Catalonia Calling! #07

Democratic Disconnection - 15/11/2015

Catalonia Calling #07 is called Democratic Disconnection and centres around the Declaration of the Beginning of the Creation of the Catalan State as an Independent Republic, which was passed by the Parliament of Catalonia by 72 votes to 63 on Monday 9th November.

The failed investiture of Artur Mas as President of the Generalitat on two occasions this week means that, at the moment, Catalonia doesn't have a government capable of putting the resolution into practice. Negotiations continue between Junts pel Sí and the CUP, who are restricted by the decision of the membership and have a national assembly on November 29th.

The second associated topic is the Spanish government's reaction to the declaration both verbally, through reactions in the media, and legally, by immediately registering an appeal with the Constitutional Court, which suspended the text on Wednesday and also warned 21 Catalan politicians of the grave consequences of putting any of the declaration's resolutions into practice.





The Declaration

The weekend went by quite quietly with the only highlight being Neymar's third goal in Barça's comfortable 3-0 victory over Villarreal.

I got up full of expectation for what I'd dubbed the new 9N. The debate on the Declaration of the Beginning of the Independence Process was taking place on the first anniversary of the 9N proxy referendum held on November 9th last year.

I had decided to livestream the event, which went OK for a first attempt, but the debate was actually very straightforward and much less exciting than expected. The resolution, with the social amendments that had been added the previous Friday was proposed by Raül Romeva of Junts pel Sí and seconded by Anna Gabriel of the CUP and then Joan Cuscabiela of Catalunya Sí que es Pot, Miquel Iceta of PSC, Inés Arrimadas of Ciudadanos and Xavier García Albiol of the Partido Popular all argued against the motion, which was passed by the 72 votes of Junts pel Sí and the CUP against the 63 of the others.

As I've said before the two key articles are Article 6, which states that the Generalitat of Catalonia won't obey the rulings of the Spanish Constitutional Court, and Article 8, which states that the Catalan Government will only abide by new laws emanating from the Parliament of Catalonia. These mean that Catalonia is officially making a legal break with the Spanish State, and in my translation of article 7, I actually use the word democratic disconnection.

"SEVEN: The Catalan Parliament will adopt the necessary measures in order to begin a process of massive, sustained and peaceful democratic disconnection with the Spanish State in such a way as to allow the empowerment of the citizenry at all levels based on open, active and integrative participation."

Spanish President, Mariano Rajoy, who was in the Castilian town of Béjar, made an immediate statement saying that he had initiated the process for an appeal with the Constitutional Court by Wednesday at the latest and that the government would "use only the rule of law, but all of the rule of law, only the law, but all of the law, only the democracy, but all of the power of the democracy. Catalonia isn't going to disconnect from anywhere nor is any fracture going to happen."

Given that there had been rumours of a violent reaction, which I've never taken seriously by the way, the statement was both calming and firm. However, as has happened from the beginning, the Spanish government doesn't attempt to answer the differences that Catalonia has with the State through negotiated political means but simply by declaring them illegal. As the declaration itself says that it doesn't recognise the precedence of Spanish law, in particular the Constitutional Court, a legal response is hardly going to be effective.

First Investiture Debate

The afternoon session in Parliament was dedicated almost exclusively to Artur Mas's investiture speech, which lasted an hour and a half and I thought was excellent. The first hour or so was devoted to the performance of the government and fairly predictable but in the closing section, President Mas showed his commitment to the independence process and the implications of the declaration and openly asked for the CUP's vote in favour of his investiture.

He was criticised by many people for not mentioning the corruption scandals that have hit his party, which is ridiculous in my opinion. Firstly, if you're making a speech which is asking for people's support, you're hardly going to focus on your own Achilles' heel and Mas has answered all the accusations separately in three commission appearances. Secondly, the major cases all date from the period prior to Mas taking over leadership of the party, the scandal surrounding former leader Jordi Pujol's tax avoidance is strictly personal and has nothing to do with the party and the recent raids on party offices and arrests of party officials haven't led to any accusations that are likely to hold up in court.

I'm certainly not justifying the crony capitalism of the 1980s and 1990s or the dreadful party finance system in Spain, which actually leads to acts of questionable honesty, but I think Mas personally has done what he could to reform dubious practices, admittedly without rocking the boat too much.

Anyway, the following day was a series of very critical speeches by the leaders of the other parliamentary groups followed by replies from Artur Mas, in which he had plenty of opportunities to answer questions not only dealing with corruption but also his incompetent government, heartless social policies and selfish desire to destroy Spain. Mas really is at his best under these circumstances and, in a series of improvised half hour responses, showed his in-depth knowledge of the questions in hand and his obvious capacity as a political leader.

The day culminated in a rather aggressive speech by Antonio Baños of the CUP, who said that the independence movement needed a consensus candidate and that Mas represented the political system of autonomous governments and therefore, the past. He announced that his party would be voting against and after a fairly mild reply by Mas, the vote was cast with 62 votes in favour of Mas as President and 73 against.

