Spain takes Catalan referendum bill to Constitutional Court

The Spanish Council of Ministers approved this Friday to submit a complaint against the bill proposing a Catalan referendum on independence in 2017 to the Constitutional Court (TC). The Spanish executive requests the TC to declare null the proposal passed by the Catalan Parliament on the 6th of October last during the General Policy Debate and to temporarily suspend it. Furthermore, in its report the executive also urges the magistrates to transfer the case to the Prosecution Office so that criminal proceedings against the President of the Catalan Parliament, Carme Forcadell, can be opened. The Catalan President, Carles Puigdemont, reacted to the measure and stated that the Spanish reaction was “predictable” and did not come as a surprise. In a press conference held in Madrid on Monday, the politician asked once again for dialogue. Puigdemont also said this Friday with regret that the Spanish Government response is always “a string of contestations".

Pro-independence flags in Tarragona, during the rally held on Catalonia's National Day
Pro-independence flags in Tarragona, during the rally held on Catalonia's National Day / ACN


October 14, 2016 06:55 PM

Madrid (CNA)- The Spanish Council of Ministers approved on Friday the submission to the Constitutional Court (TC) of a new complaint, against the bill proposing an independence referendum in 2017 approved by the Catalan Parliament in the last general policy debate. As explained by the Vice President of the Spanish Government, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, the Spanish Government has requested the TC to declare null and void some of the resolutions of the debate, and invoke Article 161.2 of the Constitution so that they are automatically temporarily suspended. It also called for judges to transfer the case to the Prosecution Office so that it can open criminal proceedings against the President of the Catalan Parliament, Carme Forcadell, as well as against "any other person" participating in the adoption of the proposal. The measure came after Catalan President’s press conference held on Monday in Madrid, in which he invited the Spanish Government, absent during the event, to “present an alternative proposal which can compete with Catalonia’s”. Puigdemont went on to assess the Spanish State’s challenge to the bill as “predictable”. 

The pro-independence forces’ agreement to hold a referendum in Catalonia by September 2017 was passed by the Parliament on the 6th of October. According to the bill the referendum has to be “binding” and based on a “clear” question and a “binary” answer. In the event that ‘yes’ to independence wins, the bill foresees calling constitutive election in March 2018. The 72 MPs from governing cross-party list ‘Junts Pel Sí’ and radical left CUP voted in favour of the proposal while alternative left alliance ‘Catalunya Sí que es Pot’ abstained.

In particular, the resolutions challenged by the Spanish Government are 1, 4, 5 and 6. In resolution 1 the Parliament reaffirms the "inalienable and imprescriptible right of Catalonia to self-determination" and urges the Government to hold "a binding referendum on the independence of Catalonia", which should take place "no later than September 2017 with a clear question with a binary answer”. It also reinforces the unilateral way because it states that "in the absence of agreement with the Government of Spain” the Parliament should remain “committed" to the referendum.

The text of resolution 4 states that the Parliament will set up within a month a committee to monitor the constituent process "in order to protect the various stages of the process and ensure the definition and implementation of the programme, the calendar and budgets”.

In the fifth resolution, the Parliament "encourages the City Halls to promote the constituent discussions from the local sphere, promoting the participation of civil society" and to "facilitate the resources and space required for the proper development of public debate".

Finally, resolution 6 urges the Catalan Government to "provide itself with the necessary tools to ensure the calling and realisation of constituent elections within six months following the referendum on self-determination, if the independence option achieves more than 50% of favourable votes".

Requirements specific to Puigdemont and Forcadell

The Spanish executive also commanded the TC to "personally require" that the President of Parliament, Carme Forcadell, as well as other members of the Bureau, (such as the Secretary General of the Parliament, and the Catalan President, Carles Puigdemont, and his members of government), do not promote any initiative to implement the initiatives reported. According to Sáenz de Santamaría, with the resolutions referring to the calling of a referendum in 2017 the Catalan Parliament is violating, again, the decisions of the Constitutional Court,

The Spanish Government argued that the Catalan Parliament "violated" the decision issued by the Constitutional Court on the 2nd of December in 2015, which declared unconstitutional the resolution of the 9-N symbolic vote. Furthermore, the executive stressed that the magistrates themselves had already warned the President of the Catalan Parliament and the members of the parliamentary assembly that they should not deploy any initiative to turn the sovereignty process into a reality.

The complaint issued by the Spanish State, however, exonerates the parliamentary groups that did not participate in the voting of the resolutions, considering the proposal to have emerged from resolutions which have been suspended by the Spanish Constitutional Court (TC): Spanish Unionist ‘Ciutadans’ (C's), the Conservative People’s Party of Catalonia (PPC) and the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC). 

Catalan President says the complaint does not come as a surprise 

The Catalan President, Carles Puigdemont, responded to the complaint. For Puigdemont this measure has not come as a surprise, adding that the Spanish State reaction was "predictable". However, the President considered the appeal inadequate. "A few days ago I went to Madrid demanding dialogue, making proposals, hoping for feedback”, the politician stated and added with regret that the “Spanish Government response is a string of contestations".

In this sense, Puigdemont mentioned the possibility that the Spanish Government launched this challenge to show firmness against separatism and thus seem more kind to the PSOE, from who the executive expects an abstention in order to invest Mariano Rajoy. "Each Catalan proposal and offer of dialogue and negotiation has had its Spanish challenge. This way of judicialisation of politics is the opposite of reaching agreements, and has no practical effect in stopping the will of the people of Catalonia, rather it has the opposite effect”, Puigdemont said.

The Vice President of the Spanish Government, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, reiterated this Friday the 'no' of the Spanish Government to the proposal of the Catalan President, Carles Puigdemont, to agree on the question, the date and the conditions of a self-determination referendum in Catalonia. "Neither the Government nor Mr. Puigdemont are able to negotiate what it is not their responsibility", she said at a press conference following a cabinet meeting, so "if you want to negotiate you should sit around the table with 47 million Spaniards".