Catalan President is waiting to call independence vote to weaken Spanish Government's veto strategy

The President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas, is using his legal prerogatives to control the political tempo regarding the call of the 9th of November's self-determination consultation vote and therefore the Spanish Government's immediate appeal against it. As if it were a chess play, Mas' tactic seems to follow a strategy based on gathering as much institutional support as possible throughout Catalonia and on disturbing the Spanish Government's already-prepared veto actions. After an 80% of the Catalan Parliament approved on Friday the Law on Consultation Votes (the legal tool to call the independence vote), everybody anticipated that Mas would enter it into force early this week and that he would immediately call the aforementioned vote. However, the Catalan President is using the legal procedures to make the calendar suit his best interests.

The President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas, chairing the weekly Cabinet Meeting (by J. Bataller)
The President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas, chairing the weekly Cabinet Meeting (by J. Bataller) / ACN


September 23, 2014 08:55 PM

Barcelona (ACN).- The President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas, is using his legal prerogatives to control the political tempo regarding the call of the 9th of November's self-determination consultation vote and therefore the Spanish Government's immediate appeal against it, which has in fact been ready for the last two weeks. As if it were a chess play, Mas is deliberately not speeding up the legal steps to call the vote, in a tactic movement that would seem to follow a dual strategy: on the one hand he would gather as much institutional support as possible from municipalities throughout Catalonia and, on the other hand, he would disturb the Spanish Government's already-prepared veto actions. After an 80% of the Catalan Parliament approved on Friday the Law on Consultation Votes, which will be the legal base to call November's independence vote, everybody anticipated that the Catalan Government would publish the new Law on Catalonia's Official Journal (DOGC) on Monday – a step that would enter it into force. Consequently, the Catalan President would immediately sign the decree calling the aforementioned vote and at the same time the Spanish Government's would fire its legal torpedoes against the new law and the decree. Once the Constitutional Court had accepted the Spanish Executive's appeals, both the law and the decree would have been temporarily suspended and therefore the 9th of November's consultation vote would have been banned by Madrid. However, the Catalan President's delay might slightly modify the anticipated script. Besides, the Spokesperson for the Catalan Government and Minister for the Presidency, Francesc Homs, insisted once again that the only plan is to work on the 9th of November's consultation vote and not on early elections, which could not take place on that day.

The Catalan Government is using the legal provisions to make the calendar work suit its best interests. Legally speaking, the Catalan President has 15 days, after the Parliament's approval of the new law, to ratify it and publish it on the DOGC. This is the crucial step that would accelerate all the events, since the Spanish Government is waiting for the law to officially enter into force before it can take it to the Constitutional Court in order to temporarily suspend it and stop the 9th of November's vote from happening. However, it seems that Mas is using the legal prerogative to control the political tempo of these days trying to make the most out of this extra time.

Waiting to gather institutional support in Catalonia

Waiting a few days to sign the decree has some advantages for the Catalan Government. On the one hand, most of the municipalities and local governments are approving or will approve motions supporting November's self-determination vote this week. On Monday almost 350 of the 947 Catalan municipalities approved such a motion, including the city of Barcelona, Catalonia's capital. Almost 700 municipalities are expected to have approved such a measure before the end of the week. In addition, Lleida's Provincial Council also approved such a text and the three other provincial councils that exist in Catalonia (Barcelona, Girona and Tarragona) might do so in the next few days. On top of this, the 41 counties into which Catalonia is divided are also planning to explicitly support such a consultation vote. Last week, the Catalan Parliament already approved by a two-third majority a resolution supporting the 9th of November's vote "with all the possible democratic and participation guarantees".

Therefore, the Catalan President's call would be explicitly backed by the Catalan Executive, the Catalan Parliament, 75% of Catalonia's town halls and almost all its supra-municipal bodies, which means it would be explicitly backed by almost all Catalan public representation bodies. In fact, in December 2013, a wide share of the Catalan Parliament reached an agreement on the exact question wording and date for such a vote, after having waited the Spanish Government to sit and talk on the issue for a year. In the November 2012 elections, 80% of the elected Catalan Parliament promised during the campaign the organisation of a legal self-determination vote. Therefore, the call also obeys to a clear electoral mandate, as it happened in Scotland in the 2011 elections. Besides, the call is also backed by a large share of the civil society through the National Alliance on Self-determination, which brings together some 3,000 NGOs, trade unions, employer association, chambers of commerce, political parties, etc. This extremely wide support stresses the idea that such a call is not the project of a single man or a single government, but a demand shared by a great majority of the Catalan society.

