Yesterday evening, hundreds of thousands of people rallied across Catalonia in protest against the imprisonment of the presidents of two pro-independence civil society organisations.
At the request of the Spanish Government, the Chief and a deputy official of the Catalan police as well as the leaders of the two main pro-independence civil society organisations had appeared before the Spanish National Court to face charges of sedition (an offence punishable with 4-15 years imprisonment). While the two Catalan officials were ordered to surrender their passports and report to court in two weeks, the two civil society leaders were sent to prison without bail as petitioned by the Spanish prosecutor.
These events come after 2,262,424 Catalans cast their vote in a referendum on self-determination on 1st October 2017, in spite of the violence used by Spanish police forces, which left 893 injured. The implementation of the results (90.09% of participants backed independence) was temporarily put on hold by the President of Catalonia on 10th October, given the calls for dialogue received from several European governments, international figures and institutions, in order to allow for negotiations to take place.
However, the judicial measures taken on Monday against Catalan officials and civil society leaders are just the latest example of the continued refusal from the Spanish executive to engage in a dialogue with the Catalan Government to address the current situation. Indeed, that morning, the President of Catalonia had addressed a letter to President Rajoy asking the Spanish executive for a meeting to “seek solutions by way of dialogue” and “find a solution rather than generate confrontation”. However, a few hours later, the Spanish executive responded ignoring the call for a meeting and setting a new deadline (tomorrow, 19th October at 10 am) after which measures will be taken to intervene the self-government of Catalonia.
As the Catalan Government has stated on countless occasions –and still believes- a process of dialogue and negotiation is in the interest of all parties in order to avoid unnecessary social and economic tensions. The same openness to dialogue and negotiation will inspire any response of the Catalan Government.
However, in the current context, the Catalan Government cannot accept a legalistic entrenchment from a Government which bases its positions on biased interpretations of the Law and the Constitution, and which has repeatedly infringed them (as illustrated in the attached document) when, for instance:
- Using a biased interpretation of the Constitution to negate a referendum (See points 1 and 10 in the attached document).
- Ordering arrests and criminal procedures when against the organisation of a referendum, which is not a crime in Spain. (See point 2 and 3).
- Extending the role and mandate of certain Courts beyond their legally recognised powers. (See points 3 and 10).
- Illegally deploying 10,000 police forces in Catalonia on the basis of non-applicable norms. (See point 4).
- Violating fundamental human rights by contravening the right to privacy and secrecy of communications, the rights to freedom of expression and of information, the rights of assembly and demonstration and the right to political participation, among others. (See points 7, 8 and 9).
- Persistently ignoring any ruling contrary to its interests (See point 12).
In spite of all this, the Government of Catalonia reiterates its call on the Spanish Government to accept reality –a political problem exists regarding Catalonia-, and to acknowledge that, if it is genuinely interested in solving the problem, it must tackle it politically and not judicially.
Failure to do so will bring about profound and lasting negative effects for all. This is why dialogue and negotiation must prevail. After all, listening to people, understanding their positions and building agreements are the foundations on which the European Union was built.
 See, in this regard, Amnesty International Spain’s statement asking for their release.
 See, in this regard, the report of the independent investigation conducted by Human Rights Watch
 See, in this regard, the joint statement delivered by several UN special human rights rapporteurs and independent experts.
Last Sunday, 1st October 2017, the Catalan people cast their vote in a referendum on self-determination. The provisional results offer the following information:
- As far as turnout is concerned, 2,262,424 ballots were cast.
- 2,020,144 of voters (90.09%) backed independence, while 176,565 people (7.87%) voted against it. Provisional results indicate 45,586 blank votes (2.03%) and 20,129 void ballots (0.89%).
- The voting took place in 2,243 polling stations across the 948 municipalities of Catalonia. Registered citizens permanently residing abroad were able to vote by post.
- The voting took place under the scrutiny of over 100 international electoral visitors as well as 37 observers from two international electoral observation missions deployed across the country.
Unfortunately, the day was marked by the actions of Spanish police forces to obstruct the voting and repress with violence those who were trying to take part in it.
- Spanish police stormed polling stations in 92 municipalities. Some 400 polling stations were closed and ballot boxes confiscated, effectively hampering the right to vote of some 770,000 citizens.
- As a result of the indiscriminate violence and the use of rubber bullets, tear gas and violent charges against peaceful citizens gathered in front of polling stations, 893 people were injured.
- Spanish police took control of the Catalan technology and communications centre in an attempt to disable the software connecting polling stations and disrupt the voting. In doing so, over 30 services (including websites, apps and official registries) of the Catalan administration were disconnected.
These developments have triggered another wave of reactions from international institutions and organisations condemning the use of violence against those who were merely attempting to exercise their right to vote. Among these, it is worth highlighting the statements issued by the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights (see here) and several rapporteurs and independent experts of his Office (see here), the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (see here), OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (see here) or the one by Amnesty International (see here).
In Catalonia, a strike took place on 3rd October in protest over the Spanish police violence during Sunday’s voting. Some 700,000 people took to the streets in Barcelona and thousands across the country in a full day of peaceful mobilisation.
Following the violent events of 1st October, the Catalan Government issued an immediate call on both the Spanish Government and EU institutions to engage in a dialogue or mediation to avoid further escalation. In their public appearances in three consecutive days, the Spanish Prime Minister (on 1st October), the Deputy Prime Minister (on 2nd October) and the King of Spain (on 3rd October – see here), dismissed all calls for dialogue while restating their resolve to use all means necessary to ensure full obedience to the law. Yet again, in a televised address on 4th October, the President of Catalonia insisted in his call to dialogue and mediation (see here), a call which was immediately dismissed by the Spanish Deputy Prime Minister.
Against this backdrop, a session in the Catalan Parliament was planned to take place on Monday 9th October to debate the result and effects of the referendum. Today, the Spanish Constitutional Court ordered its suspension. This comes at a time when the chief of the Catalan police and the leaders of two pro-independence civil society organisations will have to appear before the Spanish High Court tomorrow accused of sedition.
As expressed on numerous occasions, the Catalan Government firmly believes that the ultimate purpose of the Law is the defence of rights and freedoms –especially those of minorities- and it should never be instrumentalised to restrict them or to repress political positions or ideologies. Thus, the Government of Catalonia remains fully convinced that, in democratic societies, the resolution of political disagreements requires that all parties involved engage in and commit to a genuine dialogue and negotiation.
On 1st October the Catalan people will vote in a referendum to choose the political future of Catalonia. To ensure that citizens can freely exercise their right, the Government continues to work to organise the voting.
- Since 21st September, citizens can check which of the 2,315 polling stations (207 of which in Barcelona) has been assigned to them. The 5,344,358 registered voters can access this information online and through applications and social media channels.
- On 22nd September the Electoral Commission of Catalonia dissolved itself after completing the task it had been charged with. In an attempt to stop their work, the Spanish Constitutional Court had previously issued a daily fine of €12,000 for each member of the ECC.
- Over 100 international political visitors from more than 30 countries have been accredited by the ECC. These visitors –mostly parliamentarians and scholars– will monitor the voting and issue a political assessment. On a similar note, the two International electoral observation missions already in Catalonia have been joined this week by groups of short-term observers that will be deployed across Catalonia. Likewise, the Catalan Ombudsman, along with other European Ombudsmen, will also follow the situation on Sunday.
- On 26th September, notifications begun to reach those citizens selected to serve in the 6,249 voting points. As in previous elections, voting point agents have been randomly selected through a public drawing.
- Today, 29th September, an International Press and Broadcasting Centre has come into operation to allow foreign correspondents to follow and cover the events on Sunday.
- This evening, parties and organisations both in favour and against independence will take part in a joint rally in support of the referendum in Barcelona. This gathering will mark the end of a campaign that has included more than 700 events across the country.
- A new poll has been published by the Spanish online newspaper es. According to it, voter turnout would be at 63.3 to 65.4% (NB: the estimate of a poll published by the same newspaper on 17th September was 52.9%). The same poll suggests that support for a referendum on independence is currently at 82.6%.
Meanwhile, the Spanish Government’s efforts to disrupt the referendum continue.
- On 22nd September, a Spanish prosecutor opened an investigation into the demonstrations that followed the police raids of 20th According to the prosecution, the 40,000 protesters committed a crime of sedition (an offence punishable with 4-15 years imprisonment). The investigation targets pro-independence civil society organisations Òmnium Cultural (est. 1961) and Assemblea Nacional Catalana (est. 2011).
