The Spanish Constitutional Court temporarily suspends the Catalan Parliament's Declaration of Sovereignty

The Catalan Parliament replies by approving the creation of a parliamentary commission on Catalonia’s right to self-determination with 79.3% of yes votes. The commission will study ways to organise a vote on the hypothetical independence from Spain. It is the first time in Spain a court has suspended an entire declaration that has no legal value and has been approved by a parliament. The declaration has no direct legal effect, as it is only a political statement stating that the Catalan people are sovereign to decide on their own collective future. The Spanish Government firstly downplayed the text and later, following the advice of its legal services, decided to appeal against it. By admitting the Spanish Government’s appeal against the text, the Constitutional Court temporarily suspended the Declaration until a sentence is issued.


May 9, 2013 01:47 AM

Barcelona (ACN).- On Wednesday the Spanish Constitutional Court suspended Catalonia’s Declaration of Sovereignty by admitting an appeal from the Spanish Government against the text. A few hours later, on the same day, the Catalan Parliament approved the creation of a parliamentary commission on Catalonia’s right to self-determination with 79.3% of yes votes and the support of 5 political groups. The commission will discuss ways to organise a vote on the hypothetical independence from Spain. The Declaration of Sovereignty, voted in on the 23rd of January, has no legal value since it is only a political statement stating that the Catalan people are sovereign to decide on their own collective future. However, the Spanish Government decided to appeal against it following the advice of its legal services, although at first they downplayed the text stating that it had no legal value. On Wednesday, by admitting the Spanish Government’s appeal against the Catalan Parliament’s text, the Constitutional Court temporarily suspended it until it has issued a sentence, which may take several years. The Catalan Parliament has already announced that it will appeal the Court’s decision since “it has no legal sense” as it is against a political statement made by a democratic chamber. In addition, the chamber’s President, Núria de Gispert, noted that it is the first time in Spanish democracy that a court has suspended an entire declaration which has no legal value and has been approved by a parliament. Furthermore, De Gispert underlined the fact that the declaration’s approval respected the Catalan Parliament’s procedures. In this vein, most of the parties supporting Catalonia’s right to self-determination, with the exception of the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC), criticised the suspension and emphasised that the self-determination process will go on. They are justifying this continuation as the Declaration has a political nature, which at the same time follows the citizens’ democratic will freely expressed in the November elections, when the majority of the votes went to parties defending Catalonia’s self-determination.

On Monday the Spanish Constitutional Court admitted the Spanish Government’s appeal against the Catalan Parliament’s Declaration of Sovereignty, which was approved on the 23rd of January. The appeal was presented by the Spanish Executive’s legal services on the 8th of March, after the Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaria announced they were taking the text to the Constitutional Court. Sáenz de Santamaría justified the decision saying that the text might have legal consequences and they also wanted the Court to “clarify that the Catalan people are not sovereign”. However, the Declaration of Sovereignty is only a political statement that has no direct legal impact. It is rather a public pronunciation by the democratically-elected assembly representing the citizens of Catalonia of their future plans to carry out a self-determination process following a series of principles. The text was approved by 85 “yes” votes against 41 “no” votes, and so was supported by 66.4% of the MPs who voted and by 63% of the 135 total. 7 MPs supporting self-determination abstained or did not vote, because either they considered the text to be insufficient or as a protest against their party voting “no”. The day the text was passed, the Spanish Government stated the declaration had no legal consequences and it was “purely rhetorical”. However, after the controversy created, Madrid’s Executive asked for a report from the Spanish State Council, which is an archaic advisory body made up of some 35 senior members mostly from Madrid’s nomenclature and whose only Catalan member was part of this body even in Franco’s time. In addition, it also asked for a report from its own legal services. Both reports recommended challenging the Declaration with a sort of “just in case” logic.

A second text was approved by the Catalan Parliament supporting the right to self-determination

After the Spanish Government had registered the appeal, the Catalan Parliament approved a motion, with an even larger support this time, since all the MPs of the Catalan Socialists (PSC) – which are federated to the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) – backed the text. The second text supported Catalonia’s right to self-determination and urged the Spanish and Catalan governments to talk in order to organise a legal citizen vote and allow Catalan citizens to decide on their collective future and Catalonia’s relationship with Spain. However, it avoided talking about “sovereignty”. The motion was approved on the 13th of March by 77% of the MPs, representing 104 votes out of the 135 seats in the Catalan Parliament.

The Constitutional Court asked if the first declaration had been substituted

The Constitutional Court asked the Parliament if the second text was substituting the first one from January. The Catalan Parliament answered that both were “complementary”, since both of them were a reflection of “the political will” of the people of Catalonia. In addition, the chamber made it clear that none of the texts had “binding legal effects”. It also asked the Court to ask the parts to present allegations before deciding whether to accept the Spanish Government’s appeal or not, since accepting would mean the automatic suspension of the text. Finally the Court refused to ask for allegations and on Wednesday it decided to accept Madrid’s appeal and therefore to suspend the Catalan Parliament’s political statement. The suspension is initially for five months, although it can be extended until the moment the Court issues a sentence, which may take years.

