Spanish Parliament to reject one of the legal ways for an agreed self-determination vote in Catalonia
The Catalan Parliament is formally requesting the Spanish authorities to transfer the power to organise referendums to the Catalan Government, using Article 150.2 of the Constitution in order to organise an agreed self-determination vote in Catalonia. The Spanish Parliament, where the governing People's Party (PP) holds an absolute majority, will reject the petition on Tuesday, closing the door to one of the current legal paths to hold such a vote. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy (PP) and the leader of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE), Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, are expected to unite to reject the petition, which is backed by almost two thirds of the Catalan Parliament and some 75% of the Catalan population. Three Catalan MPs will emphasise that authorising a self-determination vote is not a legal problem but a matter of political will. However, Rajoy will insist on the "indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation" and is likely forget that Spain is "formed by nationalities and regions", as stated in the Constitution.
Barcelona (ACN).- The Catalan Parliament is formally requesting the Spanish authorities to transfer the power to organise referendums to the Catalan Government, using Article 150.2 of the Constitution in order to organise an agreed self-determination vote in Catalonia. The Spanish Parliament, where the governing People's Party (PP) holds an absolute majority, will reject the petition on Tuesday, closing the door to one of the current legal paths to hold such a vote. It is expected the "no" to be backed by 86% of the Chamber. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy (PP) and the opposition leader Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, from the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE), are expected to unite to reject Catalonia's petition, which is backed by almost two thirds of the Catalan Parliament and by some 75% of the Catalan population according to polls. Three representatives from the Catalan Parliament – Jordi Turull, Marta Rovira and Joan Herrera – will emphasise that authorising a self-determination vote is not a legal problem but a matter of political will. In fact, legal experts have identified up to 5 different legal ways to organise a self-determination vote in Catalonia, one of them being the transfer of referendum powers using the current Constitution, a similar formula to the one used for Scotland's independence referendum. On the other side, Rajoy will insist on the "indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation", probably forgetting about the fact that Spain is a pluri-national state, "formed by nationalities and regions", as stated in the Constitution.
The PP also announced in the last few days that they will be offering Catalonia a debate in the coming months about a better funding scheme, which is a legal obligation since the current scheme has already expired on the 1st January 2014. Therefore, Rajoy's only offer to talk is likely to be regarding an issue that would have been reformed in any case, regardless of Catalonia's self-determination demands. Besides, Rubalcaba will probably insist on the need to reform the current Constitution in order to offer a better accommodation to Catalan "specificities", although it is unlikely that the reform will recognise Catalonia's nationhood and its right to self-determination. In the current situation a bit more money for the Catalan Government, a mild reform of the Constitution or keeping the current status quo are not likely to stop Catalonia's demands for independence, as the President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas, pointed out this weekend. Mas has been criticised by the Spanish establishment for not participating in Tuesday's debate. However, he argued that the petition to transfer referendum powers was made by the Catalan Parliament and therefore it is this institution, representing the people of Catalonia, which has to defend it on Tuesday in Madrid.
The main debate about Catalonia's right to self-determination is being held in the Spanish Parliament on Tuesday April 8th from 4pm (CET). It will not be the first time that Catalonia's independence and right to self-determination has reached Madrid's Chamber, but it will be by far the most important debate. Although the results are totally predictable and the Spanish Parliament will reject the idea with 86% of its MPs, expectations are very high since the main arguments from both sides will be put on the table before the Parliament that represents all Spanish citizens. It will be the first time that a formal petition sent by an almost two-third majority of the Catalan Parliament and following a clear electoral mandate reaches the Spanish Parliament. And it will be the first time that Spanish authorities will have to say a clear "no" to a specific and legal way to organise a self-determination vote in Catalonia.
A legal way to organise a self-determination vote
The reason for the debate is to discuss the Catalan Parliament's formal petition to transfer the power to organise referendums to the Catalan Government. This transfer would be possible thanks to Article 150.2 of the Constitution which provides for such devolution of powers, including the Spanish Government's exclusive powers, such as those to organise referendums. The petition was approved in the Catalan Parliament with the votes from the Centre-Right Catalan Nationalist Coalition (CiU), the Left-Wing Catalan Independence Party (ERC), the Catalan Green Socialist and post-Communist Coalition (ICV-EUiA) and 3 rebel MPs from the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC), which is part of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE). The radical left-wing and independence party CUP abstained because they considered that the Catalan people do not have to ask the Spanish Parliament for an authorisation to hold a self-determination vote. In total, 87 MPs voted "yes" (64.5%), 43 voted "no" (31.8%) and 3 abstained despite supporting independence (2.2%).
