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“Comuns” will agree to unilateral referendum if Catalan government has Venice Commission backing

Junqueras replies that the prerequisite is “unattainable", if the Madrid continues with its intransigent attitude

The “Comuns” (“Commons”) [the provisional name for the political party that is to succeed the electoral alliances of Catalunya Sí que es Pot (CSQP) and En Comú Podem] have laid their cards on the table by stipulating a prerequisite to them supporting the unilateral referendum that the Catalan government is planning for September: Joan Coscubiela, CSQP’s Parliamentary Spokesman, called on the government to "approach the Venice Commission right away and ask for its endorsement of the referendum". He argued that the Venice Commission’s recognition of referenda processes would provide legitimacy. "The commission has drawn up a code of good practice that has been approved by the Spanish government, it has a well-established track record of recognising international referendums, it has great authority, it has established a flexible minimum turnout and it has been recognized by both the Catalan government and by all parliamentary groups that support the referendum", Coscubiela added, in defence of his group’s decision.

Catalan Vice President Oriol Junqueras responded immediately from his seat in the House. "If the agreement you are proposing calls for the same commitment from both parties (the Catalan government and the Spanish state), we would be happy to try to obtain such a consensus. But please don’t try and impose conditions on us which you know are unattainable, giveno the Spanish government’s systematic stand on this issue", he stressed. Junqueras reminded Coscubiela that in the unlikely event that they were to obtain the commission’s approval, Madrid would still oppose the referendum.

CSQP has pledged to agree to a unilateral referendum, if the Catalan government obtains the backing of the Venice Commission. Government sources labelled the strategy as "twisted". According to the same sources, the Comuns knows that without the consent of the Spanish state, it will be impossible to meet the conditions of the commission’s code of good practice on referendums. Junqueras invited them once again to join the public consensus in favour of the referendum and to stop demanding more of the Catalan government than of the Spanish state.

Coscubiela reminded Junqueras that the resolution on the referendum that has not been annulled by the Constitutional Court highlights the need for the "prior recognition" of the international community. He acknowledged that it is "extremely difficult" for the European Union or its member states to recognize the referendum while the Spanish government opposes it. However, he stressed that if it meets the Venice commission’s conditions, the independence process will have the backing of an organization that has international "legitimacy".

Earlier this week Coscubiela had called on the government to immediately set the exact date and the wording of the question for the referendum they plan to hold in September. During Thursday’s debate in Parliament, the CSQP spokesman stressed the need to ensure the "prior recognition" of the referendum by the international community, regardless of the Spanish government’s position, as per the resolution passed by Parliament (which CSQP and JxSí both voted for) during the general policy debate held last October. "You must make sure it doesn’t turn into another 9-N" insisted Coscubiela. Junqueras acknowledged that the government is working to guarantee that the referendum has legal and political effect to differentiate it from the participatory process of November 2014.

What are the Venice Commission’s standards?

The Venice Commission is an advisory body belonging to the Council of Europe made up of independent experts on constitutional law. In 2006 it published its Code of Good Practice on Referendums, which Coscubiela referred to this Thursday. The document outlines several guidelines that must be followed to ensure that a referendum is carried out in a fully democratic manner. One that has risen to prominence in recent months is the minimum voter turnout. The commission rules out establishing a minimum number of voters in order not to encourage a boycott by those who oppose the referendum.

Another important issue is the law governing the holding of a referendum. The commission’s code of good practice establishes that referendum law cannot be open to amendment less than one year prior to the vote. This condition can be overcome if the new law is "written in the Constitution or at a level superior to ordinary law". In any case, any referendum must be organized "when the legal system provides for it".

An impartial body must be responsible for organising the referendum, which must include at least one member of the judiciary or an independent legal expert and representatives of the parties already in Parliament. In addition, it must establish an effective system of appeal, whether it be an electoral commission or a court, in order to resolve disputes. The appeal body must have authority to annul the referendum where irregularities may have affected its outcome.

The code of good practice also stresses that international observers ought to be involved. Their work must not be confined solely to election day, but must include the referendum
campaign and the voter registration period, the signature collection period and observation during the ballot counting.

JxSí welcomes the shift in CSQP’s position

Marta Rovira, Junts pel Sí’s spokeswoman, issued a statement stating that they “welcome the fact that the irreversible referendum is gaining support. This is a significant step". The pro-independence coalition believes that CSQP "has taken a step towards" providing support for a referendum which is non-negotiated with the state and has agreed to "comply with the wishes of 80% of the population who believe that the referendum is the means for deciding Catalonia’s political future". Rovira added that "A referendum cannot be subject to the will of the state, which systematically denies the people of Catalonia a voice".

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