Catalan separatist coalition considering September dates for breakaway law and referendum

The current plan suggests July, but Junts pel Sí (“Together for Yes”) would like to avoid an injunction from the Spain’s Constitutional Court over the summer

The option of passing the breakaway bill some time in September, closer to the independence referendum date, is gaining traction within Junts pel Sí (JxSí), Catalonia’s ruling separatist coalition. Back in January they toyed with the idea of bringing the independence referendum forward to a date before the summer, in the event of further legal action against Catalan leaders. However, the fact that Carme Forcadell —the Speaker of the House— is now unlikely to face a court of law this spring, plus the logistics required for the referendum have prompted the pro-independence coalition to pick a date after the summer holidays for both events. In other words, they aim to pass the law of legal transitoriness, call the independence referendum and hold the actual vote in September, making the most of Catalonia’s National Day on the 11th to foster a climate of “non-stop rallying”.

Several sources that spoke to this newspaper mentioned that “it is the only item that might change about the road map”. Up until now, the breakaway law was meant to be passed at the end of July, but this is increasingly being queried within the JxSí group in parliament. JxSí sources claim that both milestones must be brought together and dealt with jointly by calling a plenary session of the Catalan parliament in early September, before the scheduled general policy debate, even if this is somewhat unusual: it has only happened once in the last 10 years, on the odd occasion of a confidence vote.

During a press conference following the verdict of the 9N case last Monday, Catalan president Carles Puigdemont explained that the referendum will be held “either at the end of this summer or at the beginning of autumn”. Vice president Oriol Junqueras confirmed that much in his interview for ARA on Sunday.

Sources in parliament argue that the breakaway bill should be passed just a few weeks earlier, as this will trigger an unprecedented response from Madrid. According to the JxSí road map, this law is supposed to make an independence referendum legal and steer the transition from the Spanish legal framework to Catalonia’s new law. By bringing both events closer together in September, they seek to avoid the risk of legal action against the new legislation in August by the Constitutional Court, which will presumably seek to prevent its passing. The Catalan coalition aims to ensure that the government is able to call the referendum before the law is suspended by the Spanish authorities.

However, JxSí’s far-left partners (the CUP) claim that the wrestling match with Madrid should begin sooner and that, rather than organisational difficulties, it would only be a “political decision” that might lead the Catalan government to schedule both events for September. Sources within the CUP noted that there is enough time to pass the bill and hold the referendum before the summer, provided that the JxSí government is willing to.

A matter of cash

When president Puigdemont scheduled the independence referendum, he picked the month of September. However, he urged his ministers to make all the necessary arrangements for a June date. So far, he has not stated otherwise. Furthermore, government sources claim that they are working on that premise so as to “have the element of surprise” and they are keeping their schedule as “open as possible”.

What arguments do the JxSí sources offer to put everything back to September? Firstly, holding an independence vote against Madrid’s wishes means that the situation will become difficult to manage in the event of a Yes win. Secondly, while the Catalan authorities assure that they are “cooking on gas” to ready everything, they also admit that a couple of extra months would definitely help to have all the structures of the new state in place, which the government claims to have been working on since 2012.

There are further reasons, this time of a financial nature, the same sources pointed out. In July Catalonia’s coffers are due a substantial cash transfer from Madrid. The outstanding balance of the 2015 tax revenue alone will amount to €1.6bn, plus a further €500m is expected from capital gains tax, which is levied by Madrid. So, over €2bn would be at stake, should the Spanish authorities decide to punish the Catalan government amid an escalation of political clashes.

The role of rallying

Furthermore, there is the ability by grassroots pro-independence groups to sustain the “non-stop rallying” which they will promote between the date when the breakaway bill is passed in parliament and the date of the referendum. As was the case in the lead-up to the elections of September 27 2015, some in the pro-independence camp feel that the events surrounding Catalonia’s National Day would help to build momentum for the referendum. As soon as the breakaway bill is passed, the grassroots groups are planning to take to the streets on a permanent basis until the independence referendum is guaranteed. Keeping up the protest over a shorter period of time by avoiding the month of August does not seem such a tall order.

Catalonia’s independence process began with a massive demonstration on September 11, 2012 and five years later the government and grassroots groups aim for the National Day to play a key role in deciding Catalonia’s future, once again.

How to break away from Spain after the summer in four steps:

Law of legal transitoriness

Junts pel Sí and the CUP intend to pass the law of legal transitoriness in a single parliamentary session so as to avoid an injunction by the Spanish Constitutional Court. The new legislation, which seeks to steer the breakaway from the Spanish legal framework, is practically ready, but the separatist parties are keeping the draft under wraps. In fact, they do not intend to table it until much nearer the date set for the breakaway and the independence referendum.

Calling the referendum

Once the bill has been passed in parliament, the Catalan government will be ready to formally call the referendum, which it intends to do on the very same day in order to avoid any court injunctions or suspensions. The vote itself is to be held at the end of September. Last week Catalan vice president Oriol Junqueras explained that the presidential order will be co-signed by all cabinet members.

Non-stop rallying

The pro-independence grassroots groups do not want to “play their trump cards” too soon and prefer to save their strength for the “non-stop rallying” that will consolidate the breakaway and the holding of the vote on independence.

A massive separatist rally in support of the law of legal transitoriness will be held when the bill is passed and the pro-independence groups plant to extend their actions throughout the campaign ahead of the ballot. Once again, Catalonia’s National Day on September 11 will be the highlight of their rallying efforts.

The day of the ballot

According to the government’s road map, the referendum on independence will be held “either at the end of summer or the beginning of autumn”. JxSí and the CUP have been wondering out loud what the Spanish authorities “intend to do in order to stop it”. Closing off all polling stations and suspending Catalan home rule are two options which Madrid is weighing. “If they lock us out of the polling stations, we will use church halls instead, or health centres and homes for the elderly”, remarked Irene Rigau a few weeks ago.

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