“Essential” step towards independence vote cleared as Catalan Parliament approves 2017 budget

Article published by Nationalia, 22th March 2017

Adopted law allocates funds to hold self-determination referendum · Opposition parties warn they will challenge decision in court

The pro-independence majority in the 135-seat Catalan Parliament today passed a 2017 budget that allocates money to hold a vote on secession from Spain. Main Catalan pro-independence alliance JxSí (62 seats) deemed the approval of the budget as an “essential” step towards the referendum. Pro-independence, left-wing party CUP (10 seats) urged the Catalan government to set “the date and wording” of the referendum. Opposition parties, on the other hand, argue the 2017 budget is “illegal”, and warned they would be challenging them in court.

According to the pro-independence narrative, the budget approval takes Catalonia one step closer to a referendum that does not have the approval of the Spanish government. Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and deputy president Oriol Junqueras (JxSí) say the vote will take place in September, or even earlier if circumstances so advise.

CUP lawmaker Eulàlia Reguant yesterday said her party’s support for the budget was meant to allow the holding of the referendum “without seeking permission from no one,” in a reference to the rejection by Spanish authorities to allow the vote.

Despite Reguant’s words, Puigdemont and Junqueras have again demanded a meeting with the Spanish government to negotiate an agreed referendum on independence, Scotland-style. The two pro-independence politicians did so by writing an open letter which was published on March 19 on Spain’s leading newspaper El País. “We will make every effort so that the citizens of Catalonia can vote in 2017 in a self-determination referendum,” the text reads. “All type of surveys point out that some 80% of Catalans want to have a say on Catalonia’s political future in relation to Spain”, Puigdemont and Junqueras argue.

The Spanish government continues to counter that such a vote would be illegal, since the Spanish Constitution does not allow to break up “the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation”. Still, Rajoy’s government says it is open to negotiate new tax deals with Catalonia.

The Catalan government insists that the referendum will be held even if a deal cannot be reached with Spanish authorities. Catalan authorities plan to pass a Law on legal transience that declares Catalonia a republic, thus amounting to a de facto declaration of independence. The law was agreed by JxSí and CUP in December 2016. This, according to the Catalan authorities, will legalize the referendum vote and the subsequent road to independence, if “yes” wins the most votes.

The Catalan Parliament’s legal counsels today warned that allocating funds for the referendum in the 2017 budget would be contrary to Spanish Constitutional Court’s rulings.

Independence support and rejection

Independence demands, as shown by subsequent opinion polls, stem most notably from three different ideas: one, that Spanish authorities do not enough respect Catalonia’s national identity —including its own language and culture; two, that Catalonia sends too much tax money to state coffers; and three, that Spain continues to suffer important democratic deficits 40 years after dictatorship came to an end.

Surveys show that support and rejection to independence in an outright “yes-no” referendum could be 50-50. In a 2015 Catalan legislative election that pro-independence parties considered a de facto plebiscite on independence, those parties (big-tent JxSí and left-wing CUP) obtained some 48% of the votes and secured an absolute majority of seats. Parties opposing independence (social democrat PSC, centre-right C’s and conservative PP) obtained some 39% of the votes. The remaining 13% of the votes went to parties with less clear stances —that was mostly the case for left-wing CSQP, whose election manifesto vowed a referendum even if many of their leaders want Catalonia to remain in Spain with enlarged autonomy.

Massive pro-independence demonstrations held annually on 11 September have had at least hundreds of thousands, even more than one million people, demanding secession from Spain for 5 years in a row. Pro-union demonstrations have been much less crowded —on 19 March, some 6,000 people marched in Barcelona for Spanish unity.

Unanswered questions

In a January article, Nationalia asked some experts about the referendum issue and its unanswered questions, such as the campaign’s timetable or the real effects that the vote might have if finally held. Professor of Law Jorge Cagiao said the referendum will not be the definitive one that “resolves the [Catalonia-Spain] dispute” if “[popular] participation lacks, if not enough guarantees of implementation exist, and if no active campaign is held”.

Professor of Political Science Ivan Serrano said that a “yes” win in the referendum would “at least” show that “a clear democratic mandate” for independence exists, but he conceded that the result “might no be implemented from day 1”.

Researcher on stateless nationalism and political parties Núria Franco-Guillén argued it would be advisable to hold a public consultation on citizen’s preferences on the features of any future Catalan state, which “should have already been done by the Catalan administration”.

Professor of International and Constitutional Law Daniel Turp argued the campaign “should start as soon as possible, in an unofficial manner,” and considered the Catalan government should “challenge” the unionist camp to form a “no” campaign that could engage in public debate with pro-independence groups.


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