Catalans to have ‘de facto’ referendum on independence via early elections on 27 September
The President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas, has announced early elections to be held on the 27th of September this year, which will become a ‘de facto’ referendum on independence from Spain. Before then, the Catalan Government and Parliament will continue to develop some basic state structures, such as Catalonia’s own tax administration and Social Security system. The governing centre-right pro-Catalan State coalition CiU and the opposition left-wing pro-independence party ERC have now “rebuilt” their parliamentary stability pact for the current term after weeks of public disagreements and confusion over the next steps of the self-determination process. After a long meeting on Wednesday evening between Mas, the ERC’s President Oriol Junqueras and representatives from the main civil society organisations supporting independence, they have also agreed on running separately but sharing the same road map to build an independent state from the day after the elections, if a majority of Catalans vote for this option.
Barcelona (ACN).- The President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas, has announced early elections to be held on the 27th of September this year which will become a ‘de facto’ referendum on independence from Spain. Before then, the Catalan Government and Parliament will continue to develop some basic state structures, such as Catalonia’s own tax administration and Social Security system. The governing centre-right pro-Catalan State coalition CiU and the opposition left-wing pro-independence party ERC have now “rebuilt” their parliamentary stability pact for the current term after weeks of public disagreements and confusion over the next steps of the self-determination process. After a long meeting on Wednesday evening between Mas, the ERC’s President Oriol Junqueras and representatives from the main civil society organisations supporting independence (ANC, Òmnium Cultural and AMI), they have agreed on calling early elections after the summer and running separately but sharing the same road map to build an independent state from the day after the elections, if a majority of Catalans vote for this option. These elections come after more than 2 years of total opposition by the Spanish authorities to the self-determination demands shared by a majority of the Catalan population (according to all the opinion polls, the results of the last Catalan elections - held in November 2012 - and the massive pro-independence demonstrations of the last 3 years).
On Wednesday evening, the President of the Catalan Government announced that he would call early elections “in 2015” in order to allow Catalan citizens to have their say and “culminate” the self-determination process. The elections were due to be held in late 2016, but the Catalan President decided to call them early due to the intense debate on self-determination that has been going on in Catalonia during the past two and a half years, and the impossibility of holding a vote on this issue which is agreed to by the Spanish Government.
After the symbolic and non-binding vote on independence held on 9 November, which was run by volunteers and in which 2.35 million people participated despite numerous obstacles and veiled threats from the Spanish authorities, Mas had already identified early elections as the only way left to give citizens the opportunity to have their say on this issue through a free, democratic and binding vote. However, Mas, parts of his own his own coalition (CiU), and the ERC, disagreed on the next steps to take after the 9 November and whether to call early elections. During the last two months, the parties supporting the self-determination process have been expressing their disagreements in public, irritating and frustrating many pro-independence supporters. The Catalan President recognised during his speech the “confusion” generated and the negative effect of these quarrels, and he apologised for his part in them. “The no-agreement” had been “a failure”, acknowledged Mas, since “with a permanent situation of confrontation, the Catalan political process’ days were numbered”.
The “unity agreement” has been “rebuilt”
On Wednesday, “the consensus atmosphere” that “had been broken during the last few weeks” has been “rebuilt”, emphasised Mas. In a solemn way, the Catalan President announced that the “unity agreement” among the main parties and civil society organisations backing the self-determination process “had been rebuilt”. This “guarantees the continuity of the political process of national transition” and “will lead this political process of national transition to victory”, said Mas. “We want to do it; we want to do it in a right way; and, if there is a majority of society in favour, we want to win”, stated the Catalan President.
