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INDEPENDENCE PROCESS

Catalan government warns Rajoy it will ignore suspension of referendum law

Minister Rull confirms the Catalan government intends to invoke the referendum law even if the Spanish Constitutional Court repeals it

The authorities in Madrid and Barcelona are beginning to flex their muscles ahead of August 16, when the summer recess will end and the clash between both governments is expected to occur. Last Monday Mariano Rajoy warned that he intends to file a complaint before the Constitutional Court against Catalonia’s referendum bill as soon as the Board of the Catalan parliament agrees to process it next Wednesday. Catalan Minister for Territory Josep Rull responded yesterday by stating that the government will stay the course in the lead up to October 1 (when the referendum on independence is due to be held), even if the Spanish Court annuls the law. In other words, Carles Puigdemont’s government intends to ignore the Constitutional Court’s decision and will invoke the referendum law to call the vote, even after the new legislation has been frozen.

With only fifty-three days to go before the ballot, the secessionist bloc knows it is time to turn up the heat. So far they have resorted to creative thinking in order to stretch Spain’s legal framework to the limit, but the last phase of the independence process requires challenging Spanish law openly. Catalonia’s referendum bill is an example of this, as it establishes that the legislation that will regulate the independence vote “shall prevail over any other law that it may conflict with”. Without mentioning disobedience, yesterday Rull remarked that the Catalan parliament is “legitimate and democratic”  and so —according to him— the Catalan law will be enacted. “As the government of Catalonia, we will comply with a bill passed by the Catalan parliament and intend to fully enact that legislation”, he said in an interview with RAC1.

The Catalan government’s reasoning is that, at this point in time and now that all attempts to persuade Madrid to agree to a referendum have been ignored, the Catalan parliament has won the right to call the ballot by itself. “Madrid has systematically refused to hold a vote like in Scotland and Quebec. Therefore, we will go to the polls following a decision by a legitimate, democratic parliament”, Rull remarked.

Besides insisting that they are fully committed to holding a referendum on independence, the Catalan authorities are working to make all the necessary preparations for the ballot and to ensure that this takes place without incident. In particular, the government is concerned about postal voting. As Demòcrates leader Antoni Castellà pointed out on Monday, yesterday Rull also voiced his lack of faith in the willingness of Spain’s postal service to help with the vote. That is why he advised everyone who wishes to cast a ballot on October 1 to do so at a polling station, even though he stated that his government will find a way to ensure that postal voting works.

The PP, torn between an offer and repression

Rull’s warning that the referendum law will be invoked with or without the Constitutional Court’s consent was seen as a provocation by the Partido Popular. The ruling party’s undersecretary for local and regional policy, Javier Arenas, accused Catalan separatists of trying to elicit “a heavy-handed, excessive reaction” by Mariano Rajoy’s conservative government in response to “the separatist challenge”. However, he claimed that the State “will not fall for that” and that its response to every move by the Catalan government “will be measured and restrained”. “Nobody should expect an irate reaction from Rajoy and his government”, said the Andalusian PP leader in an interview with Europa Press. Despite his remarks, Arenas emphasised that the rule of law provides “enough instruments” —executive, legislative and judicial— to ensure that “an illegal referendum is not held”. Among those instruments he cited article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, which would presumably allow Madrid to take away powers from a regional government, although he noted that “invoking this article is not in the cards” at present.

In an interview with La Sexta (a Spanish TV channel), former Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo yesterday also spoke about the “arsenal of deterrence measures” available to the State to block the referendum, but called on Rajoy’s administration to start thinking about an offer to entice Catalan society. Margallo noted that beyond ensuring that “an independence vote can’t be held”, this “war of nerves can’t go on indefinitely”. According to Margallo, Madrid’s offer should include the payment of the provision of funds made in the third temporary disposition of the Catalan Statute, shielding Catalonia’s powers on matters to do with language, plus an in-depth reform of the regional finance system.

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