5 referendum roads or 2 alternatives: ways out of independence debate, says expert group

Catalan government advisory panel believes deal with Spain could prompt Constitutional Court to accept vote

The first meeting of the expert panel that advises the Catalan government in its plans to put forward a Quebec-style Clarity Act
The first meeting of the expert panel that advises the Catalan government in its plans to put forward a Quebec-style Clarity Act / Sílvia Jardí
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Catalan News | @catalannews | Barcelona

October 12, 2023 12:31 PM

October 13, 2023 11:58 AM

The Catalan government's advisory panel on the independence debate has come up with five kinds of referendum options – all of which would be in agreement with Spain – and two other alternatives in order to find a way out of the long-lasting demands to tackle the territorial issue that ended in a constitutional crisis six years ago.

In April, Catalan President Pere Aragonès launched a Quebec-style Clarity Act committee, after having proposed last September a similar solution as the one found for the French-speaking area in Canada two decades ago.

According to Aragonès, this could be a useful tool to negotiate an independence referendum with Spain.

Experts believe that if a deal on a vote is reached between Madrid and Barcelona, the Constitutional Court could accept it – in 2017, it had ruled that such a vote was beyond the legal framework.

A referendum in five different shapes

Here’s a breakdown of the five referendum options experts consider:

The first one would include a vote, to be held only in Catalonia, asking whether its Parliament should initiate a constitutional reform that could end in independence or in a new deal to continue in Spain.

The second pathway would involve a vote - again, only to be held in Catalonia - on a previous agreement with Spain on independence or on a new deal to continue in Spain, which could be carried out by reforming the Statute of Autonomy, Catalonia's regional constitution. In the 2000s, the Spanish Constitutional Court attempted to strip a significant part of this reform, resulting in a surge of independence sentiment.

Experts propose, as a third option, to call a vote across Spain on whether to allow a referendum in Catalonia on independence or on a new deal to stay in Spain. The experts, led by professor Marc Sanjaume, warn that a disparity of results in Catalonia and in the rest of regions could lead to a “clash of democratic wills,” which could prove difficult to solve.

The fourth possibility of a referendum would be one held across Spain to seek approval on a previously deal struck between Catalonia and the government in Madrid on independence or on a new deal to stay in Spain – that is, similar to the third option, but with Spaniards being asked at the end of the negotiations rather than at the beginning.

Finally, the fifth road would include two simultaneous referendums: one in Catalonia and another one in the rest of Spain, potentially with different questions on the kind of deal that should be struck. However, as in the third option, academics warn of a potential disparity between Spaniards and Catalans.

Two alternatives to a referendum

A way out of the crisis could also be sought with mechanisms beyond referendums.

One of them would be a political deal between Catalonia’s and Spain’s governments and parliaments, with political parties playing a leading role.

The other one would involve holding a Catalan election which is clearly seen as a sort of referendum by all sides. An election seen as a plebiscite was held in September 2015, but only by independence supporters, and the outcome was a 47.5% share for those who aimed for a split. They managed to form a government led by Carles Puigdemont, which ended in the 2017 referendum, unauthorized by Spain.