CATALONIA ON THE BRINK

Catalan parliament approves sovereignty declaration

Nationalist forces pass precursor to independence referendum

Socialists split as motion vote goes 85 in favor and 41 against

Premier Artur Mas (center) leads the applause in Catalonia’s parliament after the sovereignty vote on Thursday. / QUIQUE GARCIA (AFP)

In the first plenary session of the new legislature, the Catalonia regional assembly approved a declaration proclaiming the Catalan people a “sovereign political and legal entity.” The text also calls for a referendum to be held to allow Catalans their say on independence for the northern Spanish region.

The document was passed in the chamber by 85 votes to 41. Those parties in support of the text were the governing CiU coalition, its parliamentary partner the Catalan Republican Left (ERC), Initiative for Catalonia Greens (ICV), and the Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP). The Popular Party, most of the Socialists (PSC) and Ciutadans, a non-separatist platform, voted against. Two CUP deputies absented themselves to show their reservations over the text and two PP seats were empty due to illness.

The declaration does not clarify whether a referendum would be carried out only after agreement with the central government or if Catalonia would authorize one based purely on regional law and thus setting a collision course with Madrid. The motion states that “all existing legal means will be utilized to effect democratic strengthening and the exercise of the right to decide in dialogue and negotiation with the Spanish state, the European institutions and the international community.”

The exact nature of the text had caused divisions in the Socialist ranks and among the upper echelons of the CiU coalition. The leader of the smaller Unió arm of the coalition, Josep Antoni Duran Lleida, had called for it to be rewritten and the secessionist train to be slowed until the Socialists and ICV had been brought on board. In response, Mas’s dominant Convergència party penned a note of reprobation over Duran’s criticism of the sovereignty process. Mas’s circle has for some months viewed Duran as an obstacle to its aims.

In Wednesday’s vote, the Socialists finally went against the motion after debating to the 11th hour which way the group would swing. Five of the 20 PSC deputies defied party discipline and abstained.

This is not a declaration in favor of independence or federalism. It is a declaration in favor of democracy”

“The path to the right to decide is open [to all parties]. If federalism is desired, first the right to decide needs to be desired. This is not a declaration in favor of independence or federalism. It is a declaration in favor of democracy,” said CiU spokesman Oriol Pujol, with a nod to the Socialists. Most PSC deputies refused to support a text that implied the legal sovereignty of Catalonia.

“This is not a legal regulation; we will get to that. Neither it is a road map; we will decide on that. Right now we are declaring what the foundations will be made of. The stronger the foundations, the stronger the walls,” added Pujol.

ERC leader Oriol Junqueras opened the debate on what he called a “historic day.”

“Sovereignty implies, literally, that there is nothing that ranks higher than the democratic will of the people,” Junqueras said. In response to the Socialists’ proposal for shared sovereignty with Spain, Junqueras noted: “The right to decide cannot be shared with another legal entity. The right to decide is a matter of one, not two or three.”

ICV reminded the Socialists that the path to federalism had been lost with the Catalan Statute, curtailed by the Spanish Constitutional Court, and defended its stance as supporting the right to decide without being separatist. The ecosocialist bloc denied the referendum would be “a delirium or a whim” and called on the central government to authorize it. “We are not facing a judicial problem but one of political will. Spain must decide if it is on the side of democracy or on the side of the constitution.”

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