- On the same day, the Spanish Minister of Home Affairs announced a further deployment of Spanish police forces in Catalonia. Currently, some 7,000 paramilitary police forces have been deployed and three cruise ships (2 in the port of Barcelona and 1 in the port of Tarragona) have been sent to accommodate them.
- On 23rd September, the prosecutor attempted to bypass the Catalan government’s policing powers and place the Catalan police under direct control of the Ministry of Home Affairs in Madrid.
- On Monday 25th September, another 140 websites were shut down in a new wave of closures targeting individuals and civil society organisations informing about the referendum. Furthermore 15 people were interrogated accused of having cloned sites previously shut down by the police.
- On the same day, the Spanish Court of Auditors ordered former President of Catalonia and three of his ministers to deposit €5.2 million for their responsibility in organising a consultation on independence in 2014.
The police and judicial response of the Spanish Government has violated some fundamental rights in Catalonia and has triggered a reaction from domestic as well as international institutions. Statements like those from the UN Human Rights mechanisms (see here) or Amnesty International (see here) concur in calling on Spain not to interfere with the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association, and public participation.
The Catalan Government believes that repression can never be the answer to a democratic demand. The purpose of the law and the justice system is not to abolish or restrict rights and freedoms but to protect and expand them. This is why, on Sunday, Catalans will decide on their political future by casting their vote.
On Wednesday 20th September, Spanish police forces raided the premises of 22 Catalan official buildings -including 4 ministries-, searched private homes and detained 14 public officials on charges of sedition and disobedience while fining some of them. This constitutes a blatant attack against the principle of self-Government recognized in Article 137 of the Spanish Constitution (SC). In reaction, thousands of citizens took to the streets not only across Catalonia but also in over 43 cities throughout Spain. In Barcelona, a 14-hour demonstration brought together some 40,000 people.
This new peak in the Spanish state’s reaction against the referendum had already been preceded by a number of developments.
- On 14th September, Spanish Police entered the premises of five Catalan private media outlets (El Nacional, El Punt Avui, Nació Digital, Racó Català and Vilaweb) and identified their journalists. This follows the search of the offices of the local newspaper El Vallenc on 9th September and illustrates the attacks against the freedom of information and the press recognised in art. 20 SC.
- In the days following the start of the Referendum campaign on 14th September, Spanish authorities have tried to suspend public events and political gatherings throughout Catalonia. These episodes have often included the identification of participants and confiscation of posters, leaflets and other electoral material, undermining the freedom of assembly recognized in art. 21SC.
- On 15th September, the Spanish Government announced a new set of measures which block Catalonia’s access to its own resources, in yet another step towards the suspension of Catalonia’s financial autonomy in contravention of art. 156 SC.
- On 19th September, Spanish police forces confiscated 45,000 letters containing the notifications to those citizens called to serve at polling stations on 1st During these operations, the police opened official correspondence to/from city councils. The Spanish Postal Service announced it had received instructions to stop the distribution of certain magazines of private citizen associations and political parties. All these measures violate the secrecy of correspondence recognized in art. 18 SC.
Under the pretence of defending a restricted interpretation of the Spanish Constitution, an undeclared state of emergency has been imposed, which is resulting in an appalling violation of the very rights and freedoms which the Spanish Constitution is meant to uphold.
In spite of these events, preparations continue in order to ensure that all is ready for the voting to go ahead on 1st October.
- Launch of the campaign: Over 9,000 people attended the first rally of the referendum’s campaign on 14th September in Tarragona, where several political parties and civil society organisations jointly called participants to vote in the upcoming referendum. Other 600 gatherings organised by political parties are scheduled to take place in the coming days, not to mention the hundreds planned by civil society organisations.
- First opinion polls released: The Spanish online newspaper eldiario.es and the Catalan Ara have released the results of two separate polls. According to the one commissioned by eldiario.es, 59.9% of Catalans wish to vote on 1st October regardless of the referendum having been prohibited. Of those who say will take part in the referendum, 59.5% are in favour of independence and 30.7% are against. The opinion poll commissioned by Ara shows similar estimates in terms of expected participation (60.2%) as well as a wide support for a referendum on independence (70.7%). In terms of the preferred outcome, 44.1% of respondents say will vote Yes and 38.1% say will vote No.
- Electoral Commission of Catalonia (ECC): The ECC has completed the accreditation of 11 civil society organisations which had applied for advertising and news coverage in publicly-owned spaces and media. Likewise, the ECC has finished the process for political parties and interested organisations to appoint representatives and auditors to attend the voting procedures. The ECC has also accredited international political visitors, and concluded the process to select those citizens who will serve as polling station agents.
- Polling Stations: yesterday, the electoral administration has released all the details regarding the number and location of polling stations. Citizens will now be able to check the information on the polling station that they will need to go to in order to cast their vote.
The Catalan Government reaffirms its commitment to providing the people of Catalonia with the opportunity to democratically choose their political future on 1st October.
This Monday, for the sixth consecutive year, over one million people flooded the streets of Barcelona on 11th September -Catalonia’s national day- to call for a chance to vote on the political future of Catalonia. In response to this sustained popular demand last week the Parliament adopted the Law on the Referendum and the Law on Juridical Transition, and the Decree calling the referendum on 1st October was signed by the Government.
Since the last briefing, preparations have continued in order to ensure that citizens are able to cast their vote on 1st October.
- Decree on Complementary Regulations: As provided for in article 9.2 of the Law on the Referendum, the Government has adopted this Decree (see attached) which thoroughly regulates the implementation of the voting and covers key matters such as the electoral administration (Title II), the electoral roll (Title III), the representation of political parties and interested organisations (Title IV), the campaign (Title V) or the voting modalities (Title VII).
- Electoral Commission of Catalonia (ECC): The independent and impartial body responsible for guaranteeing the transparency and objectivity of the voting has been established and its five members appointed by Parliament. Since its creation last week, the ECC has been working on issues such as the selection process of those citizens who will serve as polling point officers, or the accreditation of interested organisations and international observers.
- International electoral observation missions: Thus far, two missions have been accredited by the ECC. They bring together electoral experts from France, Ireland, New Zealand, Poland, the United Kingdom and the United States, and will soon be joined by short-term observers that will be deployed throughout Catalonia. As stated in Article 29 of the Decree on Complementary Regulations, the presence of international observers is welcome as an extra element to ensure that the voting is conducted in accordance with established international practices and standards.
- Official Website of the Referendum: The website –available in Catalan, Spanish, Aranese and English– provides all the relevant information on all matters regarding the organisation of and participation in the forthcoming Referendum. The site can be accessed on ref1oct.cat or www.ref1oct.eu after the Spanish authorities shut down the original www.referendum.cat.
- Catalans abroad: Out of country vote has started, allowing the participation in the referendum of thousands of registered Catalans with permanent residence abroad.
- Public engagement: Since 7th September, more than 47,000 volunteers have registered to act as electoral agents and provide administrative and logistical support in the organisation of the voting. Likewise, out of the 948 Catalan Mayors, 750 from a variety of political parties have signed decrees in support of the referendum, and also an agreement has been reached with Barcelona city council to allow the voting in this city.
On a far less positive note, in the last hours, the Spanish Government has intensified its actions against the referendum.
- In a single day, yesterday, Spanish prosecutors prohibited events in Madrid and Valencia devoted to the Catalan referendum; ordered an investigation into the abovementioned 750 mayors as well as their detention should they fail to appear before authorities; and shut down the original website of the Referendum.
- In the same vein, early this week the Constitutional Court sent a notification to the Catalan executive, the parliamentary leadership who enabled last week’s vote, all 948 Catalan Mayors, and 60 senior officials -including the directors of Catalan public media- ordering them to cease any activity related to the referendum.
- At the moment of writing this briefing, the Spanish prosecutor announced the filing of a lawsuit against the 5 members of the Electoral Commission of Catalonia.
In spite of these obstacles, the Catalan Government’s determination remains unwavering and work continues as usual in order to ensure that the voting on 1st October takes place. In this regard, an event will take place in Tarragona tonight marking the beginning of the electoral campaign in accordance with article 10 of the Decree on Complementary Regulations.
On 6th September, the Government of Catalonia signed the Decree calling for a referendum on 1st October.
Furthermore, the Catalan Parliament adopted, during this week’s session, two key pieces of legislation providing the legal framework for the referendum to take place: the Law on the Referendum on Self-Determination and the Law on Juridical Transition. Besides providing this legal basis for the referendum, these laws seek to ensure that it is organised and conducted in accordance with the relevant international standards.
