Catalan Government 2017 budget passed. Countdown to referendum

Yesterday the Catalan Parliament passed the 2017 budget thanks to the votes of pro independence JuntsPelSí and CUP parties. This was the last obstacle, from the Catalan side at least, on the way for the referendum. This budget includes the funds for the binding referendum of independence.

The last month and a half has been very intense. Since the trial to former President Mas and in a display on previously unseen speed in the deliberations the court declared Mas and former Catalan Government Ministers Ortega, Rigau and Homs guilty of disobedience for doing what people voted them to do. To let people vote in November 2014. They were sentenced to a two year ban from public office for holding an unbinding referendum on the independence of Catalonia. A few decades ago they use to execute Catalan Presidents, by firing squad. An improvement after all.

As a consequence of this I’ve lost track already of how many MPs from different democratic parliaments have already raised their voice warning Spain (check my twitter). The UN Human Rights Commissioner in Switzerland, the EU Venice Commission several MEPs and even Canada. Just letting Spain know that this conflict should be dealt with politically, not legally. In the process, the damage done to the credibility of Spanish institutions has been irrecoverable.

Even the former President of the Spanish Constitutional Court, on the day he was leaving, said that using the judiciary to stop Catalonia’s independence is not working and that a political solution should be reached instead.

Today we woke up with the news that the former Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs Margallo admitted yesterday night live on TV that he personally made secret deals with many countries against Catalonia.

On a colorful note, a University Professor has been fined 601 euros for daring to speak in Catalan with the Spanish Police greeting us at the Barcelona Airport. How dare he speak in the language of the country he is flying from.

Looks like the Law of Transience, which will set the Catalan legal framework for the unilateral referendum, will likely be passed in September instead of June in order to give Spain as little time as possible to react against it. The Law of Transience will be the de facto Unilateral Declaration of Independence. Part of this law, the part that enables the referendum,  will become effective on the same day it is passed and the rest of it only in case the Yes wins the referendum.

The independence machinery is advancing slowly but steadily towards the unilateral referendum scheduled for September. What Madrid thought would never happen, for JuntsPelSí and CUP to agree on the 2017 budget has happened. International supports are growing and Catalan pro Independence parties have set their differences aside for a greater goal. The clock keeps ticking and people are starting to get nervous in Madrid.

Former Catalan President trial for organising independence vote begins

A huge crowd of more than 50 thousand people has gathered outside of the courthouse so support former President Mas on the day the trial begins.

Artur Mas and Ministers Ortega and Rigau, are accused of disobedience and face a ban for elected posts because they kept their electoral promise to organise a referendum about whether Catalonia should become an independent state.

The referendum could not be carried out as initially planned because of the threats from the Spanish Government. So the Catalan Government changed the format to a non binding consultation and used volunteers instead of civil servants in order to protect the people organising from retaliations from Spain.

The result was that in spite of the threats and the attempts to ridicule 2.3 million people voted, with 90% votes going for the yes and the Spanish Government feeling powerless thought someone had to be punished for this defiance and targetted Mas and Ministers Ortega and Rigau.

Today the trial begins only a few days after the Catalan Government had the go ahead from CUP to approve to budget for 2017 that will enable an official referendum to be organised by the current Catalan Government. 80% of Catalans agree as of today that a referendum must be held to solve this issue.

Even though the intent of the Spanish Government is to use the judiciary to attack and scare Catalans against going forward with the independence plans it is proving to be instead a phenomenal way of uniting everyone who believes in democracy against the illegitimate use of the State by the Spanish Government.

Catalan demands for independence are, at the end of the day, a struggle for democracy.

Spain to stop the referendum “by force” and smear campaign on pro indy politicians

Since last week’s news that CUP gave the go ahead to the Catalan Government’s budget for the year, which essentially was the last obstacle before the referendum could be organised, Spain has gone into panic mode.

Both El Mundo and El Pais heated up the opinion by publishing editorials urging the Spanish Government to take decisive action to stop the referendum and Rajoy and his ministers confirmed that they have plans to stop the referendum “by force” if it came to that. Sealing voting schools and such familiar threats (which didn’t happen in 2014 by the way)

This was received with  firm responses from the Catalan side. Noone is going to stop the democratic will of the Catalan people. The social networks were full of jokes about the Spanish Government’s threats.

