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Catalonia pushes for change, Madrid pushes back

Catalonia pushes for change, Madrid pushes back
By Euronews
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A drop of ink, the flourish of the pen made an act of pride and determination…

The President of the Autonomous Region of Catalonia in Spain Artur Mas on Saturday signed a decree calling a referendum on the region’s political future.

This puts the people and politicians at odds with the government in Madrid, which has invoked the power of the Constitutional Court to prevent the poll.

In Barcelona, a statue over his shoulder symbolising when Catalonia was a complete kingdom, Mas said:

“In a democracy, one resolves the challenges ahead with more democracy. Nobody can be scared by others expressing their opinions by casting a ballot. This is our compromise, what we were given the task to do by a great majority of Catalans with their vote in the last autonomous election. Catalonia wants to speak, to be heard, to vote.”

Eight thousand ballot boxes have been prepared. Catalans might see two questions: Do you want Catalonia to become a State? If the answer is ‘yes’, do you want that State to be independent?

It was a popular move. Many celebrated. But even though the date has been set — for November 9th — the region of 7.6 million people is not certain to have its day.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has vowed to block the vote because Spain’s constitution doesn’t allow referendums that don’t include all Spaniards.

Rajoy keeps saying ‘no’ but that doesn’t make the secessionist urge go down.

Mas has said he’ll negotiate for conditions till the last moment, but won’t do anything illegal. No referendum might make for early elections in Catalonia.

That would look a lot like a vote on independence.

Of all the regions of Spain, Catalonia contributes the biggest share to its economic vitality, and yet feels short-changed by how Madrid redistributes tax receipts. Which ever way the court rules, Catalan demands for a better deal don’t look likely to fade.

We spoke with Francesc de Carreras, a political and constitutional law analyst for the newspapers La Vanguardia and El Pais, in Madrid. Our subject: the confrontation between Catalonia and the Spanish government that the referendum represents. We asked: Can Madrid prevent the referendum from going ahead on November 9th in Catalonia with the Constitutional Court?

Francesc de Carreras: “The formal contestation as provided for in article 161-2 of the constitution means the court must automatically suspend the referendum for as long as it examines the case. In this sense, from a legal point of view, holding the referendum on 9 November is impossible. They could, however, organise mock voting. It seems that’s what some independence parties want to do.”

Vicenz Batalla, euronews: “Can Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy disqualify the head of Catalonia’s government Artur Mas and suspend its autonomy?”

de Carreras: “No, Rajoy can not divest Artur Mas, nor suspend autonomy. Firstly, any suspension of autonomy would mean putting on hold the activities of the autonomous government and those of the parliament of Catalonia as well. That is not permitted by the constitution. As for divesting the governing president, that is provided for in the penal code but can only be imposed by a judge. In any case, Rajoy can denounce Mas through the state prosecutor, and launch a formal complaint with a judge, but it would be for the judge to decide whether to strip him of his office.”

euronews: “Why can’t there be a referendum here, like Quebec held in the past or Scotland two weeks ago? Because it’s not in the Spanish constitution?”

de Carreras: “Each country has its own laws. Spain only holds referendums to ratify laws on constitutional reforms or statutes, and it is the end point in the legislative process. There is only one kind of referendum, today, a consultative one, at state level, proposed by the prime minister, with a majority in the houses of parliament, in cases of great political importance. There are doubts about the interpretation of the constitution in Catalonia, whether this referendum should involve all Spanish citizens or only those of Catalonia. In any case, it would be a voice quite close to that heard in Quebec, which is to say: if they wanted a referendum in Catalonia they could start negotiations between the government in Madrid and the Catalan Generalitat to find a way out of all this.”


euronews: “What might the frustration of Catalan society lead to if there is no referendum?”

de Carreras: “We could say that a majority of Catalan society wants to be heard on this subject — people who want to vote. But [only] a minority [of them] want independence. There is also the matter of properly debating the consequences for everyone, in relation to Europe, in relation to being a country among other countries of the world. I’m talking about a Catalonia and its economy — all that. We have not really had enough in-depth debate about this. That is because the media in Catalonia are highly monopolised or heavily influenced by the most nationalistic voices.”

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