Catalonia starts key week in run-up to referendum

Crucial legislation expected to be passed in Parliament on Wednesday

The Catalan parliament (by Pere Francesch)
The Catalan parliament (by Pere Francesch) / Guifré Jordan

ACN | Barcelona

September 4, 2017 04:43 PM

Political debate is heating up in Catalonia this week. All members of the executive will sign the decree calling the October 1 referendum, thereby collectively assuming all responsibility for a vote that the Spanish government describes as illegal.

Parties in favor of the referendum argue that it is the democratic right of the Catalan people to hold the vote, as 80% of citizens are in favor of doing so, according to polls. There is also an overall majority (72 MPs, 48% of the votes) in favor of independence in the chamber, with some 83 members supporting the right to hold a referendum –although some reject doing so unilaterally, without Spain's agreement.

The Spanish government, led by President Mariano Rajoy, has flat out refused to engage in negotiations to discuss a 2014 Scottish-style referendum, arguing that it is not possible under the Constitution. The Catalan government says that it will not give up the organization of the vote, which it considers a political issue rather than a legal one. While a date has already been set for the referendum, October 1, Barcelona says it is open to talks up "until the last minute".

A crucial week

The referendum is expected to be called this week, when crucial legislation to smooth the way to a vote is likely to be passed in Parliament. The chamber sits on Wednesday and Thursday. Meanwhile, the Spanish Constitutional Court, which Madrid is likely to call on to suspend all moves towards the referendum, is also sitting this week.

The Catalan government spokesman and cabinet minister, Jordi Turull, said in an interview that the Spanish executive is politicizing the judiciary to stop the vote. Turull added that pro-independence parties will decide "between today and tomorrow" how to table the referendum legislation.

The law is expected to gain support from the pro-independence parties, Together for Yes (JxSí) and CUP, while some left-wing MPs from the Catalan branch of the Podemos party have declared that they will not reject it –although they might not support it either. That would give them an overall majority.

Opposition parties such the People's Party (PP), the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) and the liberal Ciutadans (C's) directly reject the law, considering it a 'coup' against the Spanish Constitution, and they may even leave the chamber as the vote takes place. 

All political parties and the Spanish government are on high alert for a week in which the Catalan executive spokesman has already admitted will offer some "news". The Spanish government says that it will react "wisely" to the calling of the referendum, but among its options is suspending from office politicians such as Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, some of his ministers or the Parliament president, Carme Forcadell.

Pro-indy parties warned on Monday that there is no provision under Spanish law framing the organization of a referendum "as a crime" and added that Madrid will have to "suspend a lot of people" if it really wants to stop the referendum from going ahead. Puigdemont also said that he will not step down if he is suspended for organizing a vote, as he argues that only Parliament can withdraw confidence from a head of the Catalan government.