The Constitutional Court Ruling

After various meetings of Councils of State and other bodies, the State Attorney finally lodged the appeal with the Constitutional Court on Wednesday morning. The text of the appeal cited 7 articles of the Spanish Constitution, obviously the ones relating to the indivisible unity of the Spanish nation and that sovereignty resides in the whole of the Spanish people were particularly relevant as was the 2010 ruling of the Constitutional Court on the 2006 Catalan Statute of Autonomy, which stated that the statutes are "subordinate to the Constitution and are not expressions of sovereign power". It also cited the Constitutional Court's 2013 ruling against the Catalan Declaration of Sovereignty and asked the judges to specifically inform the 21 members of the Catalan government and the Mesa del Parlament of the consequences of disobeying the ruling.

As expected the same afternoon, the judges decided unanimously to accept the appeal for processing and consequently, suspended the declaration until a ruling is made in 5 months time. The 21 Catalan politicians were duly informed of the legal consequences of any action that could be interpreted as disobeying the suspension, which include immediate suspension from office and possibly criminal proceedings. There are two interesting points that come to mind as a result of the ruling. Firstly, with its new powers the Constitutional Court can now take further actions based on its own rulings. Before the new powers, when someone disobeyed a ruling of the Constitutional Court, they had to be processed through the normal legal system. This is the case with Artur Mas, Irene Rigau and Joana Ortega, whose case is being heard by the Tribunal de Justicia Superior de Catalunya following their involvement in organising last year's 9N proxy referendum. Now the punishment can be dished out by the Constitutional Court itself. However, there are concerns about whether this is constitutional or not so we might find ourselves in the strange situation of the constitutional court having to make rulings on the constitutionality of its own rulings. As the saying goes, Spain is different.

Secondly, as the warning to the politicians makes clear, nothing illegal has happened until somebody acts on the content of the declaration. The most obvious article that needs to be put into practice is Article Five, which "considers it necessary to define a maximum of thirty days for the passing of the laws of the Constituent Process, the Social Security and the Catalan Treasury." However, a government is required to table new laws and this is why the second parliamentary investiture session was so important.

Second Investiture Debate

In the first investiture debate an absolute majority (ie. 68 votes in favour) was required to instate Artur Mas as President but only a simple majority was required in the second. With the 63 votes of Ciudadanos, Partido Popular, PSC and CSQEP all definitely voting against, the collaboration of the CUP was needed. If two CUP deputies voted in favour and the rest abstained, Mas would be President or equally he would be invested if 6 CUP deputies voted in favour and 4 against in one of their typical 'critical Yes' votes.

For this reason, Junts pel Sí and the CUP were locked in negotiations for most of Wednesday afternoon. The Vice-President, Neus Munté, was mooted as a consensus candidate earlier in the week and on Thursday morning, the CUP let slip the name of Raül Romeva.

The debate began with Artur Mas making an offer of a kind of choral vice-presidency with Artur Mas as President and Oriol Junqueras as Vice-President and then Neus Munté and Raul Romeva as sort of Vice-Vice-Presidents with powers above and beyond a normal minister. He also said that he was willing to submit himself to a vote of confidence after ten months in office.

Following the exchanges between Mas and the other party representatives, the turn of Antonio Baños came towards the end of the day. His attitude was much calmer and in his conclusion said that the answer was No once again but a 'calm No' because the idea was to create a solid alliance that would confidently take Catalonia to independence.

Mas's response was resigned but he still showed plenty of political muscle and made Baños and the CUP smile when he said I prefer an uncalm Yes to a calm No" so there appears to be room for understanding.

Unfortunately, though, the CUP don't plan to hold an assembly until November 29th and the Spanish General Election Campaign starts on December 4th. As Junts pel Sí are standing together, there are bound to be some tensions between Esquerra Republicana and Convergència, renamed for the event as Democràcia i Llibertat, so it would make sense to reach an agreement and invest a President before the campaign starts.

Although there's always a possibility, I find it difficult to imagine that the CUP rank and file will change their mind on Mas. However, both parties know how important this agreement is because waiting until March to hold new elections could possibly have fatal consequences for the independence process. That means that Catalonia will have a new President and government by early December.

Final Thoughts

Despite many people being up in arms against them what I think the CUP have succeeded in doing is precisely what they said they would, which strangely is move the list of priorities away from the Who? to the What? and the How? I know that everyone is wondering who will be president but for the first time the name of the person is less important than ensuring than the process continues.

I've openly admitted my admiration for Mas on many occasions but, although I'd still prefer him as President for the reasons I've outlined before, for the first time I'm beginning to consider other options. Getting to the next stage of the independence process is much more important, for me, than who the President of the Generalitat is. I'm sure lots of people thinking along similar lines.

By the same token, there will also be CUP members, who until now have been vociferously anti-Mas, whose opinion of him is softening. I know I'm the eternal optimist but I think we'll reach an agreement and having done so, the sense of everybody being involved in a shared project will be much greater. We're moving into the next stage and perhaps it is time for a new leader.

I'm also relatively unconcerned because the fact that the declaration was passed on Monday is of such monumental importance that it's not at all surprising that everybody needs a bit of a breather. If you think about it the process has moved forward in fits and starts. Every time some major achievement has been made, there's been a break and disagreement about the best way of moving forward again. The fallout between Mas and Junqueras immediately after 9N last year was a good example of this.

Perhaps the CUP are right when they say that "We're going slowly because we're going a long way". All I know is that the democratic disconnection has definitely begun.



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