“Every nation seeks a friendly State”, states Catalan Minister in a self-determination debate at Geneva University
The University of Geneva hosted on Friday a debate on the future of Catalonia and the question of self-determination, in the first activity of the Public Diplomacy Council of Catalonia (Diplocat) in Switzerland. The event, organised by the Global Studies Institute of the University of Geneva in collaboration with the Swiss daily newspaper 'Le Temps', was attended by more than 150 people, who actively participated in the debate. Guest speakers included Francesc Homs, Catalan Minister for the Presidency Office and Spokesperson for the Government of Catalonia, Mercè Barceló, Chair of Constitutional Law at the Universitat Autònoma of Barcelona (UAB), and the Director of the Global Studies Institute, Nicolas Levrat.
Geneva (ACN).- The University of Geneva hosted on Friday the first activity of the Public Diplomacy Council of Catalonia (Diplocat) in Switzerland: a debate entitled "Quel avenir pour la Catalogne? L’autodétermination en question" (What is the future of Catalonia? The question of self-determination). The event was organised by the Global Studies Institute (University of Geneva) in collaboration with the Swiss daily newspaper 'Le Temps'. More than 150 people attended the round table and participated actively in the debate. Guest speakers included Francesc Homs, Catalan Minister for the Presidency Office and Spokesperson for the Government of Catalonia, Mercè Barceló, Chair of Constitutional Law at the Universitat Autònoma of Barcelona (UAB), and the Director of the Global Studies Institute, Nicolas Levrat. Francesc Homs stressed that the self-determination vote would be entirely peaceful and democratic, while Mercè Barceló saw Catalonia's right of self-determination as perfectly compatible with the Spanish Constitution. In addition, Nicolas Levrat did note that it would not be easy for Catalonia to leave the EU and that the principle of territorial integrity refers to interstate relations.The conference ended with a Q&A session moderated by Luis Lema, journalist at 'Le Temps'.
The debate was part of a series of conferences about self-determination organised by the Public Diplomacy Council of Catalonia in collaboration with renowned universities all over Europe. The Diplocat is a soft diplomacy organisation backed by the Catalan Government, the four Provincial Councils, universities, chambers of commerce, the main business-owner associations, trade unions, FC Barcelona and other public and private institutions from Catalonia. After the success of the first conference at Sciences Po in Paris in June 2013, the Diplocat organised further conferences in London, Seville, Uppsala, Toulouse, Lisbon, Utrecht, Santiago de Compostela and Oslo.
Geneva's conference was opened by Nicolas Levrat together with Albert Royo, Secretary General of the Public Diplomacy Council of Catalonia. Royo thanked the University of Geneva for hosting the conference and stressed that “recent opinion polls show 55% of Catalonia’s citizens would vote in favour of independence and 25% against”. However, he added that it is more important to note that “80% want to express their opinion by casting a ballot, a lot more than those who want independence”. He continued by asking “how is it possible that the Spanish Parliament does not take into account the will of 1.4 million signatures, or the fact that 80% of Catalans request to hold a referendum?” According to Royo, “what is at stake here is nothing less than democracy, the quality of democracy”.
The first speech at the debate was made by Catalan Minister and Government Spokesperson Francesc Homs, who asserted that Catalonia is facing one of the most defining moments in its history on 9 November 2014. This is the date on which a self-determination referendum will be called after an agreement by a majority of the parties seating in the Catalan Parliament, which follows the mandate of the 2012 elections. In those elections, parties supporting self-determination obtained 80% of the parliamentary seats. The first and second most voted parties ran in the election promising to organise such a vote in the current term. Homs also commented on the political events in recent years and the causes of the mentality change among the Catalan population: “Catalonia always tried to adjust to the framework of the Spanish State and in 2006 polls showed that only 14% of Catalans wanted independence. Today it has risen to 45% and it has become a mainstream feeling. The no-to-everything attitude of the Spanish Government causes deception and it is understandable that every nation seeks a friendly State” that takes care of its legitimate interests.
Catalonia's self-determination vote is peaceful and follows an electoral mandate
Francesc Homs recalled that the result of the last election in Catalonia, with 107 out of 135 elected MPs in favour of the referendum, gives a clear mandate to the Catalan Government to call a consultation vote. The result of the recent European elections also points in this direction. This consultation vote, Homs stressed, would be peaceful and democratic: “There are many territorial conflicts around the world but very few are as constructive and peaceful as the Catalan one”. Homs took the example of the United Kingdom and the normality of the Scottish referendum as a contrast to the lack of dialogue and political will of the Spanish Government. The Catalan Minister finished with an optimistic message and showed his conviction that an independent Catalonia will have a much better and efficient relationship with Spain than the current one.
Catalonia's "right of self-determination is perfectly compatible with the Constitution"
Mercè Barceló, Chair of Constitutional Law at the UAB, then took over the debate, analysing the right of self-determination in the context of the current Spanish constitutional system. She highlighted that “any political or social project is compatible with the Spanish Constitution –even those that contradict the very Constitution- as long as it does not violate democratic principles or fundamental rights. And, therefore, the right of self-determination is perfectly compatible with the Constitution”. She added that the Constitutional Court of Spain adopted a sentence in this same spirit on 25 March 2014. According to Barceló, the Constitution is not an impediment to the fact that the citizens of Catalonia may vote on building a new European state; “the impediment is of a political kind and, probably, based on a lack of democratic culture.”
The principle of territorial integrity merely applies to interstate relations
The Director of the Global Studies Institute, Nicolas Levrat, in turn referred to the legal bases of the independence process according to United Nations and EU law. He observed that there are a great number of small states that resulted from declarations of independence. He also highlighted that the principle of territorial integrity – which could be brought up against the independence of Catalonia – merely applies to interstate relations. For Levrat it is obvious that the Catalan question is not only an internal matter of Spain's, but a European question, not least because the continuity of an independent Catalonia within the EU is uncertain. In light of this, he noted that “leaving the EU is not as easy! The Catalans already are European citizens with full rights and, if they were to leave the EU, this would have to be negotiated. It will not be easy for Spain to use its right of veto”.