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Catalan government will defend referendum budget before Constitutional Court

Catalan Supreme Court notifies government of suspension of referendum items in budget

The legal pressure on the Catalan government to block the independence referendum continues. Another Tuesday, another visit by officials from the Supreme Court of Justice of Catalonia to the Catalan executive, while they were in session, to notify them of a legal decision. In this case, the suspension by the Spanish Constitutional Court (TC) of the 2017 budget funds earmarked for the independence referendum. In fact, last week, some high-ranking officials had already received written warnings by the TC demanding that they stop all referendum preparations.

In the same cabinet meeting, the government agreed to appear at the proceedings opened by the Constitutional Court against the 2017 Catalan budget to defend its constitutionality. The Catalan government argues that it has the right to organise electoral and participatory processes, precisely the budget items suspended by the court. At a press conference, government spokesperson Neus Munté lamented that filing criminal charges “is the only response” from the Spanish government to the “democratic mandate” received by the Catalan government.

Earlier, Catalan president Carles Puigdemont reminded that it is the fifth time that the Catalan Supreme Court has sent warnings to top government officials. “We won’t stop moving forward”, he replied in a tweet exhibiting the five notifications.      

Also via Twitter, vice-president Oriol Junqueras stated that “you cannot block the will of the people” and he called for union between the government, parliament, local councils and society.

The Supreme Court’s visit came in the middle of a government debate about the steps to follow to carry out the referendum. As ARA has reported, there is a split within the executive as to who should purchase the ballot boxes. Whilst the department of the Vice-presidency verbally entrusted the Governance department days ago with tendering the contract for the ballot boxes for the referendum, the ministry in question wants the request in writing. Some 8,200 ballot boxes will be needed, if the same model as an ordinary election is followed.

Block all funding paths

The Spanish Constitutional Court is looking to leave the Catalan Government with no room for interpretation, ahead of the definitive stage of the independence process. By accepting for consideration the appeal by Mariano Rajoy’s government against the relevant budget items, the Court signalled in great detail all the charges that could be brought against the president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, as well as the rest of the government and up to five top officials, if they don’t conform to the suspension.

But the Constitutional Court won’t stop there. Madrid is aware that the Catalan government, as ARA has reported, has a plan B to use the contingency funds in the budget to finance the referendum in case its plan A direct funding is blocked. In its ruling, the Constitutional Court twice states that, as well as having the “duty to block or paralyse any initiative that ignores or avoids” the suspension of the referendum, they also have the “duty to abstain from starting, processing, announcing or enacting any other budget item”, including this contingency fund.  

Parliamentary documentation

Also this Tuesday, the judge of the Civil and Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice of Catalonia who is presiding over the case against the president of the Parliament, Carme Forcadell, and three members of the parliament’s board, confirmed that she has received the information requested from the chamber and the Constitutional Court. This includes the notification or communication received from the high court of the injunction of 6 October 2016, which urged the public prosecutor to open proceedings against Forcadell and cancelled the resolution they had passed in the Catalan parliament ratifying the conclusions of the Commission for the Study of the Constituent Process. The judge wanted to know precisely what “day, hour and minute” it was received.

On the other hand, the Supreme Court of Justice of Catalonia is now demanding the rough minutes of the meeting of the Parliament’s Board dated 6 October 2016 and the proposal of resolution number 37715 of 5 October 2016, giving a deadline of seven days to deliver them. This decision proposal, signed by the Junts pel Sí and CUP coalitions, included, among other items, a Statehood Structures section in which the chamber sought for the government to assume direct responsibility for the collection and management of all the devolved taxes through the Tax Agency using the “necessary resources and suitable infrastructure”.

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