Wednesday’s first session of the new Catalan parliament was not dedicated to the economic crisis and the social hardships it has caused, but to the issuing of a Declaration of Sovereignty that is legally void and politically dubious.
On Wednesday, the Catalan parliament voted on a Declaration of Sovereignty that is meant as a cornerstone for a referendum on independence envisaged for 2014. It was backed by CiU and ERC, which supports the minority government, plus the eco-communist ICV. The unionist Ciutadans and the Partido Popular (PP) voted against, as did the majority of the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC), although five of its deputies abstained in protest against the party line.
This declaration is best defined by what it is not. It did not create a united front against Madrid. It did not garner the support of the two-thirds of the Catalan parliament necessary to change the Catalan Estatut, missing a benchmark essential for later legislating efforts. It is a document without any legal effect, even though it calls the Catalans “politically and legally sovereign”. It is not a law but a mere declaration of intent. This is not a repetition of the Basque Plan Ibarretxe, a key law of which was successfully impugned by the Spanish government before the Constitutional Court on the basis of the entire people of Spain being the sovereign.
Catalan government spokesperson Francesc Homs last year had claimed that in the case of contradicting laws, the Catalan government “will follow the legality of the Parliament of Catalonia”. He had no legal grounds then, neither are there any now. And no legal effect either. Madrid will not impugn this Catalan declaration.
It is also a far cry from past declarations of sovereignty in countries Catalan separatists regularly draw on as precedents. In an earlier article -linked-to above- we already responded to such comparisons, namely the one with Slovenia. The Slovenian Declaration of Sovereignty was not only much clearer, it also did have both a solid legal basis and very distinct legal effects: from then on no federal (Yugoslav) law was in force anymore if it was found to be in conflict with Slovenian law.
The political impact of this declaration is not necessarily positive for anybody. The rift has been deepened. It is a rift that not only divides CiU and ERC from the PSC and PP, and which can be found even within the PSC. It also runs right through the CiU bloc, with the smaller UDC party showing ever more signs of discontent with its separatist CDC companion, led by Catalan premier Artur Mas. Talk in Catalonia is about CiU falling apart. Such a rift did not exist in cases like Slovenia.
The winner is ERC, the traditionally separatist party boosted by the last elections and to which CiU keeps losing votes, according to recent opinion polls. ERC, however, has its own problem with this declaration. For this party, the “Catalan nation” is found within the boundaries of the Catalan Lands. By promoting this Declaration, ERC is showing again that it lives in Schrödinger’s Catalonia: Catalonia can be both the smaller and the bigger territory, whichever suits it at any given political moment. (On the local level, CiU too has issued calls for the “political reunification of the Catalan Lands”.)
The show that preceded this declaration was well worth watching. It took off with a CiU/ERC draft that was so amateurish one was reminded of the words of former Catalan premier Josep Tarradellas that in politics one can do anything except make a fool of oneself. This draft, under Artur Mas’s maxim of being “scrupulously democratic”, prejudged thrice the outcome of the independence referendum: “a new state”.
Moreover, it was based not only on the legally not codified “right to decide”, but also on the right of self-determination as recognised by the UN; even though the Catalan theoretician of the “right to decide”, Jaume López, had in 2011 already argued for a “paradigm shift” in favour of the “right to decide”; because, as López himself admits, the right of self-determination does not apply to Catalonia.
Such details have now been dropped. Lip-service is being paid to use “all existing legal frameworks” and to the need for negotiations with Madrid. Yet everybody has seen Mas showing little will to negotiate, while ERC boss Oriol Junqueras calls it “unnecessary”.
Catalan separatism is pitting what it calls “democratic legality” against what it sees as mere “juridical legality”. As if those were two different concepts. Such an attitude, in the words of Joseph Weiler, “disqualifies morally and politically Catalonia and the likes as future Member States of the European Union”.
The coming months will see pressure mounting on both PSC and UDC to fall into line. Words like “unpatriotic” and “traitors” will be thrown around a lot, again, and attempts will be made by CDC to absorb (more) parts of UDC and divide the PSC even further. But CDC’s grip on the media is weakening, and the businessmen that are the traditional allies and beneficiaries of this centre-right party are getting increasingly nervous. The Pequod has caught fire.
Some additional observations:
-The PSC presented an amendment to the entirety of the CiU/ERC/ICV draft declaration. It, too, speaks of the “right to decide”, and it also calls for a referendum on independence, yet it puts more emphasis on negotiations with Madrid and legality.
-In the past, the Catalan parliament has issued several declarations calling for the right of self-determination.
Next: Berardo brings Buddha to Lisbon
Previous: The next Spain