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 supressed 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.