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Catalonia’s Parliament back to work early as excitement mounts for referendum

What can we expect as we approach the October 1 referendum on independence?



16 August 2017 08:59 AM


Guifré Jordan | Barcelona

Catalonia’s Parliament returns from its summer recess on August 16 in what may turn out to be the most unpredictable and unusual term in the country’s recent history. Even the opening day of Parliamentary sessions this Wednesday will be different from the previous 37 years: never had the summer holidays finished so early for the chamber. The reason for the whole exceptional situation is that the Catalan government is determined to celebrate a referendum on independence on October 1 despite Madrid’s steadfast opposition. At least one thing is certain: it’s going to be exciting.

Why has the summer break been shortened?

In a quest to provide the independence vote with a legal framework, the pro-independence parties brought the referendum law to the Parliament registry right before the summer break. They also passed a regulation in order to approve the law in only one day, as a way to avoid a potential Spanish Constitutional Court veto during the proceedings. However, the Constitutional Court made sure to suspend the regulation before going on holiday on July 31. It also warned the Parliament Bureau members that if they allow the referendum law to be discussed in a plenary session, they could well face criminal charges.

Bureau members are expected to postpone the discussion on the referendum law on Wednesday, but they will have to face the issueit in the coming days. Either they will go ahead with the lawmakers’ bill or the government will have to offer some equivalent text and the Bureau will allow it to be debated in plenary session. But if the referendum is to be held, it will be inevitable for the Catalan Parliament to somehow pass the referendum law despite maneuvering by the Spanish government and Constitutional Court.  

When could the referendum law be passed?

Two plenary sessions are planned in the Catalan Parliament before the October 1 vote: one starting on September 6 and the other on September 20. If there are no extraordinary sessions called, the most reasonable date would be the former –t,he first week of September– as the latter would not leave enough time. One option is for the Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, to officially call the referendum on the very same day that the Parliament passes the referendum law. In that case, an unpredictable political and juridical clash between Catalonia and Spain will be set in motion that very same day.

Pro-independence civil campaigners, ready for major demonstrations

September 11 is Catalonia’s National Day and the day that a massive pro-independence demonstration is expected to take place for thea sixth year in a row. The organizers say that around 50,000 people have already registered to take part in the march, 40% more than by this time last year. Depending on how harshly Spain reacts to the the official calling of the referendum before September 11, the protest could exceed even already high expectations. Some major civil pro-independence entities claim that they are even ready for a “permanent demonstration”.

Electoral campaign amid political and juridical clash

If everything goes as Puigdemont’s cabinet plans, the referendum campaign should start on September 15 and the logistical details should be disclosed by then. A system for Catalans living abroad to vote by mail should also be up and running by mid-September. Nevertheless, Spain is not expected to sit back and do nothing, so the precise succession of events is far from clear or predictable.

Puigdemont and Rajoy plan travel abroad in the run-up to the vote

In the meantime, international events might play a role: the Catalan president is traveling to Denmark on an official visit on August 30-31, while his Spanish counterpart, Mariano Rajoy, is expected to travel to the United States for the General Assembly of the United Nations around September 22. Some Spanish newspapers have published that he will attempt to meet the US president, Donald Trump, during the week before the referendum.

October 1: possible scenarios

Whether Catalans will vote on October 1 remains an unanswered question. Some scenarios foresee the referendum taking place and the government or Parliament declaring independence after a Yes win, or calling snap elections if No prevails, but another possibility is that Spain succeeds in stopping the vote. This might push the Catalan Government to call fresh elections but before that the Parliament could even declare the country’s independence. We’ll be able to start answering some of these questions after Wednesday with the opening of the new parliamentary session.