Would Catalonia Challenge Madrid Over Independence Vote?

Would Catalonia Challenge Madrid Over Independence Vote?
Catalans are not accepting Madrid’s decision to cancel the vote on independence scheduled for November, 9. What risks does that create? Radio VR is discussing it with Prof. Xavier Arbós from the University of Barcelona.

Catalans are not accepting Madrid’s decision to cancel the vote on independence scheduled for November, 9. What risks does that create? Radio VR is discussing it with Prof. Xavier Arbós from the University of Barcelona.

On Monday, Spain's Constitutional Court suspended Catalonia's decree to hold an independence referendum in November. On Tuesday, the Catalan regional government said they would appeal the decision.

The Catalan independence referendum will be held despite the decision of the Spanish Constitutional Court to suspend it, Carme Forcadell, the leader of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), a pro-independence group, told El Pais Thursday. "All the conditions have been met. The campaign has been temporarily suspended, but not the referendum," Forcadell said.

Meanwhile a wave of protests swept the region. “Despite heavy rain thousands of Catalans pushed home their call for independence just one day after  Spain’s Constitutional Court suspended a November 9 referendum”, the Euronews reported.

Says Xavier Arbós, professor of constitutional law at the University of Barcelona:

“… The intention was to hold not exactly a referendum, because there is some tricky legal negotiation about it, but what is officially called a consultation on November 9. But the Constitutional Court of Spain has suspended both: the law of the Catalan Parliament and the decree of the Catalan President that intended to put into effect this consultation.

The nuance may somehow be important, because formally neither the law nor the decree talk even about a referendum on secession, but only about a consultation that is only a way to know the opinion of the Catalan people on a set of questions. That is: do you agree with Catalonia being a state? And then, if you answer “yes”, you can then answer the second question. That is: do you want Catalonia to be a state or an independent state?

Of course, there is a great amount of ambiguity, but both the law and the decree are suspended. And the Constitutional Court has forbidden putting into effect any of the provisions of the law and the decree. So, the great question for us – Catalans living in Catalonia – is: if the President of Catalonia will call for an anticipated election or the situation will flow and some more radical political parties will try to mobilize people in order to have, so to speak, an illegal consultation. So, the situation is very fluid.

Do I get you right that the central Government, being aware of the most possible outcome of the vote, which would be for the secession, has made that step or could there be any other reason for that? 

Xavier Arbós: I think that the central Government has been very afraid of the so-called “bad example” of the referendum in Scotland. The central Government, both the governing party or the popular party and the main party of the opposition – the Socialist Party – they don’t want the Catalan people to vote on an issue related to secession. They don’t agree to take the same path that the Government of David Cameron has taken in the UK. And they have announced that in case the Catalan Parliament will pass the law, that has been passed, and in case the President will sign the decree, that has been signed, the central Government will take an action before the Constitutional Court in order to suspend both.

So, it was perfectly clear, I think, for anybody living in Catalonia or in Spain that that will be the action to be taken by the central Government, no doubt about it. The Spanish Parliament has refused the petition coming from the Catalan Parliament to get an authorization to transfer the power to call for a referendum to Catalonia. It was refused on April 8. And then, using some legal technicality the Catalan Parliament has passed a law that called for a consultation, instead of a referendum. So, for us here, in Catalonia and in Spain the scenery was very clear.

You’ve mentioned a “bad example” of the Scotland’s vote. Why would the central authorities regard it as a bad example? The outcome of the vote, at least officially, was to remain in the UK.

Xavier Arbós: The fear was that if you let the people express their feelings, you can have an answer that you would not like. And there is an important amount of discomfort in Catalonia, for many reasons. And even if the poll were to suggest that about 70-80% of the population would like to have a vote, the results that foresee an outcome in favor of independence would not be so appallingly clear, that it is about 50%. But there is a matter of principle in the eyes of the central Government and in the eyes of the main political parties in Spain: the Constitution doesn’t allow the right of self-determination. That is the principle that is very cherished by the main political parties in Spain.

And then, the last but not the least, Catalonia mounts for 19% of the Gross National Product in Spain. So, it is, so to speak, a rich region. And then, it would start being a bad example not only for Catalans themselves, but also for the other regions, mainly the Basque country, and perhaps some other, and the end of the Spanish state could be something really-really dangerous.

Since you are saying it is roughly 50% pro and contra, wouldn’t the current position of the central Government result in increased numbers of people voting for independence?

Xavier Arbós: I think that it would be wise of the central Government to offer a reform of the Constitution. What invites many Catalans to be in favor of independence, it is not mainly a classic nationalism, in the sense of feeling themselves very different from the rest of Spaniards, because we have the language and so on. There is a feeling of being mistreated by the central Government, particularly in the fiscal system (that is perceived as not being fair), and in the restrictions on autonomy (on the very sensitive matters such as the teaching of our language at schools). Then, to offer the opening of constitutional negotiations would be something useful to appease these feelings in Catalonia.

But my forecast is that nothing will happen till it will be evident that the President of Catalonia has lost the game. That is: either he continues with the same Government till the end of his mandate, till 2016, or he calls for an anticipated election. So, there is, so to speak, a need for clarifying the end of the clash.

But on the other hand, there is also another risk. If Mr. Mas, the Catalan President calls for an anticipated election, the movement could result in what is called a plebiscitarian election. That is: instead of having a proper referendum, the separatist political parties will call their voters – look, if you vote for us and we win in the election, the new Catalan Parliament will declare independence unilaterally. And that is a very dangerous step. And everybody seems to be in some way playing what is called a chicken run – trying to push the car as far as possible and as fast as possible expecting the other to change a direction, and have the final trophy in this strategy.

But the situation is very fluid. The block of political parties that support the President of Catalonia in this strategy is somehow changing. Some of the political parties don’t agree with the civil disobedience. Others, on the contrary, seem to push him to go beyond the restrictions of the Constitutional Court. The President has talked to all the leaders that support him and we do not know what will be the final decision: either to continue and then, perhaps, to make the main radical political party that is outside of the Government of Catalonia, the so-called Republican Left of Catalonia, to join the executive (which is quit improbable), or simply to call for an election in February, in three months before the municipal election that is going to be held in May in entire Spain.

So, the situation will not clarify till the President has talked to all the six political leaders that support him. And after that he probably will call for a press conference or issue a communiqué making public what the next step in his strategy will be”.

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