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CATALAN INDEPENDENCE

Catalan parties join forces to defy Madrid on sovereignty question

Regional chief prosecutor under fire for pro-status vote comments resigns

CiU drums up support from various nationalist groups

The pro-independence government of Artur Mas on Tuesday began organizing a nationalist front to demand that voters in Catalonia be allowed to hold a referendum on its status within Spain next year.

The ruling Catalan CiU nationalist bloc has proposed holding a vote in the regional parliament on the enabling law, which was rejected last week in Congress, that would allow for the referendum to be held. In two weeks the resolution will be presented in the regional assembly, supported by a majority of the local parties, including the Republican Left (ERC), the Catalan Socialists (PSC), and ICV green coalition.

The move is designed to put pressure on Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, whose government has decided to take the Catalan government to the Constitutional Court over its sovereignty declaration.

The State Council had advised the prime minister that there were enough legal grounds to dispute the Catalonia assembly’s declaration passed on January 23 that identifies the region as a “sovereign political and legal entity.”

“While we are seeing a demonstration of what can be described as nothing less than a refusal for dialogue, we must answer with a painstaking democratic response. What is important is that there should be another vote with the majority in favor as we face these continued aggressions,” said Catalan spokesman Francesc Homs.

Tensions between Madrid and Barcelona have also heightened after Attorney General Eduardo Torres-Dulce announced on Monday that he was planning to remove Catalan chief prosecutor Martín Rodríguez Sol for statements he made favoring a Catalan sovereignty vote.

Rodríguez Sol presented his resignation late Tuesday. The chief prosecutor told Europa Press that he believed it was legitimate for Catalonia to hold a vote on its status but added “there is no legal framework to allow a referendum on independence” so other alternatives must be looked at.

“There are other alternatives, and one is to use the law regarding sovereignty questions and rework the style in which the questions are asked — here is an area that can be played with,” he said, before retracting his statement by reaffirming no legal framework exists to allow the status vote.

Both the CiU and its main parliamentary partner ERC reckon that government will formally approach the Constitutional Court once the enabling resolution is approved in two weeks’ time. The plan calls for holding a region-wide sovereignty vote in 2014. The Catalan assembly will formulate the way the questions will be asked of voters.

The spokesman of the Catalan Popular Party (PPC), Enric Millio, called Tuesday’s meeting with the officials from the different parties “a show” because they had already agreed to bring the resolution to the floor of the regional parliament.

The measure will be presented as a bill to speed up its approval as an enabling law, Catalan government sources said.

The policy of fiscal consolidation at both the national and regional levels is putting too much stress on social stability. The cost of unemployment may become an unsustainable burden for the public accounts within only two quarters, because it keeps growing in spite of the cutbacks approved by the government in July. It is unlikely that this year will see the achievement of the targeted 15-percent reduction in the cost of unemployment benefits, thus opening another leak in budget stability.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has two options. One is to maintain the fiscal adjustment policy, incorporating sporadic fine changes to convey the illusion of a change in strategy. The other, is to accept that the social cost of austerity is beginning to become unsustainable, and to decide on a real reorientation of economic policy, accompanied with measures to stimulate activity in order for growth to be sufficient to generate employment.

He must make this decision soon, because an upturn in the economy is not going to happen this year and perhaps not in 2014 either. The great probability is that he will not have any margin to reach 2015 with a substantial reduction of unemployment.

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