The Law on the Referendum on Self-Determination was passed on Wednesday 6th September and covers the following content:
- The Preamble introduces the Law’s legal and political foundations, among which the right to decide and the principle of democratic resolution of political disputes feature prominently.
- Title I states the purpose of the law, namely to provide a legal basis for the referendum, to set the scenarios stemming from its result, and to create the Electoral Commission of Catalonia.
- Title II recognises the people of Catalonia as a sovereign political entity and the Catalan Parliament as its representative.
- Title III covers the defining elements of the referendum: its binding nature, the question to be asked, those entitled to vote, as well as the immediate implications of its two possible outcomes.
- Title IV sets the date of the referendum and establishes a number of matters to be addressed and further developed in a subsequent Decree on Supplementary Regulations.
- Title V sets the basic rules and principles governing the campaign.
- Title VI is devoted to the mechanisms in place to guarantee the proper running of the referendum, including the presence of international observers and visitors.
- Title VII thoroughly covers the electoral administration bodies and their organisation, powers, and composition, as well as the mechanisms and procedures for queries, complaints and appeals.
On 7th September, the Parliament also adopted the Law on Juridical Transition, which establishes the transitional legal framework for the period spanning from the referendum to the constituent elections to be held in the event of a victory of the pro-independence option. The structure and main content of this law are succinctly summarised below:
- Title I, devoted to general provisions, defines Catalonia as a Republic and fixes its territory and other key details.
- Title II covers the transition towards a full-fledged Catalan legal system. Its content, inspired by the principle of continuity, seeks to guarantee the highest degree of legal certainty.
- Title III guarantees the continuity and respect of the fundamental rights recognised in the Catalan Statute of Autonomy, the Spanish Constitution, and other European and international legal instruments.
- Title IV delves into the interim regulation of the Republic’s main institutions until the Constituent Assembly’s draft Constitution is ratified by the Catalan people.
- Title V regulates the Judiciary and the administration of justice, seeking the overall continuity of the current system during the transition period.
- Title VI focuses on finances and sets the Government of Catalonia’s role and responsibilities in regard to taxes, social security, economic and financial rights and obligations, and customs.
- Finally, Title VII outlines the three phases of the Constituent process: the participatory process, the drafting of a Constitution by a Constituent Assembly issued from constituent elections and the ratification of the Constitution by referendum.
Law on the Referendum on Self-determination, and Law on Juridical Transition
On 1st October 2017 the Government of Catalonia will hold a referendum on self-determination.
In the run-up to the referendum, the Catalan Ministry of Foreign Affairs is committed to ensuring that international parties have access to timely and reliable information on the political landscape in which the referendum will take place.
This communication focuses on the report “Catalonia’s Legitimate Right to Decide” published by a group of experts on international, EU and constitutional law from the University of Geneva (Switzerland), Universidade do Minho (Portugal), Sciences Po Law School (France) and the American University (USA).
The report ponders the legitimacy of the forthcoming referendum on self-determination in Catalonia by delving into a number of issues:
- The first chapter sets the scene by means of a concise but thorough analysis of the historical, political and sociological forces at work in the evolution of Catalan politics in the last thirty years.
- The second chapter turns its attention to the actual right to decide, exploring both the origins and evolution of this popular demand in the Catalan context, as well as the latest doctrinal trends in the field of constitutional theory as to the existence of a “right to decide”.
- The third chapter considers the referendum’s legality, a matter assessed through the lenses of International, EU and Constitutional law.
- Finally, the fourth chapter explores the legitimacy of the Catalan Government’s call for a referendum of self-determination by confronting arguments on legality, democracy and legitimacy advanced by both parties.
The following document has been attached for your perusal:
• Full Report “Catalonia’s Legitimate Right to Decide
Catalan society responds to terror attacks
On 17 August 2017 15 people were killed and 134 more were injured, with one of the critically injured passing away on 27 August, bringing the total killed to 16, as a terrorist cell launched one attack where one of the terrorists used a van to mow down victims of 24 different nationalities on Les Rambles, Barcelona’s famous pedestrian boulevard. Later that same day five other members of the same terrorist cell drove a car into a crowd in the seaside resort of Cambrils.
Catalonia’s regional police, the Mossos d’Esquadra, rushed to quickly identify and capture the terrorists involved in these attacks, working seamlessly with the Barcelona City Police and Spanish security forces. The Mossos d’Esquadra pieced together a plot that had apparently been planned in another Catalan coastal town, Alcanar, which went beyond the car attacks, and aimed for a massive truck bomb that would blow up Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia cathedral.
The Mossos d’Esquadra continue to investigate, but in a very short time they were able to capture or kill all 12 members of the terrorist cell involved in these tragic attacks. Five terrorists were shot immediately after their attack in Cambrils the night of 17 August. The driver of the van in Les Rambles attack was shot on 21 August on the run south of Barcelona, with four others arrested in the town of Ripoll that same day. In addition, the remains of the plot leader and one other were identified in the ruins of a house accidentally blown up in Alcanar as they attempted to assembly the truck bomb. The four accused taken into custody appeared in court on 23 August.
A minute of silence was held at noon on 18 August in the Plaça de Catalunya square at the top of Les Rambles to honour the victims. Thousands of the 100,000 participants carried signs saying “I Am Not Afraid” as Catalonia´s citizens showed proud resilience and a refusal to give in to fear.
Catalonia’s Parliament unanimously condemned the brutal attacks in a plenary session held on 25 August, highlighting the exemplary work of the emergency medical services as well as that of the police. The declaration also praises the brave response of citizens to the tragedy, and their refusal to allow these attacks to damage the peaceful coexistence that exists among different religions across Catalonia.
On Saturday, 26 August government officials and political leaders from across the political spectrum united with 500,000 citizens to march down one of Barcelona’s most emblematic avenues, Passeig de Gracia, under the banner of “No tinc por” (I am not afraid), sending a clear statement that terrorism will not win. Thus local institutions and society overall expressed their rejection of the Barcelona and Cambrils attacks, along with their condolences for the victims, and their support for the victims’ families and friends.
These attacks unfortunately are now added to others that have occurred in too many cities around the world, most especially in conflict zones and countries of extreme vulnerability. Catalonia’s society is open, diverse, multicultural, democratic, based on coexistence, and with this march it sought to show once again its commitment to peace and the values of tolerance and dialogue.
The bill on the referendum for the self-determination of Catalonia
Today, 31 July 2017, saw the submitting before the Parliament of Catalonia of the bill on the self-determination of Catalonia. This draft Law, which is attached, was submitted by 67 of the Parliament of Catalonia’s 135 deputies and has the aim of establishing the legal framework for the calling and holding of a referendum to allow the citizens of Catalonia to decide upon their political future on 1 October this year.
The Law seeks to provide a democratic response to:
- The ruling of Spain’s Constitutional Court annulling a number of precepts of the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia, which was approved by both the Parliament of Catalonia and the Spanish Parliament and validated by a referendum in Catalonia, a ruling that entailed the breaking of Spain’s Constitutional Pact of 1978.
- The refusal of the institutions of the Spanish State to negotiate a political solution to the legitimate demands of Catalonia’s self-governing institutions regarding its political future. The only response has been a judicial offensive against those supporting the calling of a referendum.
- The Spanish State’s restricting, by a number of means, of Catalonia’s self-government, as contemplated in the Spanish Constitution, and its embarking on a process of recentralising powers, accompanied by a highly restrictive interpretation of the Spanish Constitution by the Constitutional Court, which has declared unconstitutional many Catalan laws passed by governments of different political outlooks and which affect, for example, the use and promotion of the Catalan language or the funding of its policies.
- Catalonia becoming a structural minority within the Spanish State, which prevents it from enjoying full recognition, representation and participation in the political, social, economic and cultural life of the Spanish State, free from any kind of discrimination.
This Law stems from three realities:
1.The need to find a political solution to the political conflict with the Spanish Government, by permitting the citizens of Catalonia to take a clear and unmistakable stand by means of a referendum.
2.The need to answer the demand expressed by the citizens of Catalonia at the polls, which has created a Government and a parliamentary majority that needs to provide a response in accordance with democratic principles.
3.The existence of an international legal framework that makes possible the calling of a referendum on independence, as well as the creation of a new State in Europe, based on the obligation of States to democratically manage their disagreements, respect for human basic rights and freedoms, peoples’ right to free determination and the right to remedial secession.
