Mas: “We had a clear electoral mandate and the message was we had to work together”
Artur Mas, the leader of the Centre-Right Catalan Nationalist Coalition (CiU), and Oriol Junqueras, President of the Left-Wing Catalan Independence Party (ERC), have signed the parliamentary stability agreement, which includes the call for a self-determination vote by citizens and the modification of taxation in order to increase revenue. Mas will be re-elected President of the Catalan Government and the ERC will not sit in the Executive but will offer parliamentary support on the agreed issues. The CiU and the ERC are asking for other parties to add their support to the self-determination vote. In addition, they have stated that the taxes created with the sole aim of collecting more money will be temporary. Despite the electoral mandate, the Spanish Government totally opposes the referendum and is threatening the Catalan Executive with economic asphyxia.
Barcelona (ACN).- On Wednesday morning, Artur Mas, the leader of the Centre-Right Catalan Nationalist Coalition (CiU), and Oriol Junqueras, President of the Left-Wing Catalan Independence Party (ERC), signed the parliamentary stability agreement in the Catalan Parliament. The pact includes the call for a self-determination vote by citizens in 2014 – if both parties do not agree to postpone it – and the modification of taxation to increase revenue by €1 billion in order to reduce the Catalan Government’s deficit. Following the agreement, Mas will be re-elected President of the Catalan Government this week and the ERC will offer its parliamentary support on the agreed issues throughout the legislative term although it will not sit in the Cabinet. During the signing ceremony, Mas and Junqueras asked the Catalan Green Socialist and Communist Coalition (ICV-EUiA) and the radical left-wing and independence party CUP to add their support to organising the self-determination vote (not to the fiscal measures), since they also included this promise in their electoral programme. In addition, the CiU and the ERC have stated that the taxes created with the sole aim of collecting more money in order to meet the severe deficit targets will be temporary. Mas stated that with this pact they are following “a clear mandate” from the elections. “The message [from the elections] was we had to work together”, referring to the CiU-ERC agreement, as Catalonia’s two largest parties. “We aim to put Catalonia’s future in the hands of the citizens of Catalonia”, emphasised Junqueras.
In the recent Catalan elections, the parties that openly proposed the organisation of an independence referendum within the next four years – even if the Spanish Government were to oppose the vote – obtained 64.4% of the seats and increased their support by 345,000 votes. Furthermore, the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) proposed reforming the Spanish Constitution and, once this was done, celebrating “a legal” independence referendum. If the PSC is added to the CiU, the ERC, the ICV-EUiA and the CUP, together they represent 79.3% of the seats in the Catalan Parliament. Despite this electoral mandate, the Spanish Government totally opposes the referendum and warns Catalonia that it will use all means possible to stop it. Some Madrid-based and Spanish nationalist media are speculating on dismissing Mas from office, cancelling Catalonia’s autonomy and re-centralising all the powers. In a more pragmatic way, the Spanish Finance Minister threatened the Catalan Government with economic asphyxia, as it announced that it will bring some of the new taxes created to the Constitutional Court and stated it will not assist the Catalan Executive in 2013 if it does not exactly meet the deficit targets. If Catalonia fails to meet the deficit targets, the Spanish Government would have the legal excuse to re-centralise power.
The electoral “message was we had to work together”, stated Mas
“We had a clear mandate, a very clear message. We have understood it and we have put it into practice. And the message was we had to work together”, stated the Acting Catalan President, Artur Mas, at the start of his speech after signing the agreement with Oriol Junqueras between their two parties. Joined by MPs, leaders and historical members from their parties, Mas and Junqueras have celebrated the agreement with a signing ceremony in the Catalan Parliament’s auditorium. Mas underlined that the results from the recent Catalan elections, held on the 25th of November, clearly supported Catalonia’s right to freely decide on its own future, which means organising a self-determination vote. “We aim to put Catalonia’s future in the hands of the citizens of Catalonia”, emphasised Junqueras.
A triple challenge
Artur Mas said that he hoped the legislative term of four years can be fully completed. He also added Catalonia is facing a triple challenge: the economic crisis, the battle against the public deficit and “the greatest national operation in the last three centuries”. Therefore, to face these challenges, “a strong government is needed”, “a government with the required stability to face this difficult and complex period, but also challenging and thrilling”, the Acting Catalan President stated. Oriol Junqueras added that, in order “to build a new country”, a wide social and political consensus is needed. Therefore he asked the other parties, and in particular the ICV-EUiA and the CUP, to add their support to the organisation of a self-determination vote. In addition, Junqueras asked trade unions, business associations, social organisations, cultural associations and the rest of Catalonia’s civil society to participate in the process. “Only if we count on the wide commitment of the citizens, we will achieve the objective”, he underlined. “The obligation of a politician is to help citizens, especially those who are suffering in a severe way the consequences of the economic crisis”, he added, and “for this reason […] we will put the best tools at the Catalans’ service, the tools of a state”, Junqueras concluded.
