Catalonia would go for early elections if November's independence vote cannot have "enough democratic guarantees"
The President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas, stated that his "full commitment" is to make sure that Catalans can vote on the 9th of November self-determination consultation "with full democratic guarantees". In his opening speech at the Catalan Parliament’s main annual debate, Mas emphasised that his will is to make use of his entire term in office, which ends in November 2016, but only "if it is possible". He hinted that early elections could be called if November's vote could not be carried out with "enough democratic guarantees". In addition, Mas stressed the Government's "unequivocal commitment" to eradicate corruption. He also underlined that the Catalan economy is starting to recover from the economic crisis, leading Spain's recovery. However, he warned of the weak situation of public finances and of Catalonia's self-government because of Madrid's recentralisation and unilateral actions.
Barcelona (ACN).- The President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas, stated that his "full commitment" is to make sure that Catalan citizens can vote on the next 9th of November's self-determination consultation "with full democratic guarantees". On Monday, in his opening speech at the Catalan Parliament’s main annual debate, called the Debate on General Policy, Mas emphasised that his will is to make use of his entire term in office, which ends in November 2016, but he immediately added "if it is possible". Mas linked the term's continuity to November's vote and the possibility to carrying it out with "enough democratic guarantees". Therefore, he hinted that early elections could be called if such guarantees are not met and all Catalan citizens cannot vote in a free and democratic way on their own common future. Mas insisted on the "electoral mandate" from the last Catalan elections of November 2012, when 80% of the elected Parliament were parties supporting the organisation of a legal self-determination vote. In addition, Mas stressed the Government "unequivocal commitment" to eradicate corruption and increase transparency. He also underlined that the Catalan economy is starting to recover from the economic crisis, leading Spain's recovery. However, he warned of the weak situation of public finances and of Catalonia's self-government because of Madrid's recentralisation and unilateral actions, not honouring existing laws and commitments. Opposition parties will formerly reply to Mas' speech on Tuesday. However, political groups made a first assessment, in which the parties most opposed to the self-determination vote criticised the speech in extremely strong terms. The most left-wing parties were also highly critical of the budget cuts to public services made by Mas' cabinets during the last few years and for talking about "economic recovery" when so many people are unemployed or have been evicted from their homes.
This Monday was the first day of the General Policy Debate, which opens each September, Catalonia's political year after the summer parliamentary break. On the first day, the President of the Catalan Government addresses the Parliament of Catalonia and presents the main initiatives and plans for the year to come as well as makes an overall assessment of the current situation and the previous year's governmental activities. On following day, each parliamentary group makes its own speech and engages in a short discussion with the President. On the third day, the Catalan Parliament votes on a series of specific bills and resolutions discussed during the debate.
This Monday, the Catalan President gave his opening speech. He talked for nearly 1h and 20 min, outlining plans and governmental actions in many different areas, such as employment, healthcare, education, culture, agriculture or justice. He devoted the first 55 min to cover all topics except self-determination in order to counter-balance the image of a government only concerned with the independence vote given by some opposition parties.
Catalonia is recovering from the economic crisis
In this first part, Mas stressed that Catalonia is leading Spain's economic recovery, creating half of all the jobs generated in Spain during the last year, even though Catalan society only represents 19% of the Spain's total economy and 16% of its population. This was Mas' first message: Catalonia is recovering from the economic crisis. In this part he mentioned a long list of figures, plans and actions to back his argument. For instance he praised the 30% increase of vocational training placements, reaching European average of 40% for the first time. He also praised the good results of Catalonia's local commerce and retail model, which is being questioned by Spanish authorities, "by those who have a worse model", said the Catalan President.
Spanish Government recentralises powers and reduces funds
Mas also criticised the Spanish Government's recentralisation actions and its plan to trim Catalonia's self-government and reduce its funds. He insisted that the Catalan Executive has reached its absolute limit after having reduced public spending by 20%, representing a €4 billion drop since 2011. Further budget cuts cannot take place without seriously damaging public services, he said. Mas accused the Spanish Government of keeping the Catalan Executive under-budgeted and not honouring laws and legal commitments by not paying recognised debts. Furthermore, he pointed out that the Spanish Prime Minister is refusing to review the Autonomous Communities' funding scheme, even though the current one has legally expired and there is a strong demand for adopting a new one.
Increased efforts to improve transparency and fight corruption
Furthermore, he emphasized his government’s efforts to increase transparency, pointing out that Catalonia is now leading Spain's transparency rankings while 2 years ago it was in the 10th position. In addition, Mas insisted on the importance of fighting corruption. This part was particularly relevant since the former Catalan President Jordi Pujol confessed in late July that his family had been hiding a fortune in tax havens for 34 years without informing the tax authorities. The news shocked the whole of Catalan society, since Pujol had led the Catalan Government for 23 years (1980-2003) and talked continuously about honest hard work and how the Spanish Government should grant Catalonia greater resources and tools for self-government. On top of this, Pujol was the founder of Mas' party (CDC) and electoral coalition (CiU), as well as his "political father", as the current Catalan President recognised in July. Also on Monday, the Pujol’s oldest son testified before the judge for alleged tax offenses.
Self-determination vote comes from an electoral mandate
After having talked about economic recovery, government plans, public finances and transparency for almost an hour, Mas started to talk about Catalonia's self-determination process. At first he insisted on the importance of creating "state structures" such as a well-equipped tax authority in order to guarantee Catalonia's self-government. Then he stressed his "full commitment" with November's self-determination vote. Mas referred directly to the "mandate" issued from the last Catalan elections, which took place in November 2012. Back then 80% of the newly elected Parliament was backing Catalonia's right to self-determination and the organisation of a legal vote on such an issue. Those elections become in fact a plebiscite on self-determination. In this vein, Mas underlined that next November's vote "is not answering to the obsession of a few but it is answering to the will of many expressed through the ballot boxes".
A vote that needs "enough democratic guarantees"
However, the vote has to take place "with enough democratic guarantees", stated Mas. If this was not possible because of the Spanish authorities' obstacles, then Mas could call for early elections, although he did not say it so openly. The Catalan President said that he would like to make use of the entire term in office, which ends in 2016. However, he stressed that this "does not only depend on him". He asserted that all his efforts are focused on November's vote, but that such a process has to be carried out with "full democratic guarantees" in order to receive international recognition. Therefore, "if it is possible", he will make use of the entire term in office and not call for early elections, linking the term's future to November's vote.
The last five minutes of the speech were for repeating his main messages, ending his speech with the fight against corruption as one of his main priorities.