Once passed, this Law will govern all the procedures for voting on 1 October with all the necessary democratic guarantees. It thus contemplates a number of common internationally-comparable mechanisms for electoral processes, including the establishment of an electoral authority, the makeup of polling station committees, electoral rolls and the premises in which voting will be held. It is forecast that the Law will be passed at the beginning of September, when the Parliament of Catalonia returns after the summer recess.
Spain´s Interior Ministry used the Police to smear Pro-Independence Party officials in Catalonia and the Spanish Opposition
New evidence of ideological and political persecution in Spain has come to light thanks to the investigative journalism carried out for a documentary entitled “Spain - The State's Secret Cesspit”.
On 18 July 2017 the regional public TV channels in Catalonia, the Basque Country and the Balearic Islands broadcasted this documentary to record-breaking prime time audiences; no Spanish channel has so far shown any interest in broadcasting it. The hour-long programme details how Spain´s Interior Ministry used elements of the Spanish police and some mainstream media to smear political officials from Catalonia’s pro-independence movement and even from Spanish opposition parties like Podemos, in order to serve the Popular Party´s (PP) political interests.
The documentary focuses on the investigative reporting of Patricia López and Carlos Enrique Bayo, both working for the Madrid-based Público newspaper, which led to an explosive news story on 21 June 2016 about tapes of telephone calls between the then Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz and the then Director of Catalonia’s Anti-Fraud Unit Daniel de Alfonso. The dozens of calls detailed a conspiracy that went on between 2011 and 2014 to fabricate stories against pro-independence Catalan politicians and leak them to the press in an attempt to discredit those involved with Catalonia’s independence vote.
This effort was called “Operation Catalonia”. Orders went out from the Interior Minister to different elements of the Spanish police to dig up old cases that could be reactivated and used against pro-independence politicians such as former president Artur Mas and current Vice President Oriol Junqueras, amongst others.
As shown in the documentary, despite the conspiracy launched against innocent Catalan politicians being revealed Interior Minister Fernández Díaz refused to resign, stating that Spain´s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was aware of everything he had done, and he remained as minister until the next Spanish elections when he moved from the ministry to his current seat representing the Popular Party in the Spanish Parliament.
This documentary aired the same day that the Spanish Court of Auditors announced it would move forward with enforcing the sentence of a Euros 5 million fine from a politically motivated court case brought former Catalan President Artur Mas as one of the people responsible for the 9 November 2014 Catalan independence “consultation”. This was announced by court member Ms. Margarita Mariscal de Gante, a former Popular Party Minister of Justice.
Given this situation, it is safe to say that no real “Catalan problem” exists, but rather that Spain has a serious problem with its authoritarian past and the weak foundation based on which the current political system was established in 1978. For this reason, Catalonia’s step forward should be seen as an opportunity for the Spanish government to rethink its role and strengthen its democratic system, enforcing a much more rigorous separation of powers, which even the Council of Europe has ruled as being far from being independent of political interference.
Therefore, the Catalan government is determined to hold an independence referendum on 1 October, not only giving voice to the 68% of Catalonia’s citizens that last polls show will vote about their political future, but also as a means of highlighting the egregious democratic flaws Spain needs to address.
“N.B. “Spain - The State's Secret Cesspit” can be seen in Spanish with English subtitles via https://youtu.be/hXrYBUAcYUo
Catalan Government calls an Independence Referendum on 1 OCTOBER 2017
The Government of Catalonia reached an agreement on the date for its self-determination referendum. The referendum will take place on 1 October and the question will be:
“Do you want Catalonia to be an independent country in the form of a Republic?"
Despite the constant refusal of the Spanish central government to seek a political solution to the demands of the majority of Catalonia´s citizens, the Government, with the support of a parliamentary majority, decided to go ahead with a referendum.
All opinion polls show that three-quarters of the Catalan population want a self-determination referendum, regardless of how they would vote. It is up to the Catalans to decide on the collective future of their society and the only reasonable way to find out what they think on such a fundamental issue is by asking them directly. The Government of Catalonia is convinced of the legitimacy of holding a referendum, as a democratic act.
The Catalan government would like to hold the vote following an agreement between the two governments, but there is no such desire on the part of the Spanish government. For this reason, the Catalan institutions consider this to be the only possible route for Catalonia to decide what the future of its relations with Spain should be. The Spanish Constitution does not forbid this route, and such an important decision should not be conditioned by a partisan interpretation of the Constitution. Voting cannot, under any circumstances, be considered an illegal act.
This June, it will be exactly seven years since Spain’s Constitutional Court passed sentence against Catalonia’s Statute of Autonomy. The approval of the Statute followed a lengthy process, there was extensive dialogue with the Spanish Government, commitments were reached with almost all of the constitutional institutions, all of this with a very large degree of consensus. There was also a referendum, held by common agreement. All of this was, however, to no avail in the search for a solution. On the contrary, one sole and highly politicised constitutional institution was sufficient to put an end to the previous dialogue, commitments made and the agreement reached; furthermore, by court justices firmly anchored in out-of-date ideals and committed to the agenda of the political party that today governs Spain. This Court is no better today; by means of an urgent review, the Court can now impose the summary suspension of elected officials, with no further judicial process. The reasoned dissent of certain members of this Court and the stern warning from the Venice Commission against this reform, have been in vain in their attempts to persuade the Spanish Government to reconsider their position.’
Only a referendum can end this situation that has been negative and unsatisfactory for both parties and has only deteriorated in recent years. For this reason, this step forward for Catalonia should not be seen as a problem but rather as an opportunity for the Spanish state to rethink its role and also take a step forward in its democratic system. It is a way of putting its authoritarian past and the weak foundations of the regime established in 1978 behind it, becoming a model for the defence of its own diversity and a guarantee of democratic principles within its borders.
Catalonia would like to be a key partner for Spain, whether its citizens decide to remain a part of it or they choose to become an independent state. But whatever the relationship, Spain must advance in democratic terms and in the rule of law; it is an unavoidable issue for its future. This step forward, therefore, represents a triple opportunity: for Catalonia, for Spain and for Europe.
Catalan Parliament president's persecution continues
On 14 December 2016 Spain’s Constitutional Court decided to send to courts a case against Carme Forcadell, President of the Parliament of Catalonia. The case charges that on 27 July 2016 President Forcadell committed neglect of duty and contempt of court by allowing a debate and vote on the Catalan parliament approving the conclusions of a parliamentary commission created to study a constituent process that would shape a future independent state. The study of a possible constituent process is just one option that was being studied democratically and responsibly by the Catalan Parliament.
The charges against President Forcadell stem from new highly politicised powers granted to the Constitutional Court by Spanish Government. According to the reform, the Constitutional Court has the ability to go beyond ruling on constitutional issues, and to execute their own rulings via ordinary courts that can fine and suspend public officials from holding office for years if they decide they failed to carry out the Constitutional Court’s rulings. This means a serious threat to the separation of powers between the Executive and the judicial branches of the Spanish government that is the foundation of the rule of law in Spain.
President Forcadell was firstly called to testify last December before the High Court of Justice at the investigation phase of the legal process against her. Thousands of people from civil society accompanied President Forcadell to court, carrying signs that decried the case as an affront to Catalonia’s democratic institutions. She stated at that time that it is her obligation to facilitate democratic debate in Catalonia’s parliament, since Parliament is the place where people expect issues of major importance must be discussed. She said convinced she would do the same again to defend democracy and Catalonia’s institutions.
On 16 February 2017 the High Court of Justice added a second case against President Forcadell for allowing a 6 October 2016 parliamentary vote on two resolutions about an independence referendum, as long as more than 80 percent of Catalans favor deciding their future through a referendum. 80% of Catalonia’s citizens support the option to vote democratically in a referendum on Catalonia’s future. On this occasion, even the members of pro-referendum parties that are part of the board of the Parliament have also been charged of disobedience and called to testify. These parties represent 83 of 135 members of the Parliament.
President Forcadell had testified again on 8 May 2016 before the same court on the new charges of allowing a vote on two resolutions defending a referendum in Catalonia. She requested a postponement because of a lack of sufficient time to prepare her defence, with less than 7 business days between the summons and her trial date as required by the European Court of Human Rights. Her request was denied.
Catalonia defend the freedom of speech and the political capacity of democratic parliaments to debate and vote on political positions of any type, since democratic systems guarantee legal protection from prosecution to members of Parliament for any actions or opinions expressed related to their position. Currently, this parliamentary protection is being violated through the actions carried out by the PP Government.