“Many adversaries, some of them powerful and some that act without scruples”
“Many people have dreamt about this moment, and the moment has come”, proclaimed Mas. However, he also warned them about the “many adversaries, some of them powerful and some that act without scruples” that will try to stop or derail the self-determination process. The Catalan society needs to “show a great capacity of resistance” and “build the great majority the country needs”. I hope many people will help us, because we will need it. Alone, despite the stability pact, we will not have enough strength to face all that is about to come”, concluded Mas.
The Spanish Government threatens the Catalan Executive with economic asphyxia
The Spanish Finance Minister, Cristóbal Montoro, from the People’s Party (PP), stated that his department will take some of the fiscal measures included in the CiU-ERC agreement to the Constitutional Court, starting with the tax on bank deposits. He said his department will read all the details of the agreement “extremely carefully” and they could also take the tax on nuclear energy to the Constitutional Court. In addition, he warned that the access to the Liquidity Fund for the Autonomous Communities (FLA) could be blocked in 2013 for those governments that do not exactly meet the 1.5% deficit target set for 2012. Furthermore, the Spanish Government has imposed a deficit target of 0.7% on the Autonomous Communities in 2013, despite the fact that they are responsible for almost 40% of Spain’s total public spending and they fully manage healthcare, education and social services. Many people in Catalonia are convinced the Spanish Government’s mid-term strategy is to make it very difficult for the Catalan Government to meet the deficit targets and therefore have the argument they should intervene in Catalan institutions and recentralise power. Some Madrid-base media go even further and they are already speculating on dismissing Mas from office and cancelling Catalonia’s autonomy and recentralising all power. This extreme possibility would mean blowing up the Spanish Constitution from 1978, based on democracy and decentralisation, which was created just after Franco’s Fascist dictatorship.
The Spanish Deputy Prime Minister, Soraya Sáez de Santamaría (from the PP), stated that “the vote [proposed by the CiU and the ERC] is not legal” and that “Spanish legislation offers many mechanisms to stop any attempt to break legality”. For Sáez de Santamaría, Mas “is going from one mistake to another” and “with this [agreement] I fear he has not guaranteed him stability”. Furthermore, she added “I think Catalans have been very clear in these elections” and “all the citizens ask us is to work together and use all the mechanisms Spain has to move forward and this [the CiU-ERC agreement] is going in the opposite direction”.
The mandate from the elections: calling for a self-determination vote
During their electoral campaigns the CiU, the ERC, the ICV-EUiA and the CUP were openly proposing the organisation of an independence referendum within the next four years. They also proposed the development of a legal Catalan framework if the Spanish Government was to block the initiative. In the recent elections they obtained 87 MPs, representing 64.4% of the seats in the Catalan Parliament. Last summer, before the elections, the Catalan chamber approved a resolution proposing the organisation of an independence referendum that obtained the support of 84 MPs. Furthermore, for the first time ever, the Catalan Socialists (PSC) included the reform of the Spanish Constitution in its electoral programme, in order to celebrate “a legal referendum”. However, the PSC is refusing to support the organisation of a referendum without this reform and the Spanish Government’s agreement. Therefore, including the PSC, 107 MPs, representing 79.3% of the 135-seat Catalan Parliament, would like Catalan citizens to be authorised to hold a self-determination referendum. The parties completely opposing the organisation of an independence referendum are the People’s Party (PP) and the anti-Catalan-nationalism Ciutadans (C’s), which represent 20.7% of the MPs and have Spanish-nationalist stances.
Looking at the number of votes, the electoral mandate is even clearer. In the recent elections, 504,000 more Catalans voted compared to the previous ones, reaching a record turnout. The recent elections mobilised many pro-Spanish-unity voters that do not usually vote in the Catalan elections, as they are not usually interested. Since the elections were a sort of plebiscite on Catalonia’s self-determination right, they flocked to the polling stations to defend Spain’s unity. As did pro-Catalan independence supporters and those defending the organisation of a referendum within the next four years. The parties supporting the organisation of a self-determination referendum within the next four years, even if the Spanish Government opposes (which does not necessarily mean that they are in support of the independence option), increased their support by 345,000 votes in total. The parties opposing all referendums (even if the Spanish Constitution is reformed) also increased their support, but only by 253,000 votes.
In the last Catalan elections, held a month ago, the CiU lost 12 MPs and the ERC won 11 seats, although the parties proposing a self-determination vote increased by 1 MP. However it was the first time ever that the CiU openly defended the creation of a Catalan state, as in for decades the coalition had been defending a Catalonia with great levels of autonomy but within Spain. Despite this deep change and the erosion effects of running a government that has implemented many budget cuts for the last two years, the CiU managed to retain 92% of the votes it obtained two years ago. In fact, the parties defending independence obtained 54.4% of the MPs. The CiU, the ERC and the CUP are defending the creation of an independent Catalan state, although they have very different economic proposals. Altogether they now have 74 MPs at the Catalan Parliament, which represent 54.4% of the seats. These results cannot be compared with the 2010 elections because the CiU did not support independence in its former campaign, although many of its voters did.