity of Spain there is no life, and thus, no rights,” she said.

Opposition parties oppose referendum bill discussion and vote

The other groups’ representatives rejected fast-track passage of the bill. The main opposition party, Ciudadanos, ironically compared Wednesday's plenary session with the Catalan National Theater. “This Parliament can discuss anything, but within the law and democracy,” said spokesperson, Carlos Carrizosa.

The Socialists also rejected the proposal. “In democracy, in order for a law to be legal, it has to follow all the proceedings,” said Ferran Pedret. The Catalan branch of the Spanish ruling People’s Party expressed the same view. “It does not fulfill the minimum requirements to be discussed in this plenary,” said lawmaker Santi Rodríguez.


  • "We have found no other way to carry out the will of this country"

    Anna Gabriel · CUP party spokesperson

The far-left coalition Catalunya Sí que es Pot (CSQP), including the Catalan branch of Podemos, do not share a unanimous opinion on the issue. Its spokesperson, Joan Coscubiela, said that “the fact of being a majority [in the chamber] does not allow you to violate the rights of the minority”. Some of the CSQP MPs, however, did not applaud his speech.

The session is now in recess because its Bureau is reconsidering whether to admit the independence referendum law for debate.

Tension running high

Feelings are running high: the Catalan Parliament president, Carme Forcadell, announced that she is recusing Constitutional Court magistrates "for their lack of impartiality and to guarantee her right to defense." She is being prosecuted for allowing a debate on the roadmap towards independence last year and she is likely to face more charges from the Spanish judiciary after today's session for allowing the referendum law to be put to a vote in the chamber.

Here is a Q&A about what to expect in today's Catalan Parliament plenary session:

What is happening?

The pro-independence parties have written a referendum law but have strategically hidden it from view in order to avoid a Spanish ban during the parliamentary proceedings, and therefore be able to approve the legislation. Time until the October 1 referendum is running short and today is the day legislators have chosen to pass the law. Pro-independence parties have already asked the Catalan Parliament Bureau this morning to admit the referendum law for debate. And the Bureau has accepted it.

Is it legal to pass this bill?

The aim of those in favor of a Catalan state is to fast-track passage of the bill. Article 81.3 of the chamber's regulation states that "the plenary's order of the day can be altered at the request of the president, or two parliamentary groups… If new business is to be included, it will have to have fulfilled all the reglementary proceedings, unless an absolute majority agrees on the contrary."

The spokeswoman of governing coalition Together for Yes (JxSÍ), Marta Rovira, officially asked that the plenary's agenda be modified to include the referendum law. Anna Gabriel, as spokeswoman from the CUP, also asked to modify the agenda. 

The pro-independence forces have the absolute majority, and some MPs from a far-left coalition including Podemos are also considering supporting the bill. A second alternative is for the government to pass a decree-law with the same content.

The pro-Spanish union parties (People’s Party, liberal Ciudadanos and Catalan Socialists) will try to keep the law from being voted on, but it is not clear whether they can manage to do so.

If the bill is passed, what's next?

“The day they sign [the bill into law], democracy will act with all its strength,” said the Spanish vice president, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría. The government in Madrid might hold an extraordinary meeting just after the Parliament in Barcelona passes the bill.

The Spanish Constitutional Court holds a plenary session from today until Thursday, so it will be available to promptly solve any appeal coming from Rajoy’s cabinet.

All members of the Catalan executive are expected to sign the decree officially calling the vote the very same day. Their aim is to do so before the law is overturned. Everything will happen in a matter of hours. What is certain is that Spain will ban both the law and the decree, either before being passed or signed, or just afterwards.

What if the referendum goes ahead despite a likely ban?

How the events will unfold after Spain bans the referendum law and decree is unknown territory. Puigdemont has repeatedly said that the vote will take place regardless of Spain’s reaction. Thus, all the logistics and details (including the list of voters, the polling stations, the Electoral Board members and the draw to appoint polling supervisors) should be revealed. The Catalan government has not yet disclosed if it will change any of its plans after the likely ban. Also unknown is how far Rajoy and the Constitutional Court are willing to go to prevent polling stations from opening on October 1. 

“My obligation is to respect the law or make the law be respected. We, the People’s Party, will preserve Spain’s unity and will guarantee respect for the Constitution,” said the Spanish president, Mariano Rajoy, on Monday. “A coup can never be carried out with ballot boxes. On the contrary, it would be a coup d’état to ban them,” retorted his Catalan counterpart, Carles Puigdemont, some hours later. Wednesday is set to be an intense day in Catalan politics, yet how the events will unfold is not entirely clear.


  • The plenary chamber in Catalonia on Wednesday (by ACN)

  • The Catalan Parliament Bureau, meeting on Wednesday (by ACN)

  • The plenary chamber in Catalonia on Wednesday (by ACN)
  • The Catalan Parliament Bureau, meeting on Wednesday (by ACN)