The Catalan Parliament approves the creation of a parliamentary commission on self-determination

The same day the Constitutional Court suspended the declaration, the Catalan Parliament approved the creation of a parliamentary commission to debate the potential ways of organising a legal vote allowing Catalan citizens to democratically express their will regarding Catalonia’s relationship with Spain. The commission’s creation was backed by 5 of the 7 political groups: the Centre-Right Catalan Nationalist Coalition (CiU) – which runs the Catalan Government; the Left-Wing Catalan Independence Party (ERC); the PSC; the Catalan Green Socialist and Communist Coalition (ICV-EUiA); and the radical left-wing and independence party CUP. These groups have 107 MPs out of the 135-seat assembly, representing 79.3% of the total MPs. The People’s Party (PP) – which runs the Spanish Government – left the room during the debate and vote to create such a commission, since they considered it to be an act of “rebelliousness and contempt”. The PP considered that the parliamentary commission derived from the declaration suspended by the Constitutional Court, although actually it comes from a proposal jointly presented by the CiU, ERC, PSC, ICV-EUiA and the CUP on the 25th of April. The other party opposing self-determination, the populist anti-Catalan nationalism and left wing party Ciutadans (C’s), had its 9 MPs voting against the creation of the parliamentary commission.

The political reactions to the Constitutional Court’s suspension

The President of the Catalan Government and leader of the CiU, Artur Mas, minutes after the suspension was made public, emphasised that Catalonia’s self-determination process “will go on”. “The journey continues; there has to be no doubt about it”, he said. “It is not a journey of bright sparks from the Parliament, but a journey decided by the people at the polling stations”, Mas said referring to the electoral mandate resulting from November elections. The Catalan President also asked the Constitutional Court to act with “caution, wisdom and equity, taking into consideration the radically democratic principle of a people being called to vote and who chose a very clear [electoral] programme that was referring to the right to self-determination”. He also asked the Court to be a “referee” for the Spanish Government’s attempts “to abort” the Catalan process.

The Opposition Leader and President of the ERC, Oriol Junqueras, emphasised that the Catalan Parliament will remain “loyal” to the people’s will, despite the decision of the Constitutional Court. Junqueras stressed that the political institutions of Catalonia will follow the citizens’ mandate expressed in the last elections, which clearly voted for parties supporting the right to self-determination and having the commitment to organise a vote to decide on Catalonia’s collective future.

The Secretary General of the PSC, Pere Navarro, stated that their approach to prioritise talks with the Spanish Government on the organisation of a legal vote is the one “truly moving forward”, since the PSC was behind the motion approved in March. Navarro stated that some parties in fact wanted the Constitutional Court to suspend January’s Declaration of Sovereignty – to which the PSC is officially opposed despite 25% of its MPs refusing to vote against it – in order to increase “the escalade” and have a “political profit”.

The President of the PP’s Catalan branch, Alícia Sánchez-Camacho, was satisfied with the Court’s decision since “it has given a voice to the plural and real Catalonia”. Sánchez-Camacho accused the CiU of “imposing” its political agenda and declarations such as the one suspended today. Sánchez-Camacho also asked that the debate for the creation of a parliamentary commission on the right to self-determination would not be held.

The President of the ICV-EUiA parliamentary group, Joan Herrera, said  the suspension of the Declaration by the Spanish Constitutional Court was “unheard-of, unprecedented and severe”. According to him, the suspension “verged on legal ridiculousness” and it is equivalent to “suspending democracy”, since the basic principle is to allow parliaments to express themselves. Herrera made clear that the self-determination process has not been invalidated and that the suspension “has to be replied to with more democracy”.

The President of C’s, Albert Rivera, stated that the Court acted with “justice” and “common sense”, and he noted that his party had “already said [the Declaration] was unconstitutional”. Rivera was satisfied because the Spanish institutions had reacted against the Declaration. He also believed that the suspension “leaves Mas’s plan” with a weak basis.

The CUP MP Quim Arrufat asked the Catalan Government for a “unilateral call for a vote” on Catalonia’s independence from Spain. Arrufat said the suspension shows that the Spanish State “stands zero democracy coming from the Catalans”. The CUP asked for the “institutional disobedience” and “do without the Spanish State’s permission”.

Finally, the two main trade unions in Catalonia and in Spain, the Workers Commissions (CCOO) and the Workers General Union (UGT) lamented the Constitutional Court’s decision. The unions thought it was “not very democratic” that the Spanish Government has challenged a resolution from the Catalan Parliament, which was voted in by “a very large majority”. “The Constitutional Court wants to put itself above Catalonia’s sovereignty”, criticised the CCOO Secretary General in Catalonia, Joan Carles Gallego. In addition, the UGT Secretary General in Catalonia, Josep Maria Álvarez, lamented that the Court’s decision “was no surprise” regarding its track record and that “it leaves the Court with even less prestige in Catalonia”.