Spanish Congress rejects Catalan independence referendum

Nationalists insist they will push ahead with independence campaign and referendum

Catalan separatist flags seen hung beside a banner from a balcony in Barcelona yesterday. REUTERS/Albert Gea

Catalan separatist flags seen hung beside a banner from a balcony in Barcelona yesterday. REUTERS/Albert Gea

Wed, Apr 9, 2014, 01:01

Spain’s Congress yesterday rejected Catalonia’s plan to stage a referendum on independence, with a tense debate on the issue followed by a vote that blocked the initiative.

As expected, an overwhelming majority – 299 out of 347 deputies – voted against the motion, which sought to grant Catalonia the powers to hold the ballot. Both the governing Popular Party and the main opposition Socialists voted against.

Despite the failure of the parliamentary motion, nationalists insisted during the debate that they will push ahead with their independence campaign and a referendum they have already scheduled for November 9th.

“We have the feeling you don’t accept us, how we think, how we talk,” said Marta Rovira of the pro-independence Catalan Republican Left (ERC). “The Catalans understand this all too clearly. They want to vote to decide their future.”

‘Anti-Catalan mindset’

Joan Herrera of the ICV leftist-green party used stronger language, accusing those opposed to the referendum of being “prisoners of the anti-Catalan mindset that you have sown for years and years”.

The absence from Congress of Catalan regional premier Artur Mas, the figurehead of the independence drive, highlighted how divisive the issue has become – he had claimed rejection of yesterday’s parliamentary motion was a foregone conclusion he did not wish to witness. Meanwhile, the participation of prime minister Mariano Rajoy in the debate reflected its significance for Spain’s unionists.

Relying heavily on the legal arguments he has frequently used to justify his opposition to the referendum, Mr Rajoy said the constitution did not allow a Catalan ballot on the region’s relationship with Spain.

The government’s position was supported last month by the Constitutional Court, which ruled a “declaration of sovereignty” made by the Catalan regional parliament lacked legal foundation. The court did say a referendum on the region’s “right to decide” could be possible, but only within the confines of the constitution.

However, as he addressed Congress yesterday, Mr Rajoy moved away from technical questions and softened his tone as he highlighted the importance of Catalonia’s relationship with Spain.

‘Question of emotion’

“I defend Catalonia remaining part of Spain because I can’t imagine Spain without Catalonia or Catalonia outside Spain,” he said. “It’s a question of emotion, of feeling, of a shared history.”

The prime minister even surprised onlookers by uttering a few words in the Catalan language, as he insisted the region’s culture was not repressed by Madrid, as nationalists often claim.

While the debate emphasised the entrenched positions of separatists on the one hand and the government on the other, the Socialist opposition reiterated its proposal of an alternative solution.

The Socialist initiative would grant Catalonia increased powers in areas such as the economy, but not full independence. However, so far neither the government nor the Catalan nationalist lobby has appeared willing to embrace it.