This causes a serious deficit in the Spanish democracy putting at risk any democratic project in Spain.
The Venice Commission of the Council of Europe and Spanish Democracy
In October 2015, the Spanish Parliament approved solely with the favourable votes of the Popular Party (PP) a reform of the Law of the Spanish Constitutional Court (CC). This measure led the Government of Catalonia and the Basque Government to file appeals of unconstitutionality which were rejected, although three of the eleven judges of the CC presented particular votes due to their disagreement with the measure.
Just this week, on 13 March 2017, the European Commission for Democracy through Law (The Venice Commission) of the Council of Europe issued a critical official Opinion about the reform. It questions the reform of the law of Spain’s Constitutional Court, as well as the following aspects;
- The procedure to impose coercive fines, which should not be ascribed to the Constitutional Court, must comply with the guarantees provided for in article 6 (right to a fair process) of the European Convention on Human Rights, something that the current law does not (Paragraphs 48 and 49).
- The Opinion of the Venice Commission notes that the allocation of powers to the Spanish Constitutional Court to enforce its own rulings is an exception since these functions are normally attributed to other powers of the state (Paragraphs 71).
- The power to apply coercive fines should not be attributed to a Constitutional Court (Paragraph 53). The Commission considers this ability to sanction, as well as the capacity to suspend public officials and civil servants who refuse to execute the Court’s decisions as problematic (Paragraph 73), especially when it’s applied to directly elected officials and to Members of Parliament, because this affects the democratic mandate given to them by the people (Paragraph 74).
This Opinion has arrived at the same time that the former President of Catalonia, Artur Mas, as well as two of his ministers, Joana Ortega and Irene Rigau, have been found guilty of grave disobedience and sanctioned with fines. Moreover, they were barred from holding public office for two years for their involvement in a popular non-formal consultation on independence for Catalonia held on 9 November 2014.
This statement brings to mind the fact that the President of Catalonia’s Parliament and three other senior parliamentary officials are currently awaiting trial, also charged with disobedience for allowing a floor debate on Catalonia’s independence; in addition to hundreds of municipal authorities across Catalonia charged with similar offenses.
It is a sign of how the Spanish Government is adopting a litigation culture against the political issues, not legal ones. This same situation has even been mentioned today by the outgoing President of the Constitutional Court during his farewell speech, who claimed that the problem "cannot be resolved" only by this Court and that dialogue with Catalonia is "urgent and unavoidable".
In response to this attitude, Catalonia’s proposal is a wholly democratic one: ballot boxes, votes and democracy.
Let Us Vote
Catalonia proposes a simple solution to the political conflict it has with Spain, which is a democratic one: put out the ballot boxes to give Catalonia’s citizens a voice to decide on the political and legal status of Catalonia.
Catalonia’s parliamentary majority, a coalition of parties that range from the far left to the Christian Democrat right, has reached an agreement on the Catalan Government’s 2017 budget. There is also renewed support for a self-determination referendum to be held no later than September 2017.
Last week there was a second meeting of the broad-based platform supporting the referendum, which brings together public and private institutions as well as civil society groups who all agree that the solution is to put out the ballot boxes.
85% of Catalonia’s citizens support the option to vote democratically on Catalonia’s future, something that is also supported by 83 Members of Parliament out of the total of 135. There are clearly solid majorities who want a referendum.
Unfortunately the Spanish government’s response is to continue to ignore the fact that there is a serious political problem, and instead of addressing it they force the courts to respond. Thus the Spanish government has systematically and increasingly force the judiciary to take on what is a political situation.
Today former President Artur Mas, and two former Ministers from his government, Joana Ortega and Irene Rigau, had to appear in court charged with administrative disobedience and breach of public trust for their part in the November 2015 consultation on independence. They face large fines and being banned from holding public office. More than 40,000 people accompanied them to the court and demonstrated against the legal persecution of Catalonia’s officials and institutions.
The President of the Catalan Parliament, Carme Forcadell, testified last 16th December in a separate case where she was also charged with administrative disobedience for allowing a plenary session of parliament to vote on proposals from a parliamentary committee on the independence process. There are also more than 400 cases pending against elected municipal officials across Catalonia with charges ranging from sedition to administrative disobedience.
Spain’s Popular Party (PP) government continues to ratchet up their legal offensive against Catalonia’s political officials instead of the political dialogue we have sought for years to address the existing political conflict.
President Rajoy has rejected all dialogue with Catalonia’s government on the issue of self-determination, and the ruling Popular Party has stated that they will use every means possible to block a referendum in Catalonia, including suspending Catalonia’s devolved powers, and, if necessary, the use of force.
Given the situation the Government of Catalonia believes it is absolutely essential that there be a dialogue, mediation, and negotiation, with help from abroad if necessary to make this happen, so we can deal with the decision taken by Catalonia: to give voice to our citizens in a self-determination referendum.
The President of Catalonia’s Parliament goes on trial for allowing Debate and Vote
Today the President of Catalonia’s Parliament, Carme Forcadell, is called to testify before Catalonia’s Supreme Court after they rejected her appeal of the charges that she committed administrative disobedience and a breach of public trust.
These charges arose from the 27 July 20 plenary session of Catalonia’s parliament when she allowed a debate and a subsequent vote on the recommendations presented by a parliamentary committee on the possibilities of amending Spain’s constitution to allow for a legally binding independence referendum like those granted by the governments of the UK to Scotland and Canada to Quebec. If convicted President Forcadell could face being debarred from public office and a personal fine.
It is hard to imagine any other EU member state indicting and seeking to debar the President of a parliament for facilitating a debate in a democratically elected chamber.
This attempt to criminalise parliamentary activity presents a grave threat to Spain’s democracy. These charges are also an attack on the sovereignty of Catalonia’s parliament and they represent a dangerous precedent.
Therefore, the charges against the President of Catalonia’s Parliament are just part of a massive legal assault against Catalonia. The Spanish government has opted for legal persecution of Catalan public officials over dialogue, attempting to force the courts to resolve political issues through prosecution rather than to accept Catalonia’s constant calls for negotiations and dialogue to resolve what are political, not legal, problems.
In addition to the indictment of President Forcadell, the former President, Vice-President, Chief Minister and Education Minister have all been charged with administrative disobedience, embezzlement of public funds and breach of public trust for their involvement in the 9 Nov. 2014 non-legally binding “consultation” on independence.
There are also hundreds of legal cases against Catalan municipalities for sedition and administrative disobedience while Spain’s Constitutional Court has 45 pending cases related to Catalonia.
The latest legal assault against Catalonia came on 14 December when Spain’s Constitutional Court ordered the suspension of the two resolutions approved by 85 of the Catalan Parliament’s 135 MPs, calling for an independence referendum in Catalonia in September 2017
Catalonia is in the midst of a peaceful and democratic political process, where we find ourselves faced off against the Spanish government’s total indifference, offering only intransigence.
In Catalonia we defend the freedom of speech and the political capacity of democratic parliaments to debate and vote on political positions of any type, while expressing any opinion the speakers believe is relevant. Democratic systems guarantee legal protection from prosecution to Members of parliament for any actions or opinions expressed related to their position. This parliamentary protection is being violated.
The serious deficit in Spain’s democracy, and the actions taken by the PP government present a risk to any democratic project, including Spain’s and Europe’s.
Spain’s Constitutional Court takes on new penal jurisdiction Threatening separation of powers and judicial independence
On 4 November 2016 Spain’s Constitutional Court ruled that it was constitutional for them to take on new powers granted through legislation created by Spain’s Popular Party (PP) government. These give the Constitutional Court penal powers to fine and suspend from office any government officials and politicians who fail to enact or otherwise disobey rulings of the Constitutional Court.
The Spanish government continues to refuse all dialogue with the Catalan Government. Instead the PP government focuses all their efforts for Catalonia on the ineffable Constitutional Court, showing Spain’s ever-accelerating reliance on judicial means to address core political questions. This only creates more tension.
Only one party (the PP) backed the legislation in Spain’s Parliament. In addition, the Constitutional Court’s decision to take on these new powers was not unanimous, though the Court’s President had sought a unanimous decision. Instead eight justices voted in favour, with three against. Even the judge who drafted the original proposal for the Court voted against the new powers because she disagreed with the final text that was prepared by the more conservative wing of the Court. The PP government has heavily politicised the Constitutional Court, packing it with party sympathizers, to the point where the president of the court is a former PP party member.
