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The National Pact for the Referendum convenes after Spain's 'no'

It includes political parties and organizations that share a commitment to a self-determination vote 

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06 June 2017 05:09 PM

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ACN

Barcelona (ACN).- The spokesman of the executive committee of the National Pact for the Referendum, Joan Ignasi Elena, said it is now up to political parties and institutions in Catalonia to decide the details of how and when to organize an independence referendum. The cross-party and civil society group is meeting on Tuesday evening to discuss its next steps after the Spanish government refused to negotiate such a vote. The National Pact for the Referendum collected half a million signatures in favor of the celebration of an independence referendum agreed to by both Madrid and Barcelona. 

Elena argued that the work of the executive committee that he is leading is complete and that political parties and civil society organizations should now be the ones taking the lead. "We cannot and we don't want to enter into the details" of how to organize the referendum, he insisted. The debate is now whether or not Catalans should go ahead with an independence vote unilaterally, in defiance of the Spanish government but following the mandate of the parliamentary majority in the Catalan Parliament.

The National Pact for the Referendum (PNR) includes political parties and organizations that share a commitment to a self-determination vote but not necessarily to independence itself. Polls suggest that up to 80% of Catalans are in favor of a referendum, something that the PNR exemplifies with its more than 3,000 members from civil society, business, cultural, sports and political organizations, including FC Barcelona. But with a new and resounding refusal from Madrid to negotiate a vote, tensions arise within its members on what to do next.

The biggest dispute is between the pro-independence parties Junts pel Sí and CUP, which are willing to go ahead with the self-determination vote as soon as possible, and the left-wing coalition Catalunya-En Comú, that is asking for more "democratic guarantees". Catalunya-En Comú spokeswoman, Elisenda Alamany, warned that the referendum will only be "legitimate" if it fulfills three conditions: that it wins the support of a large majority, that it wins international recognition and that it is "effective". "The debate is not whether or not it is unilateral," she said on Monday, but rather whether it meets these three criteria to become binding and fulfill "the people's wishes". The 'Comuns' have argued that they do not want a second symbolic referendum, such as the one organized back in 2014, something that the Catalan government has repeatedly said is not going to happen.

  • "The time for a political agreement with the Spanish government is over"

    Carles Puigdemont · Catalan President

An important week

In fact, there are growing suggestions that the Catalan Government might announce the date and question for the independence referendum this week. The president of the Left-Wing Pro-Independence party (ERC) in Barcelona, Alfred Bosch, said that they are very "excited". "There will be a big step forward," he pointed out, insisting that both the Catalan Parliament and the Catalan Government are "working to give the referendum legal backing".

The Spanish Government has invited the Catalan President, Carles Puigdemont, to explain his referendum plans before Congress, but has warned on numerous occasions that any vote on the issue would be "illegal", thus dismissing any possibility of agreement. Puigdemont said over the weekend that he would be "absolutely available" to debate in Congress with the Spanish President, Mariano Rajoy, about the Catalan government's plans to call a referendum, and the decision to set a question and date for the vote. But he rejected going to the Spanish chamber just so that they can "shut the door" to the referendum "as on the previous 18 occasions" in which Catalans have asked permission to hold a referendum.

The Catalan president insisted that the Catalan chamber "has already voted" in favor of the referendum, and that is where the Catalan sovereignty lies. "The time for a political agreement with the Spanish government is over, they let it run out," he complained, saying that in order to put a referendum proposal to a vote in the Congress, it would be necessary for the Spanish and Catalan executives to have "negotiated and agreed" on it beforehand. In other words, if he goes to Madrid now, he would simply explain what the Catalan Government will do, not ask permission to do it. Despite planning to go ahead unilaterally if Spain does not change its attitude, Puigdemont and his government have insisted on numerous occasions that they are willing to negotiate the referendum "until the last minute".

In fact, the Catalan Government's preferred option is to hold a referendum in agreement with Spain. Last week, the Venice Commission said that an independence referendum in Catalonia should be carried out "in agreement with the Spanish authorities". The Catalan Government suggested that the reply was in line with its strategy, underlining that the Venice Commission foresees the possibility of a referendum as long as there is political will coming from Madrid. Something that, so far, is not there.   

"I have taken note of the intention to cooperate with the Venice Commission on the modalities of an agreed referendum," the president of this international body, Gianni Buquicchio, confirmed in a letter to Carles Puigdemont, adding, however, that this could only happen if the Spanish government is also on board. "You are, no doubt, aware that not only the referendum as such, but also the cooperation with our Commission, will have to be carried out in agreement with the Spanish authorities," Buquicchio wrote to Puigdemont.

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