“We have reached an agreement to call the Catalan population to the polling stations in 2015”, announced Mas. He explained that they reached the agreement to call early elections “just after the summer”. However, “the exact date” has been Mas’ personal decision, since as Catalan President he is the only person with the power to set such a date. Elections will be held on 27 September, 2015, which is “exactly a year after” Mas signed the decree calling the consultation vote that was initially scheduled for 9 November, 2014, banned by the Spanish authorities and replaced by the symbolic vote that took place instead. In addition, the first day of electoral campaing would be Catalonia’s National Day, 11 September, the day on which massive pro-independence demonstrations took place in 2012, 2013 and 2014. By organising the Catalan Parliament elections on 27 September, Mas makes sure they are far enough from the Municipal Elections to be held in May and the Spanish Elections to be held in November or December.
Further negotiations on running with a shared road map regarding independence
In addition, they have agreed on running separately, as the ERC wanted, but sharing the same road map regarding independence. This means that the CiU and the ERC will continue to negotiate to reach an agreement on this road map, which is already “quite” developed, said Mas. These talks currently involve and will in the future involve further parties and civil society organisations, in order to get the largest and clearest possible agreement. The objective is to reach a consensus among a large part of parties on the steps to be carried out if pro-independence parties win the 27 September elections.
They have also agreed “to develop and culminate the state structures” that were already identified in the parliamentary stability agreement, said Mas, with Catalonia’s own tax administration (which is already being developed) and a Catalan Social Security system being the most important ones. The objective is “to be ready” if Catalans vote for independence in September. This means approving “all the laws and internal regulations” that are needed to develop such basic structures in the coming months. The Catalan President placed a particular emphasis on this aspect. He also explained that the Catalan Parliament will be dissolved in early August to formally call elections, and therefore everything must be approved before this time.
In addition, Mas stressed that there are “important bills” that are currently being debated in the Catalan Parliament and that must be approved in order to better foster the economic recovery, assist people in need that are suffering the effects of the economic crisis and to be ready for such early elections. He identified some of them, such as the Law on Vocational Training, the Law on the Catalan Public Employment Service’s Reform and the law to simplify the administrative processes businesses have to develop. He particularly mentioned the law on the electoral administration, since Catalonia does not yet have its own electoral law. The merits of such a law have been debated in the Parliament for years but there is no consensus among the parties. Now they should at least reach a consensus regarding the electoral authorities.
Catalan Government’s budget for 2015 is likely to be approved
In addition, the CiU and the ERC have agreed to another round of negotiations on the Catalan Government’s budget for 2015, which should be approved by early February by the Catalan Parliament. The ERC had stated they would not support the budget’s figures if they were to remain as an Autonomous Community of Spain. However, the ERC’s President, Oriol Junqueras, stated after Mas’ press conference, that they would work for the approval of this year’s budget if it guaranteed money to build state structures. In addition, Junqueras admitted that such state structures will only be able to be culminated with Catalonia’s independence, as in the current legal framework they cannot be fully deployed. Mas and Junqueras have agreed that experts recommended by the ERC will also participate in deploying such state structures.
The CiU and the ERC also agreed on prioritising the social and education agenda. In this vein, they will further implement a series of actions included in the Catalan Government’s plan against poverty. They will also place a special emphasis on fighting child poverty and energy poverty (families who cannot afford to pay their household energy bills during winter). In addition, in September 2015, Catalonia’s primary and secondary schools will not follow the Spanish Government’s Education Reform that goes against Catalonia’s Education Law, which was approved in 2006 with an extremely broad consensus. Since Catalonia has exclusive powers over education, the CiU and ERC have agreed on actively disobeying this recentralisation of powers and cultural homogenisation attempt, as the Spanish Reform attacks Catalonia’s self-rule and the Catalan language.
Junqueras claims independence to build “a socially fairer country”
While addressing the media, Junqueras welcomed the agreement, as it is “the only way” early elections could be called and Catalans could vote on their collective future. “Now that we have a day, we have to win”, he said; “and we will make sure we win”, he added. These elections will be “the definitive” referendum on independence from Spain, he said. Junqueras explained that independence is needed to build “a socially fairer country”, “to guarantee equal opportunities”, and “to build a clean country”. From now on, “we need to explain why we want independence”, and “what are going to be the costs and the benefits”, he concluded.