The Constitutional Court also rejected an appeal against the new powers from the Basque Country’s regional government, led by President (Lehendakari) Urkullu, who said the new measures “obliterate the separation of powers in Spain and give another turn of the screw to the judicialization of Spain’s political system.” A second appeal filed by Catalonia’s government (the Generalitat) is due to be rejected shortly.
Catalonia’s President, Carles Puigdemont, reacted to the Court’s latest ruling stating, “This is another step backwards for democracy, it’s very worrying because it shows the total lack of separation of powers in Spain.” Catalonia’s Foreign Minister Raül Romeva , lamented, “the Spanish government considers the Constitution a penal code to be applied to democratically elected representatives of the people”.
This is a further escalation in the PP government’s legal assault against Catalonia, with these new powers directly aimed at the pro-independence government officials and politicians in Catalonia’s parliament when we have already seen key Catalan government officials and municipal authorities in Catalan towns charged with contempt, abuse of authority, and misuse of public funds.
The threat to the separation of powers and the growing lack of judicial Independence in Spain has reached the point where the Council of Europe recently warned the Spanish government for failing to carry out their recommendations that they ensure that Spanish courts “are free from political influence” calling on the Spanish government to cease being involved in the selection of judges. In addition, a recent World Economic Forum study on judicial independence placed Spain just behind Tanzania at number 97 on a list of 144 countries in terms of having a judiciary independent from the influence of members of government.
Catalonia’s Parliament sustains the celebration of a REFERENDUM WHILE Spanish Government continues legal assault on Catalan officials
On 6 October 2016 Catalonia’s Parliament approved two resolutions on the legally binding independence referendum scheduled for not later than September 2017. The first resolution, proposed by the “Together For Yes” coalition and the pro-independence left CUP party, supports the independence referendum announced by President Carles Puigdemont on 28 September. It was approved by 72 votes from the two proposing parties, while there were 11 abstention votes from the “Catalonia Yes We Can” (CSQP) party (out of 135).
The second resolution in support of Catalonia’s independence referendum was proposed by the “Catalonia Yes We Can” (CSQP) party. It calls on the Spanish government to negotiate an agreed referendum with Catalonia. This was approved with 73 votes in favour from the “Together For Yes” coalition plus CPSQ, and 10 abstention votes from the CUP party.
The Members of Parliament who support an independence referendum make up almost two-thirds of the chamber. However our numerous requests for a referendum like those held in Quebec and Scotland not only met with total rejection from the Spanish government, but also a refusal to enter into any kind of dialogue or negotiation. This refusal to negotiate a political solution to what are political problems is instead accompanied by a legal assault on Catalonia’s senior government officials.
The Spanish Attorney General has charged former President Artur Mas, former Minister for the Presidency Francesc Homs, former Vice-President Joana Ortega and former Minister of Education Irene Rigau with disobedience, perverting the course of justice, misuse of public funds and the abuse of power in relation to the unofficial referendum on independence held on 9 November 2014. The Attorney General called on civil courts to seek criminal charges, and on 13 October the High Court of Catalonia agreed to charge the former President, Vice President and Ministers with contempt and abuse of authority, accepting the Attorney General’s recommendation of a 10-year ban on holding office for the former President and a 9-year ban for the other officials.
In addition, on 17 October the Attorney General also filed criminal charges of contempt against the President of the Catalan Parliament, Carme Forcadell, for allowing a parliamentary debate and vote on the recommendations of a parliamentary committee on how to proceed with the “constituent process” for creating an independent state. That same day Spain’s Attorney General called for the Supreme Court to dismiss a case against Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz, who was caught attempting a smear campaign against Catalonia’s pro-independence political parties. Leaked tapes show that the Minister asked the Director of Catalonia’s Anti-Fraud office to assist him in gathering information against the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) party and the Democratic Convergence Party (CDC), who currently govern Catalonia in a pro-independence coalition
All of these court rulings and charges against the democratically-elected senior leadership of Catalonia are a twisted way to avoid what is normal in any democracy, which is to talk and negotiate solutions to political problems. The Catalan people suffer from Spain’s democratic deficit and lack of separation of powers, when 80% of all Catalans state that they want to vote on their political future, yet Spain’s government will not even discuss this. It is also very difficult to comprehend how using democracy so that citizens can decide their future could possibly be a crime.
Catalonia’s call for a referendum is just and peaceful. In the face of the Spanish government’s intransigent refusal to even address the issue, as well as their total lack of alternatives, we have a democratic proposal: to put out the ballot boxes and accept the result. And we are committed to do it.
Catalonia’s President announces he will call a legally binding independence referendum in September 2017
Catalonia never stops its calls for meetings and negotiations with Spain’s government to resolve what most Spaniards consider Spain’s main political problem, second only to ending the 9-month political gridlock in Madrid following two General Elections. However, with no end to the Spanish political paralysis in sight, Catalonia’s President Carles Puigdemont addressed the Catalan Parliament on the eve of a confidence vote that he won on 29 September with 72 votes in favour and 63 against. He noted that in spite of the years of “no” to every Catalan request for political talks, he still has the obligation to fulfil the democratic mandate given in the 27 September 2015 Catalan elections, when the pro-independence parties won a majority with their electoral programme of preparing the structures of state for Catalonia’s transition to becoming a new state in Europe, the Catalan Republic.
He insisted that Catalonia still hopes that Madrid will finally sit down at the table to negotiate, and that the best way to fulfil the demands of the Catalan people was “a referendum or a referendum.” President Puigdemont stated that he was placing the offer to negotiate on the table for all of Spain´s political parties, adding, “Our offer to negotiate has no expiration date, but that does not paralyse our moving forward.” Thus, President Puigdemont announced, “we will seek an agreement with the Spanish government until the very last day, but if there is none to be had, then we will call a binding referendum held under the new laws passed by the Catalan Parliament.
The President stated that at the end of July 2017 the Catalan Parliament will have approved all the laws necessary for Catalonia to function as an independent state and allow a referendum. “This will make it possible for us to be prepared to disconnect from the Spanish State with full guarantees, should the Catalan people choose to do that.” President Puigdemont added, “There will be no jumps into a void, and the new laws will guarantee judicial security during all this process”
The people of Catalonia march massively (again) for independence
11 September is Catalonia’s national day, called “La Diada”. It marks the date in 1714 when after 14 months of siege Barcelona fell to the army of the Spain’s King Felipe V in the War of Spanish Succession. This led to Catalonia finally being folded into Spain against its will. Catalonia’s national day celebrations were suppressed for 40 years during the Franco dictatorship, but were reinstated in 1980 when the autonomous government of Catalonia, the Generalitat, was restored as part of Spain’s much-praised transition to democracy. At the same time Catalonia was promised greater self-rule, to be enshrined in a Statute of Autonomy for Catalonia’s regional government.
Despite a new Statute being passed by Spain’s Parliament in 2006 and approved by a large majority in a referendum in Catalonia, it wasn’t long before Spain’s Parliament began to trim the devolved powers. The tipping point for Catalonia came in 2010 when Spain’s government urged the Constitutional Court to drastically cut even more devolved powers from the Statute of Autonomy. The Catalan people felt betrayed, and that year a million Catalans took to the streets of Barcelona to peacefully protest under the banner “We are a nation. We decide.” The Madrid government ignored Catalonia’s ire, and followed up with a campaign of recentralisation that continues until today. Civil society across Catalonia, led by two key groups, the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Omnium Cultural built a broad-based grassroots network of support for self-determination and eventually independence. Since 2012 the bottom up broad-based movement has peacefully gathered a million Catalans from all walks of life, and from every corner of Catalonia to march peacefully and joyfully every 11 September.
The 11 September 2016 “La Diada” had the theme of “A Punt” (We Are Ready). This year rather than one massive march there were five simultaneous decentralised events across Catalonia’s different provinces, ranging from central Barcelona, the provincial capitals of Tarragona and Lleida, the town of Salt in Girona province, and the town of Berga in Barcelona province. Representatives of different civil society groups spoke at the decentralised events, calling for Spain to stop ignoring the Catalan people.
Catalonia’s President, Carles Puigdemont, participated in the march in Salt, in his native province of Girona. Earlier in the day he told a gathering of foreign press attending “La Diada” that, “The way forward is talking and reaching agreements between very diverse and different people.” His Catalan Democratic Party (PDC) is governing in a pro-independence alliance with the Republic Left of Catalonia (ERC) and some independents called “Together For Yes” which with the pro-independence left CUP party won a majority in the last regional elections based on a manifesto presenting a road map that would lead to Catalonia’s independence from Spain at the end of an 18-month transition which is due to end in June 2017.