Waiting might weaken Rajoy's profile and avoid the Constitutional Court's current plenary

In addition, waiting a few days would oblige the Spanish authorities' to change their prepared schedule to ban the vote and would put the Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, in a difficult position. Firstly, Rajoy will travel to China this Tuesday evening, from where he is expected to return on Saturday. If the Catalan law and the decree were entering into force while the Spanish PM was on China, Rajoy would have three options: an early return, approving the appeals from there or waiting until next week to react. An early return would increase the international echo of Madrid's ban on Catalonia's democratic will to vote on its collective future, and risk making the Spanish Government look as if it were over-reacting. Furthermore, it might offend Chinese authorities, who have a veto vote at the United Nations Security Council, an essential body to recognise an independent Catalonia. Approving the appeals from China or waiting until next week might send the message that the appeals are not important enough and therefore that Catalonia's agenda is not important enough. This might put Rajoy in a difficult situation in front of the most extreme factions of Spanish nationalism, who are asking for stronger actions against Catalonia's demands.

Secondly, waiting for a few days might also, affect the Constitutional Court's calendar to decide on whether or not it accepts the Spanish Government's appeals. If the Court were to accept them, this would represent the automatic suspension of the legal measures that have been appealed against: the Law on Consultation Votes and the Catalan President's decree calling the vote on the 9th of November. The Court's plenary is meeting this week, from this Tuesday until Thursday (25th of September). Then, the next plenary is scheduled on the 7th of October. The Court decides whether or not to accept an appeal in a plenary session. However, extraordinary plenary sessions can also take place earlier than the already-scheduled ones. Therefore, the Court could call an extraordinary plenary exclusively to decide on Catalonia's issues later this week or early next week, but the Catalan Government would have already won a few extra hours or days. The suspension would be temporary, for a maximum of 5 months, in which the Court would have to decide whether it keeps the suspension to further analyse the appeals or it lifts it up. The temporary suspension might put the decree and the law on standby until February 2015. However, the Court could also make a decision earlier and lift the suspension of one or both measures sometime in October.

Waiting gains extra time to prepare November's vote

Finally, the Catalan Government would use this extra time, having the law being entered into force, to issue specific regulations to develop this legal tool. For instance, the specific rules regarding the voter register might be issued, the institutional campaign for informing citizens about November's vote could be launched (with the corresponding budget allocation), the Electoral Commission could be formed and the lottery of the 48,000 citizens who would be at the polling stations could take place. The advantage of delaying the expected ban from the Spanish authorities is that all these actions could be adopted without any debate about whether they are legal or not. However, in case the Consultation Vote Law and the decree are temporarily suspended, all these actions could also take place within the legal framework using a previous decision of the Constitutional Court from 2001, when it authorised the regional Government of Castilla-la-Mancha to carry on developing regulations of a law temporarily suspended, in order not to affect its future implementation if it were finally declared Constitutional. The Catalan Government could argue that, if the Constitutional Court decided in late-October to lift the suspension, it would already be too late to make all the necessary arrangements for the 9th of November vote, therefore damaging a fully democratic decision.

A consultation vote to prepare Constitutional change is fully Constitutional

In addition, the Catalan Government can also argue that the 9th of November's vote is fully constitutional since it aims to collect the opinions of Catalan citizens with a view to proposing a Constitutional change, which is a procedure that the Catalan Government can launch according to the Constitution. In fact, the Constitutional Court already stressed in April that Catalans have "the right to decide" on Constitutional arrangements and it urged political powers to talk and launch initiatives, explicitly mentioning the reform of the Constitution. The Catalan Executive's argument would be that, before launching such an initiative, it needs to know the opinion of citizens about how they would like Catalonia's accommodation within Spain to be. Such opinions would be known through a non-binding consultation vote, which is what the 9th of November's step is.

The Catalan Government rules out early election for the 9th of November

The Catalan Minister for the Presidency, Francesc Homs, confirmed on Tuesday that it is already too late to call early elections for the 9th of November according to the Spanish legislation. Therefore, the only way to have Catalans voting on that day is through the consultation vote. In this vein, he insisted once again that the Government is only working on the preparations for the 9th of November's consultation vote. The early elections have been a hypothesis that has been debated in Catalonia over the last few months as an alternative to the consultation vote.