Spanish reaction to Catalan referendum 'deeply disappointing'

Written by Josep-Maria Terricabras on 12 January 2015 in Opinion

On 9 November, 2.4 million people turned out to vote on Catalonia's future, yet the Spanish government refuses to listen, writes Josep-Maria Terricabras.

The popular consultation which took place in Catalonia on 9 November was of high political importance. People were asked about what the future might hold for Catalonia's relationship with Spain. The high turnout - 2.4 million citizens - lent democratic and political legitimacy to a poll which was not legally binding.

Catalans spoke out and demanded that their voice be heard. They have conveyed a democratic mandate upon politicians and have said loud and clear that they want to be heard. They demand the right to decide their constitutional future.

For any democrat, the almost unique Spanish reaction - by government, political parties and institutions - is deeply disappointing. Spain has chosen to hide behind the apparently legal argument that the country's constitution does not allow a referendum on self-determination.

Yet there are some significant legal figures in Spain who believe that a referendum on Catalonia's constitutional future is not necessarily incompatible with the Spanish constitution. These include Francisco Rubio Llorente, a former member of the constitutional court and Javier Pérez Royo, professor of constitutional law at the university of Seville. The government must not ignore them.

"Why has the Spanish government gone to the country's high court to denounce the president and two ministers of the Catalan government for having allowed the population to vote freely?"

Nor should it disregard the spectre of global public opinion. All around the world, the media consistently reminds us that in 21st century Europe, the only way to resolve political conflicts is by political negotiation. If it should prove necessary, then laws can be amended to allow Catalans to have their say.

The recent referendum on Scottish independence from the UK showed how such questions can be tackled in a peaceful and democratic manner.

Why shouldn't Catalonia be allowed to follow a similar peaceful, democratic path of self-determination? What does the Spanish government have to fear in allowing people to vote and decide for themselves?

Ian Duncan, the head of the European parliament's observer mission, said that November's poll was carried out to the highest democratic standards, and was as accurate as possible given the Spanish government's position.

Despite very difficult circumstances and with the national government making it as difficult as possible to vote, some 2.4 million Catalans still turned out to have their say. This was a remarkable democratic achievement and is something of which Europe should be proud. This was made possible by the Catalan government, the political parties and Catalan civil society.

So why has the Spanish government gone to the country's high court to denounce the president and two ministers of the Catalan government for having allowed the population to vote freely? In a democratic Europe, does it make sense for voting to be prohibited and sanctioned?


About the author

Josep-Maria Terricabras is a vice-chair of parliament's Greens/EFA group


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