After weeks of uncertainty about the timing, finally the Spanish Parliament accepted to debate the petition on April 8th, before the summer break and particularly before the European elections. The Catalan Parliament named 3 representatives to talk in Madrid: Jordi Turull, Chairman of the CiU Group at the Catalan Chamber; Marta Rovira, Secretary General of the ERC and parliamentary spokesperson; and Joan Herrera, Chairman of the ICV-EUiA Group at the Catalan Parliament and co-leader of ICV. There was some speculation whether the Catalan President, Artur Mas, would participate in Madrid’s debate, but this option was ruled out to emphasise it is a parliamentary petition and not Mas’ personal action. However, Spanish nationalists wanted Mas to talk, in order to associate the petition to him.
"The indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation", introduced by Franco's military
Legal experts, mostly from outside Catalonia, point out that such a transfer cannot be made, since it would be used to organise a vote on independence from Spain, and the Autonomous Communities can only ask their citizens to decide on issues affecting their powers. Furthermore, they are particularly holding on to Article 1.2 which states that "national sovereignty belongs to the Spanish people" and to a quote from Article 2 of the Constitution, which highlights "the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation, common and undividable motherland of all Spaniards". This last formula was introduced by the representatives of the old Franco Dictatorship and the military in order not to derail the incipient democratisation process during the talks to draft the constitution in 1978. Back then, the Franco Regime had not been buried and their members were still occupying most of the power institutions in Spain. However, the Catalan Government had been restored in September 1977, more than a year before the Constitution's approval.
The "indissoluble unity" formulation was imposed in exchange for inserting in the same Article 2 that Spain "recognises and guarantees the right to autonomy of the nationalities and regions that form it [Spain]". However, the current Spanish Government and the Spanish nationalists tend to forget about this second part, which was crucial to acceptance of the Constitution. In fact, Catalonia – which had been one of the main opposition centres against Franco – voted massively for the new Constitution as in a highly tense scenario it was the only way towards democracy, and there was the implicit promise that once democratisation had advanced, Spain would recognise Catalonia's status as a nation, developing the "nationality" item of the Constitution. However, the military coup of February 1981 totally changed the situation and, after it, the current Autonomous Community model was created as a way to dilute Catalonia's singularity. In the more than 3 decades of democratisation, the Spanish establishment has never recognised Catalonia's nationhood and the pluri-national nature of Spain. On the contrary, Spanish nationalism has been growing again since the mid-1990s and, in reaction, support for independence started to grow since 2000. "Unity" is greater than "dialogue" even stated Rajoy, who is constantly repeating that "Spain is the oldest nation in Europe", a highly nationalistic statement that is simply false.
A mere political problem
Catalan experts not only emphasise the "nationalities and regions" formulation, but also other Articles of the Constitution that back Catalonia's right to hold a self-determination vote, including a group of judges. For instance, the Autonomous Communities have the power to propose Constitutional changes, including on Article 1 and 2. In fact, a recent judgement of the Spanish Constitutional Court contained a reminder that the entire text can be reformed. Therefore Catalan authorities could propose to change "the indissoluble unity of Spain" and that "national sovereignty belongs to the Spanish people". In order to propose such a vote they would have to know the opinion of Catalan citizens on such a proposal and this is done through a consultation vote or a non-binding referendum. In fact, the Constitution provides for organising referendums on matters of particular importance. On top of this the Catalan people has to approve its relationship with Spain, defined in the Catalan Statute of Autonomy, through a binding referendum. Most of the Autonomous Communities do not have this constitutional requirement. Therefore the current Constitution already recognises the Catalan people's right to decide on their own collective future and the way they relate to the rest of Spain. For all these reasons, according to an interpretation shared by a majority of Catalan parties, the current Constitution would allow for holding a self-determination vote in Catalonia and opposing this is strictly a matter of political will.
A debate on Catalonia's right to decide on its own collective future
Therefore, the debate will not only be on the legal mechanism itself but on the entire issue: Catalonia's right to self-determination and independence from Spain as well as the will expressed by a wide majority of the Catalan population, according to the last electoral results, to vote on such an issue. In fact, around 80% of the Catalan Parliament, which was elected in November 2012 after the first massive independence demonstration, is occupied by parties that were running in the elections with the promise to organise such a vote. Considering the political and economic situation, those elections had the highest turnout in decades for a similar call. Additionally, parties supporting independence won the elections and, combined, they hold an absolute majority in the Catalan Parliament. On top of this, according to polls, between 48% and 60% of Catalans would support independence from Spain, while those opposing ranges between 25% and 30%. The same polls indicate that between 75% and 80% of Catalans want to hold a self-determination vote, regardless of whether they would support or oppose independence.