For the first time Barcelona’s Mayor, Ada Colau, also joined the marchers despite heading a political party, “Barcelona en Comú”, the Catalan version from “Podemos”, that does not support independence. Her party strongly believes that Catalonia has a right to decide its own political future, and deplores the Spanish government’s refusal to negotiate, or even to talk with Catalonia’s government, hiding behind legal actions to block the independence movement, when this is a political problem that requires a political solution.
Spain´s long-standing government gridlock dates from last December, through two General Elections where Spain’s major parties refused to accept the will of the people, which was for them to work together to form a new government. The Spanish political parties blocking Catalonia having a referendum might learn a lesson from the teamwork among the different parties in Catalonia who have put aside ideological differences to fulfil a democratic mandate from the Catalan people to advance towards independence.
Catalonia’s leaders unanimously call for dialogue with the Spanish government but nobody appears to be listening. The Catalan people once again this year showed the strength of their spirit and will by turning out in massive numbers to express their wishes for Catalonia’s democratic mandate to be fulfilled.
Catalonia’s Parliament Approves The Procedures for Drawing up a Constitution for the Catalan Republic
On 27 July 2016 the Parliament of Catalonia approved by a majority of 72 votes in favour and 11 against, the conclusions of the Parliamentary Commission on the Constituent Process. This Commission was set up following Catalonia’s regional elections on 27 September 2015 which gave a majority to pro-independence parties who campaigned on a road map to be carried out during a special 18-month parliament that would prepare the way for Catalonia’s independence from Spain.
The conclusions of the Commission were approved by the Junts Pel Si (Together For Yes) coalition and the CUP party. The MPs of Ciutadans (Citizens) and the PP (Popular Party) abandoned the session prior to the vote, while the PSC (Catalan Socialist Party) stayed, but didn’t vote, and the CSQP (a Catalan affiliate of Podemos) voted against.
This vote is the next official step in the disconnection process announced at the start of Catalonia’s special 18-month parliament, in November 2015 whereby Catalonia will disconnect from Spanish law in favour of its own legal system, under a Constitution for the Catalan Republic. The Commission’s recommendations were approved despite a 19 July 2016 ruling by Spain’s Constitutional Court declaring any action related to a constituent process unconstitutional. However, the Catalan Parliament does not consider that it disobeyed, as it considers itself to be sovereign to take its own decisions.
The 27 July 2016 vote has these main points: the recognition of Catalonia’s right to decide its own political future; the start of a constituent process leading to the approval of laws that will disconnect Catalonia from Spain, via steps that will not be subject to suspension or appeals from any institutions but Catalonia’s own executive, legislative and judicial systems; and the holding of constituent elections that will formalise an Assembly for the debate and creation of a draft constitution for the Catalan Republic. All this: to be followed by a referendum to approve said constitution, as the final step that will allow the Catalan people to approve or reject the proposed constitutional text peacefully and democratically.
The Catalan Parliament believes that comparative experiences of other states who have achieved independence legitimate the path that Catalonia has chosen to begin its own independence process, which really began last 27 September when the people of Catalonia democratically gave a majority to pro-independence forces to begin this process.
We reiterate that these steps have been taken after Catalonia has devoted years attempting to negotiate or even discuss these issues with the Spanish Government, as well as the Spanish Parliament, exhausting every possible avenue to have a referendum like those granted to Scotland and Quebec, and to have talks on what has been one of Spain’s most important political issues for many years. This request have been ignored over and over, as Spain has hidden behind legal attempts to block Catalonia without any political discussion of what is a political, not a legal issue.
We regret the democratic void in Madrid that we have attempted to work with for many years, but with no hope in sight of any serious engagement with Catalonia from Spain, we have no choice but to follow the democratic mandate given to us by the Catalan people to take the steps necessary to lead Catalonia to independence.
Spain’s 26 June elections show a distinct political behaviour and party system in Catalonia
Spain’s second general elections in six months on 26 June 2016 could not clear the uncertainty concerning the formation of a new government in Madrid. Since the earlier 20 December vote the government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has remained in place in a caretaker role, and on 26 June his conservative Popular Party (PP) once again won the biggest share of the vote but not enough to form an overall majority.
The election results clearly show a different pattern in Catalonia, with pro-referendum parties winning a majority, and pro-independence parties increasing their percentage of the votes, with all of this showing the Catalan people’s clear desire for change.
Catalonia sends 47 MPs (out of 350) to Madrid. The pro-independence referendum leftist party “En Comú Podem” (We Can In Common) won 12 seats in the Madrid Parliament. The pro-independence Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) came in second place with 9 MPs going to Madrid. Democratic Convergence of Catalonia (CDC) won 8 seats, giving the pro-independence forces a total of 17 seats. Meanwhile the first and second most voted parties at the Spanish level, the Popular Party (PP) and the Socialists (PSOE), only came in 5th and 4th with 6 and 7 MPs respectively in Catalonia, while the Citizens party in Catalonia (Ciutadans) came in last with 5 seats.
As the map shows, there is a clear distinction between Catalonia and Spain in terms of the most voted parties in each territory, showing that Catalonia and Spain are two completely different realities.
The ERC and CDC parties will continue to call for an independence referendum for Catalonia in the Spanish Parliament. However, as an independence referendum granted by Madrid seems highly unlikely, given the composition of the Spanish Parliament, Junts pel Sí (Together For Yes), the Catalan government coalition formed by ERC and CDC, led by President Carles Puigdemont, will advance with the road map that formed the basis of their manifesto for last year’s Catalan regional elections, which has independence as its primary goal.
The 26 June vote came after a huge political scandal was uncovered by the digital newspaper “Publico”, who leaked recordings of Spain’s Interior Minister Fernández Díaz asking the Director of Catalonia’s Anti-Fraud office, Mr de Alfonso, assist him in gathering information for a smear campaign against Catalonia’s two main pro-independence political parties currently governing Catalonia. Despite being caught in the act, the Minister refused to resign, and Acting Prime Minister Rajoy refused to fire him, saying he had given a “clear” explanation of his actions. The Anti-Fraud Director de Alfonso also refused to resign, but Catalonia’s Parliament voted 121 – 11 to dismiss him, with just 11 MPs from the PP voting against.
We could all hear on these leaked tapes of a senior Minister of the Spanish government conspiring to use the institutions of the Spanish state to smear democratically-elected Catalan political figures and attempting to destroy them, while influencing public opinion and government alliances.
In any normal democracy these tapes would have created a serious political crisis, and it is surprising that Spain’s Attorney General did not take a single step to investigate Minister Fernández Diaz’s inappropriate abuse of power and misuse of state institutions for political gain, something incompatible with good governance, and weakening Spain’s democracy once again.
It comes as no surprise that so many Catalans no longer believe that the Spanish government or state institutions can govern without prejudice against Catalonia, and therefore seek their own state.
Spanish Government Obstructs Democratic Dialogue By The Judicialisation Of Politics
Since 2012 the Spanish government has challenged 33 laws/acts passed by Catalonia’s Parliament and approved by the Catalan government via appeals to Spain’s Constitutional Court. The pace of the appeals continues to accelerate to the point where recently new appeals have been launched against laws that affect the basic rights of Catalonia’s citizens, such as the Law for Local Government, the Law On Empty Housing and the Law on Equality Between Men and Women. The Spanish government is even appealing laws that are designed to provide urgent assistance to those more affected by the economic crisis, such as the Catalan Law To Alleviate Energy Poverty.
Such appeals, whether the Court finally rule them appropriate or not, lead to an immediate suspension of the law/decree/resolution in question, thereby blocking it for a minimum of five months, and often longer. In the growing barrage of appeals against Catalonia’s laws, there is a particular emphasis on blocking laws that affect the Catalan government’s ability to raise funds. By doing so, the Constitutional Court has prevented the Catalan Government from receiving the sum of €807 million, precisely when Spain’s Finance Minister is calling on Catalonia to cut back a further €1 billion in this year’s budget.
Catalonia’s government and parliament actually filed a complaint with the Constitutional Court against the clear political bias of the court’s President, due to his active membership in the ruling PP political party, a violation of court rules, but the complaint was rejected by a vote of 9 judges to 2. In recent years criticism has grown across Spain that the Constitutional Court has become highly politicised with choices influenced by political party allegiances. Some of the original drafters of Spain’s 1978 Constitution have also stated that their constitutional text is no longer being interpreted with the original meaning.
