Catalan Parliament ignores constitutional ruling and presses ahead with referendum plans

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  By a Newsnet reporter

The Catalan Parliament has ignored a ruling from the Spanish Constitutional Court for it to drop any independence referendum plans and has voted to press ahead and to set up a commission to set the terms of the ballot.

In response to a submission from the Spanish Government, the Spanish Constitutional Court ruled on Wednesday that the Catalan declaration of sovereignty, which was passed by the Catalan Parliament in January, must be suspended immediately.

The Constitutional Court now has five months, counting from March 8 when the Spanish Government presented its complaint, to analyse the question and to give a final ruling on whether the declaration is illegal.  The court, consisting of political appointees made by Madrid, has a conservative majority and is likely to rule in favour of the Spanish Government. 

In their submission, lawyers for the Spanish Government stressed that the Catalan people have no legal right to sovereignty, and that the hypothetical independence of Catalonia must be decided by the entire Spanish nation.  According to the Spanish Government, the Catalan declaration of sovereignty is “an open challenge to the constitution”. 

However despite the court ruling to suspend the declaration of sovereignty, the Catalan Parliament voted on Wednesday to ignore the Constitutional Court and to continue to act on the declaration, which proclaims the sovereignty of the Catalan nation and the right of its people to decide their own future. 

The declaration calls on the Catalan Parliament to set up a commission to set the terms of the planned independence referendum, which will most likely be held in 2014.  Hours after the court gave its ruling, pro-independence parties in the Catalan Parliament voted on Wednesday to set up the commission, despite furious opposition from the anti-independence parties the Partido Popular and Ciutadans.  The Partido Popular representatives refused to participate in the debate, declaring that the Catalan Parliament was in contempt of court.  

The President of the Catalan Parliament, Núria de Gispert, insisted on Thursday that the Catalan declaration of sovereignty remains in effect despite the court ruling.  Ms Gispert said in a statement that the declaration has no juridical effects, and therefore cannot be suspended by the court. 

She added that if the declaration of sovereignty was eventually ruled unconstitutional, it would call into question the democratic principle that elected bodies should be able to express the views of the majority of their democratically chosen representatives.

Ms de Gispert expressed her confidence that the Constitutional Court would not rule that the declaration was unconstitutional, saying: “I trust in the objectivity and the legal and technical expertise of [the Court’s] representatives.”

However she stressed that the sovereignty declaration “neither presupposes independence nor a [Catalan] state”, but rather limited itself to signalling that the Catalans have the right to be consulted on what future relations there ought to be between Catalonia and the rest of the Spanish state.

Meanwhile the government of Catalonia has said that it would seek EU intervention if necessary to protect the democratic right of Catalans to decide their own future.