Meanwhile, tomorrow starts the trial to former president Mas and two former Ministers, Ortega and Rigau, who are facing criminal charges which could lead to a 10 year ban on being eligible for political posts for organising the referendum on 2014. 40000 people, according the the Assemblea Nacional de Catalunya have already signed up to protest for what is this attempt of criminalising the political will of Catalonia.

On thursday the Spanish Police (Guardia Civil) arrested 8 high ranking members of former party CDC (now PDeCat) as part of a supposed investigation on corruption and were released the next day with no charges without even having appeared in front of the judge. It seems like the Spanish government is trying hard to create a link between pro independence and corruption and didn’t hesitate to use the police and courts as tools in part of this smear campaign.

Political agreement for budget paves way for Catalan referendum

CUP party finally agreed yesterday to approve the Catalan Government’s budget for 2017. This starts the countdown to the referendum of independence and sets the independence process in the final stage.

At some point during May the Parliament will approve the law of Judiciary Transience that will effectively be a declaration of independence and will enable a Catalan legal framework under which the Independence referendum will be organised. The approval dor the rest of the Catalan independence laws will be conditional to the result of the referendum being Yes.

Even though the original plan is for the referendum to take place in September the Government has hinted at the possibility of doing it earlier if Spain continues its legal attacks against Catalan politicians as they have so far.

The next milestone for the process is February the 6th when the trial to former President Mas starts and a protest is being organised by the main pro independence organisations. Mas is being charged with disobedience for organising the referendum of November 2014 and if found guilty would be banned from running for any political posts.

Irish MEP Matt Carthy: “the people of Catalonia should decide for themselves”

After tuesday’s conference of the Catalan President at the European Parliament Irish MEP Matt Carthy has said “all democrats should agree that the people of Catalonia should decide for themselves”

This is yet another international support for the Catalan referendum. These have increased substantially especially after last december the President of the Catalan Parliament Carme Forcadell appeared in court facing charges for disobedience for allowing a debate about Catalonia’s independence to take place at the Parliament.

 

Catalan President receives standing ovation at Europarliament by a room full to the brim

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Standing ovation at the European Parliament when Catalan President Carles Puigdemont finished speaking a few minutes ago. VicePresident Junqueras and Foreign Minister Romeva also participated.

The bigger event room (350 seats but about 150 more were standing) at the European Parliament was full in spite of the boycott attempts by the Spanish diplomatic services and Spanish representatives in Brussels. I have the feeling their clumsy attempts probably backfired and increased the interest in the conference.

Puigdemont said that above all this is about democracy and that Catalonia’s project is deeply pro european. But the main message he delivered was that this year Catalonia will organise a referendum of independence, whether it is agreed with Spain or not and Catalans will decide whether Catalonia becomes an independent State or not.

I have to say I am surprised by the warm welcome that the audience, which was composed of members MEPs and members of international diplomatic services has displayed. I expected skepticism and a touch of indifference but it seems that finally Europe is putting the Catalan referendum in their agenda and paying close attention. Maybe it was just the firm belief in the European project in the light of recent events like Brexit that has made the difference.

Carme Forcadell to declare in Court for allowing debate in Parliament

Today Carme Forcadell, President of the Catalan Parliament, will declare in Court for allowing a debate about Catalan independence to take place at the Chamber. People all over Catalonia have shown their support to Forcadell and against the judicialization of politics led by the Spanish Governement.

The strategy of the Spanish Government to criminalise pro independence politicians instead of dealing with this conflict within the political sphere has already taken to Court, amongst others, former President Mas and two former Ministers for allowing the November 9th, 2014 vote about independence to take place.

Alex Salmond in Scotland, Gerry Adams in Ireland and Bernhard von Grünberg in Germany, amongst other international politicials and intellectuals have already shown their support to Forcadell and against the Spanish Government’s attack to freedom of speech and lack of separation of powers of the Spanish State.

Now that the Catalan Republic is getting closer

It’s been more than two years since I last wrote on this blog. After the November 2012 elections the process was in the hands of the politicians, President Mas won the elections with the promise of holding a referendum and the international media increased interest on the subject. Mission accomplished. I limited my contribution through CataloniaDirect to the occasional tweet when anything worth mentioning happened (which was not very often).

Still, now that we are getting close to the birth of the Catalan Republic I feel like writing about it again. Even if just occasionally.

The last couple of years I often refrained from writing because it would have involved invariably criticising Catalan politicians, the very people who would have to eventually leave their differences aside if this was to suceed. They drove me insane at times, other times I lost hope. Glad that is mostly in the past now.