A very active civil society, organised in grass-roots organisations, is pushing forward the independence agenda, while a majority of Catalan political parties try to channel those aspirations through legal formulae and political propositions. This has been the story in Catalonia since 2010, when the Constitutional Court, following pressure from the PP and Spanish nationalism, amended the Catalan Statute of Autonomy, approved by the Spanish Parliament and by the Catalan people through a binding referendum in 2006. A majority of Catalan parties have been sending numerous messages to the Spanish establishment about listening to Catalan claims and working to modify the current status quo. However, 4 years later, the Spanish Government and most of the establishment have not moved at all and have not put any offer on the table.
The Spanish Government says "no" and recentralises powers
Meanwhile, after the first massive pro-independence demonstration in September 2012 the Catalan President proposed a new Economic Agreement with Spain similar to the Basque Country and Navarra, which Rajoy even refused to discuss, saying he was being "blackmailed". Back then, the Catalan President Artur Mas and other political parties said it was probably the last chance to make an offer that would tempt Catalan society to stay within Spain. Catalan elections were called in November 2012 and pro-independence parties won. Furthermore, there was the explicit mandate to organise a self-determination vote. On the 23rd January 2013 the recently-elected Catalan Parliament issued a 'Declaration of Sovereignty and the Right to Decide', stating that the Catalan people was free to decide on its own collective future through legal, democratic and peaceful means. The Spanish Government took the Declaration to the Constitutional Court, which temporarily banned it in May 2013 and finally banned it in March 2014. However the Constitutional Court also recognised "the Catalans' right to decide" and insisted that political powers should talk and find negotiated ways to express the will of the majority, including a reform of the Constitution. Meanwhile, the Spanish Government has been carrying on its no-to-everything attitude and implementing a broad recentralisation of powers, significantly reducing the Catalan Government's political and financial autonomy. Some of these reforms have been on particularly sensitive issues, such as modifying the entire Catalan school system and not guaranteeing the knowledge of Catalan language. The Catalan Government considers them "a Constitutional reform in disguise". Therefore, instead of talking, Rajoy has been recentralising power, which has outraged the majority of Catalan citizens and increased support for independence.
The self-determination process will continue despite Madrid's "no"
In the light of the Spanish Government's refusal to hold any talks on the intention to hold a self-determination vote, civil society organised a secon massive pro-independence demonstration in Septembr 2013: the 400-km-long human chain with more than 1.6 million people participating in it. Furthermore,iin December 2013 a majority of political parties representing two thirds of the Catalan Parliament reached an agreement on the exact wording and date to hold such a vote. Catalans would be called to vote on the November 9th 2014. On the 16th of January 2014, the Catalan Parliament approved the formal petition to transfer the power to hold referendums, which is being discussed this Tuesday in Madrid. The Spanish establishment will issue its most formal "no" to the present date, but Catalan parties have already agreed to develop other alternatives and the self-determination process will continue.
Other ways to hold a self-determination vote
Catalonia's own law on consultation votes, which was already provided in the 2006 Statute of Autonomy, would be a first alternative. This would allow the Catalan Government to organise such votes without a green light from Madrid. In fact, this is another of the 5 legal formulae for holding such a vote. The other 3 are: a referendum organised by the Spanish Government on an issue of "especial transcendence" (Article 92), such as the independence of part of Spain. However this option seems to be ruled out because of Rajoy’s total opposition to even discuss about it, at least until the present day. Secondly, a referendum organised by the Catalan Government but authorised by the Spanish authorities on a constitutional matter (such as the unity of Spain) using a Catalan law from 2010. The problem is that this law is being analysed by the Constitutional Court, which has not reached a decision yet. In addition, this formula still requires the authorisation of the Spanish Government.
Thirdly, the Catalan Government could ask for a reform of the Constitution. It should be noted that this last way has been explored to some degree, since several parties have asked for a modification of the Constitution, but the People's Party is blocking it and rejecting any debate on the issue. In fact, Rajoy is personally opposed to any constitutional change. However, the Constitution was modified in an express way between August and September 2011 in order to introduce limitation of the public deficit and debt, following instructions sent by European Union institutions and governments, such as Germany, in the middle of the Euro-crisis and when Spain was about to receive a massive bailout for its banking system. Such Constitutional Reform was negotiated between the PP and PSOE, excluding Catalan nationalist parties, and was never voted on by the citizens. Therefore, with political will, the Constitution could be reformed in a few weeks.
Finally, the Catalan President has always insisted that one way or the other, Catalan citizens will vote. If the Spanish establishment blocks all the ways there is still the possibility of organising plebiscitary elections, either by calling Catalan elections two years early or coinciding with the municipal elections scheduled for May 2015. If a majority of parties clearly and unequivocally supporting a unilateral declaration of independence won the elections, Catalan citizens would have voted for this option, which would have been the only option left by the Spanish authorities after years of attempts to find out a negotiated way out.