On 20 April 2016 Catalonia’s President Carles Puigdemont met with Spain’s Acting President, Mariano Rajoy, having sought to open a dialogue with Madrid that had been impossible for many years. He presented a list of 46 points that he wished to discuss, including the Catalan government’s democratic mandate, and yet another request for an independence referendum. There was also with a strong concentration on social issues in the list of topics to be discussed.
This meeting was followed on 29 April by a meeting between Spain’s Acting Vice President, Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, and Catalonia’s Vice President Oriol Junqueras. Although the result of these meeting has only been new appeals and blockage, the Catalan Government will continue asking for political dialogue as the appropriate channel for resolving what are political problems, not legal ones.
As President Puigdemont stated in his speech at Chatham House, on 12 May 2016, “The desire for freedom, to protect our people, to change for the better, to build, to hope, to have ambition, are some of the elements driving Catalonia’s political project to become a state. (…)”. We want to do it our way, the Catalan way, in an exemplary manner, democratically, with a sense of civic spirit and respect, approaching it not as a problem but as an opportunity”.
It is incumbent on Spain’s current acting government and the next government to stop judicialising what is a political problem with more appeals to the Constitutional Court and instead engage politically with the Catalan government in order to manage the transition to independence and to ensure future close cooperation between Spain and an independent Catalonia within the EU.
Civil society is also mobilised. On 29 May a public demonstration took place in Barcelona to protest against this continuous judicialisation of politics under the banner: “Rights are not suspended: proper jobs, social rights and real democracy”. All of Catalonia’s political parties participated (except for the PP and Ciudadanos) along with key civil society organisations.
Catalonia’s Road Map To Independence
For the first time in its history Catalonia now has a Parliament where pro-independence parties hold a majority of seats, following regional parliamentary elections held on 27 September 2015. This result came after public debates on independence across Catalonia, and a manifesto shared between the two main pro-independence parties (CDC and ERC), which was also backed by the main civil society organisations in favour of independence (ANC, Omnium Cultural and AMI). The shared manifesto is called “The Road Map To Independence” and it lays out the details of an 18-month timeline that will lead to the creation of the Catalan Republic as a new European state.
In January 2016 the new President of the Generalitat, Carles Puigdemont, was chosen and a new Government sworn in with the democratic mandate to use the coming 18 months to follow the agreed Road Map leading to independence. The first step is for the Government to begin to set up the state structures necessary for Catalonia to exercise sovereignty in the areas where it cannot yet do so. At the same time the Catalan Parliament is drafting the so-called “disconnection laws” which create the Catalan Treasury and the Catalan Social Protection Agency. There is a third disconnection law that will cover the judicial transition from Spanish law to the laws of the Catalan Republic, in full alignment with EU and international law, with the objective of guaranteeing legal security for individuals, companies and organisations.
In parallel Catalonia’s strong civil society has begun a process, where there will be public debates and discussions to allow full citizen participation in the preparation of a new constitution for the new state.
All the main Catalan institutions: Government, Parliament and a large majority of city and town halls across Catalonia, have ceaselessly called for a legally binding independence referendum to be granted by the Spanish Government. Such a referendum is supported by 80% of Catalonia’s population, and 87% would accept the results of such a vote. However, despite formal requests to the Spanish Parliament, the Spanish Government, and all the political parties, our requests have been ignored.
Throughout the entire 18-month timeline, the Catalan Government will remain open to the negotiate a referendum with the Spanish Government, something we have sought since 2012. We hope that the new Spanish Government might be more open to talking about this. However Catalonia’s Government and Parliament won’t sit idly by waiting; we are committed to fulfil the legal democratic mandate given to us by the Catalan people.
All of the above-mentioned steps outlined in the Road Map will lead to constituent elections at the end of the 18-month transitional period. These elections will choose a new Parliament that will finalise a new Constitution, which will then be submitted to the people via a referendum. This road map goes from vote to vote and from the existing legal framework to a new legal framework. By voting to approve the new Constitution, the citizens will decide that Catalonia becomes a new State in Europe.
Spain’s government uses Constitutional Court against Catalan ministry of foreign affairs
On 16 February 2016 Spain’s Constitutional Court suspended some articles of a decree signed by the President of Catalonia Carles Puigdemont on 13 January 2016 creating a Catalan Foreign Ministry. The suspension followed a challenge from Spain’s government under article 161.2 of the Spanish Constitution and is automatic the moment the Constitutional Court agreed to accept the government’s case. The court now has five months to decide about the suspension.
Unfortunately this is just another example of the Spanish government hiding behind legal excuses for what is a political issue that needs to be addressed. Catalonia has called for dialogue for years, but Spain simply refuses. Therefore, the ongoing crisis in Catalonia’s relations with Spain is caused by the obdurate refusal of Madrid to talk about longstanding problems that can only be resolved through political dialogue.
A key pillar of modern democracy is the separation of powers, which provides for a judiciary that is free from political influence. Sadly the highest court in Spain’s democracy is led by a justice who is openly a member of the PP political party, the current party in power in Madrid, and a large number of other Constitutional Court justices do not hide their PP political affiliation either. In fact, for the last two years the Spanish chapter of Transparency International has called for “an end to the partisan political meddling with the appointment of the members of the Constitutional Court,” a call that has not been heard, since it is clear that the Constitutional Court takes orders from the Spanish government.
It was this very court’s 2010 decision to eliminate large sections of Catalonia’s negotiated Statute of Autonomy outlining newly devolved powers (which had already been approved by Spain’s Parliament and by a referendum in Catalonia) that led to the first massive civil society demonstration calling for Catalonia’s independence. Since then Spain’s government has used this court over and over as they re-centralize power, leading to growing frustration in Catalonia.
Catalonia’s Foreign Minister Raul Romeva responded to the court’s suspension saying, “I have absolute confidence that the Catalan Foreign Ministry and all of its competences are constitutional and essential to defend the interests of the Catalan people abroad and to explain what is happening in Catalonia and why.” He also cited the democratic mandate given by the people of Catalonia in the 27 September Catalan elections where pro-independence parties won a majority of seats in the Catalan Parliament.
The Catalan government has been doing external action for the last 30 years. A Secretariat of Foreign Affairs exists since 2006 and today has exactly the same structure and responsibilities that it always had. Catalonia’s basic laws provide a clear legal basis for such policies. The creation of a ministry in this new Government responds to the growing need to explain Catalonia’s economic, social and political realities to the international community.
President Carles Puigdemont has explained that Catalonia will continue its work abroad, and he stated, “I am convinced that the Constitutional Court will not find any basis for the case.” The Catalan government will present an appeal to the suspension, asking the Constitutional Court to lift same.
130TH CATALONIA PRESIDENT AND CABINET SWORN IN WITH NEW MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS
On 10 January 2016 the Parliament of Catalonia chose Carles Puigdemont as the 130th President of the Generalitat, Catalonia’s institution of self-government founded in 1359. He took the oath of office on 12 January. President Puigdemont received the medal of office from his predecessor, President Artur Mas. A former journalist who became Mayor of the city of Girona in 2011, President Puigdemont also headed the Association of Catalan Municipalities for Independence (AMI). He has been a Member of Catalonia’s Parliament since 2006 and in September 2015 was re-elected on the Together For Yes list (Junts pel Sí), a united list that brought together, among others, Catalonia’s two main pro-independence parties: Democratic Convergence of Catalonia (CDC) and the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC).
President Puigdemont said at his inauguration ¨We have come far, but we are not tired. We are full of hope.” He said he would lead the implementation of new social measures, noting “the country that we want to build must be fairer, more equal, better trained, more modern, with better healthcare, more jobs, and with greater transparency, an example of best political and democratic practices.”
The unity government sworn in by President Puigdemont has thirteen members. The new Vice-President, who also serves as Minister of Economy, is Oriol Junqueras, who heads the Republican Left party (ERC). A former history professor and MEP, he was most recently Leader of the Opposition in the Catalan Parliament.
In addition, the Government has granted the rank of Ministry to the department in charge of the area of foreign affairs. The new Minister, Raul Romeva, B.A. in Economics and Ph.D. in International Relations, was also MEP in Brussels for 10 years. External action is a competence recognised in Catalonia’s Statute of Autonomy. Minister Romeva has stated that Catalonia wants to move forward in a fully legal way, with a desire for permanent dialogue with the Spanish government, the European Union and the international community, while also responding to the democratic mandate of the Catalan people, who gave a majority to the parties committed to the creation of an independent state.