07-2017

The date and the question: The key to the upcoming challenge facing the Catalan government


The Catalan government has selected Friday 9 June as the day on which it will let us all in on one of the most closely guarded secrets of recent months. The prime minister of the Generalitat de Catalunya, Carles Puigdemont, has now announced the date and the question for the forthcoming unilaterally declared independence referendum.



The date: 1 October 2017.



The question: “Would you like Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?”.



Shortly before the announcement was made, Mr. Puigdemont held a meeting of the Executive Council at which the decision was reached. He gained support from other members of the government as well as from the deputies from Junts Pel Sí (a coalition between PDcat, ERC and other defenders of independence) and the CUP, the party with the highest number of pro-independence deputies in parliament. By revealing the date and the question, Puigdemont has formalised his challenge to the Spanish state, namely his unilateral decision to hold a referendum after having received a final negative response from the Spanish government and prime minister Mariano Rajoy to his attempts to negotiate on a plebiscite.



THE DATE



The options were rather limited from the outset. Already at the start of the summer, Puigdemont had announced that the date would be set for no later than the second half of September. But a few weeks ago, an analysis of the calendar led the government, Junts Pel Sí and the CUP to settle on the October 1. However, some sources indicate that October 8 was also discussed and that the CUP even proposed bringing the referendum forward to this June or July. This suggestion was turned down by ERC and PDcat. “We would not have been ready in time”, a government source told the press.The election campaign will run from 15 to 29 September. 30 September will be the “jornada de reflexió” (day of reflection).



The QUESTION



As mentioned, the answer to this question posed in this referendum, which the Spanish government still wants to prevent at any cost, only permits of two answers. “Would you like Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?”. A “yes or no” question. This formula replaces the one used on 9 November 2014. On that occasion, there were indeed two questions: “Do you want Catalonia to become a state? And if so, do you want Catalonia to become an independent state?”. The second half is missing this time.The question is being asked in the three official languages: Catalan, Spanish and Aranese, and the government has promised to abide by the result.The concept of a “republic”, even if the PDcat is not unanimous on this (as historically it is not an anti-monarchist party) very much provides the entire framework for independence and is also a way of making visible an important change involved in the process of constituting a new state: removing oneself from the monarchy and forming a republic.A key element in “defending independence” is democracy and specifically the right of self-determination. For this reason, the fact that the term ‘republic’ is used in the question is intended to emphasise the desire of proponents of independence to distance themselves from an old “lower-quality democracy” in order to establish a new one that can also elect its own head of state.Dissolution and clarity are the key concepts behind the formula ultimately selected for the referendum. The objective was to arrive at a clear concept that can be understood internationally and leaves no chance of absurd debates around the nature of the new state. Above all, it was hoped that everything would be clear to the voters.



THE RESPONSE OF THE SPANISH GOVERNMENT



Even after the date had been announced and the question revealed, the Spanish government continued to insist that the referendum would not go ahead. It is exhausting every legal avenue in its attempts to prevent it.The Spanish central government has not yet, however, responded in detail to the announcement of the referendum on independence. The government spokesman, Íñigo Méndez de Vigo, has only stated that the disclosure of the date and question is “just one more step in a strategy that will in any case lead to nothing”. “This act is a performance intended to conceal the fact that those calling for the referendum have been abandoned by many of their supporters. It shows that they are constantly losing support and are failing in their attempts to find new supporters. All that is left are the most radical proponents”.That is why the Spanish government, at least for the time being, is not taking any legal steps with regard to Puigdemont’s announcement. This will happen “when the Catalan government turns theory into practice”. Even when the legal advisers have analysed all the details, no action can be taken until the Catalan politicians have signed the relevant decrees into law.The Spanish President’s office is maintaining the same attitude towards the referendum: it is illegal and is in breach of the Spanish constitution and for that reason Puigdemont has been called on to first amend the constitution. Until that happens, the central government will not allow a referendum.The Spanish government is confronting some significant questions that need to be clarified and discussed over the coming weeks:



In what precise form does the Catalan government plan to hold a unilaterally declared referendum without the participation of public servants, without lists of voters, without official tellers and without professional scrutineers?



What political and civil support does the Catalan government enjoy?



What is the attitude abroad to this event?



How far can and will the Spanish government go in preventing the referendum from taking place?



What basis in law will the outcome of the referendum have if it is finally held?



What will happen after the referendum if it does take place? What happens if there is a majority for independence? What happens if there is not? How will the governments react?



There can be no doubt that the questions are very important in determining what happens next. Now we will have to wait and see how the process unfolds and which way opinions go in the weeks ahead.


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