However, from the last 3 years three days are worth mentioning.

Day 1 – September 11th 2013, the 400km Via Catalana (Catalan Way). 2 million people holding hands across the country on . I was lucky enough to be there taking pictures. I will never forget that afternoon.

Day 2 – September 11th 2014 The Big V (for Vote) demonstration in Barcelona. Involving again about 2 million people. I had my doubts, it was so ambitious that I was afraid people would be tired of doing these mass demonstrations. I was mistaken.

Day 3 – The November 9th 2014 Referendum

We all knew Spain would never agree to a referendum. Rajoy kept saying everyone stay calm, no referendum would take place in Catalonia. That was my biggest hope, if Rajoy said it wouldn’t happen that had to mean one way or another it would. Mas astutely manouvered, challenged Spain and went ahead and hosted the promised referendum on November 9th 2014 anyway. Catalonia’s was to take place shortly after Scotland’s. The comparison between the UK and Spain was stark. Threats, insults, legal prosecution but nothing we weren’t used to. Mas also managed to irate the other Catalan parties who wanted a more confrontational attitude but I guess when you make decisions you can’t make everyone happy.

Using the Generalitat’s civil servants was not a possibility because Spain threatened them with losing their jobs. So the week before the referendum the Generalitat publicly requested for 20000 volunteers. I immediately registered. All positions were filled within a few hours. My job would be to check the amount of votes cast in each of the 8 tables and call the central at the end of the day with the final results.

So I flew back from Germany, were I live at the moment, and spent a lovely weekend in Barcelona. On the day of the voting I woke up at 6am and checked the news just in case the Spanish Government had carried out their threats to send the Guardia Civil to close down the voting points. I know this may sound ridiculous, but read the Spanish news that week if you don’t believe me. In the end everything was quiet, only threats. Pictures of the Spanish police taking away ballot boxes would have looked really bad on the international press.

I got to the voting school in a part of the city I don’t know well. There was a couple of Mossos d’Esquadra, the Catalan police, at the corner. They weren’t supposed to be inside the voting point because it was not a normal referendum but the Generalitat sent them anyway in case violent groups attempted to carry out the threats to disrupt the voting. I was relieved to see the Mossos there.

It was a glorious day. Thousands of people voting as if making a birthday wish, hoping for a better future with big smiles on their faces. At times it got hectic, crowds of people eager to vote and we had to make them wait in line for their turn to vote.

Since the referendum had not been agreed with Spain it was not legally binding. 2.3 million people voted in spite of the threats, the good weather and it not being binding. Almost two million voted Yes/Yes (yeah it was a double question, us Catalans are complicated like that). But nevertheless we know at least 2 million Catalans want independence, which out of about 5 million voters is a huge chunk. It also felt good to do a little disobedience against Spain.

I wasn’t entirely happy with the fact that every person in the organisation was a die hard pro independence activist, but also understandable since normally you’d think of better things to do on a sunny sunday than spend 14 hours at a voting point hosting a referendum under threat of a hostile State. But above being independentists we are democrats and the counting of the votes was meticulous and thorough.

In order to spare the volunteers from the wrath of Spain all names and records were deleted after the voting. In the end the only victims have been President Mas and Vicepresident Ortega and Education Minister Rigau who now face a criminal lawsuit for prevarication, disobedience and misuse of public funds. Yeah Spain was still Spain, someone had to be punished for voting.

Spain getting used to the idea of Catalonia leaving. Bi-weekly highlights.

2013/03/07 Rodríguez Ibarra, former President of southwestern Spanish region Extremadura, currently a member of Spain’s Council of State and one of the leading members of Spanish PSOE compares Catalan President Mas to Hitler and Mussolini. Unfortunately in Spain these type of irresponsible statements happen all too often and they never seem to have any consequences for those who make them but it is very worrying that they come from a leading member of the currently main opposition party in Spain.

2013/03/09 President Mas said, regarding the unfortunate statements by Rodríguez Ibarra, remarked that Catalonia will continue with its project and its open to dialogue attitude, “no matter how much we are insulted”. [ca]

2013/03/13 PSC voted a resolution in favour of negotiating with Spain a referendum of independence, joining the main Catalan parties in the pro Catalan sovereignty ranks. After voting differently to PSOE for the first time a few days before in the Spanish Parliament. Now 80% of the Catalan Parliament is for a Catalonia to vote to decide its future. Only PP and Ciudadanos are against it. This is very important since PSC has in the space of two weeks voted for the first time in its history differently than PSOE and now they have rectified their initial position against Catalonia’s sovereignty.

2013/03/15 One year after it’s constituency meeting the ANC (Catalan National Assembly), which organised the massive demonstration of September 11th 2012, held its second meeting in Girona, which gathered 3500 people. The ANC currently counts with around 12000 associates and is a grassroots movement which spinned off from the popular referendums for independence movement that organised 60000 volunteers all across Catalonia and has become the main civical platform to push for Catalonia’s independence. The ANC have agreed to continue leading the way for independence by means of peaceful protest and civil disobedience to the Spanish state. The AND supports a referendum before May 2014 and in case Spain blocked the possibility of a referendum considers a unilateral declaration of independence. It announces that this year’s September the 11th (Catalonia’s National Day) will organise a massive human chain across the country to raise awareness internationally, inspired by the human chain on 1989 that led to the independence of the Baltic countries.

2013/02/16 CiU and ERC leaders admit that the possibility of a Unilateral Declaration of Independence should Spain finally block a referendum of independence has been discussed [ca].

2013/03/18 Spain is already increasing its diplomatic efforts lobbying 22 european states to bias them against Catalonia’s independence [ca]. Spain is getting used to the idea that the Catalan process will end up in the international courts and broadening its attacks to the international sphere.

2013/03/18 Professor Christopher K. Connolly has published a report about the independence movements in Catalonia, Scotland and Flanders for the American Department of Justice. Professor Connolly considers worrying Spain’s position on the Catalan issue.

The Catalan declaration of independence could happen in December. Bi-weekly highlights.

February 22nd, the latest poll made by the Catalan Generalitat shows results that 54.7% of Catalans would vote Yes to independence [ca], 20,7% No, 17% abstention and 5.4% doesn’t know. The good thing about these results is that all the attacks and efforts to scare Catalans made by the Spanish Government and Spanish State structures are proving to be completely in vain.

February 21st, the Catalan Minister of Economy, andreu Mas-Colell, is already working on setting up the Catalan Tax Agency [ca].

February 25th, for the first time in 31 years PSC, the Catalan branch of the Spanish PSOE, voted differently and against PSOE’s will. This was in the voting at the Spanish Parliament about a Catalan referendum on independence. Even thought the voting was lost all Catalan deputies, except for those from PP, voted together for the first time in the Spanish Parliament. PSOE have threatened to break up with PSC but their dilemma is that they know they wouldn’t be able to win an election ever again without PSC’s votes. In any case this is a great victory for Catalonia since it has forced PSC to accept Catalonia as a sovereign entity.

February 25th, Catalan President Mas continues his efforts to counter the Spanish diplomatics attacks against Catalonia by explaining the process to independence during a meeting of liberal democrat european rulers in Amsterdam [ca].

February 24th, the Spanish Minister of education insists that he wants to finish with the “dominance of Catalan language in schools” (sic).

February 28th, Spanish army General in the reserve Juan antonio Chicharro said: “The country is more important than democracy” and suggested a possible military coup should Catalonia’s independence process continue [ca]. Disciplinary action may be taken against him. However, nobody from the Government or the army has publicly contradicted him.

February 28th, the Spanish Government will appeal Catalan Parliament’s Declaration of Sovereignty to the Spanish constitutional Court [ca] in an attempt to invalidate it. Even though this will not have any effect since it is a political declaration of intentions to justify the self-determination process in Catalonia. However, we should thank Spain that they see the threat is poses since it is, effectively, a detachment from the Spanish Constitution by stating that Catalonia, and not Spain, is the political subject.

March 4th, Spain threatens freedom of speech. The Spanish General Attorney, Mr Torres-Dulce, will dismiss the Catalan General Attorney, Mr Rodríguez Sol [ca]. The latter said in an interview to Europa Press that he believes, even though he is not an independentist, that it would be legitimate for Catalans to decide their future and that the Spanish Constitution from 1978 may not reflect the changes in society and needs a reform.

March 4th, ERC are considering to accelerate the process through a declaration of independence which could happen as early as December this year [ca]. This is in line with other informations that confirm that also President Mas is already considering the possibility of a declaration of independence given the Spanish rejection to dialogue and the Spanish constant attacks to Catalonia’s economical and political stability.