Spanish Congress set to block Catalan referendum on independence

Conservative central government says plan lacks legality

Spain’s Prince Felipe (right) toasts with Catalan president Artur Mas after an inauguration ceremony at the new headquarters of fashion and fragrance company Puig in Hospitalet de Llobregat, near Barcelona, on Monday. Spain’s parliament is to vote tomorrow on a petition from the Catalan parliament seeking the power to call a popular vote on the region’s independence. Photograph: Toni Albir/Reuters

Spain’s Prince Felipe (right) toasts with Catalan president Artur Mas after an inauguration ceremony at the new headquarters of fashion and fragrance company Puig in Hospitalet de Llobregat, near Barcelona, on Monday. Spain’s parliament is to vote tomorrow on a petition from the Catalan parliament seeking the power to call a popular vote on the region’s independence. Photograph: Toni Albir/Reuters

Mon, Apr 7, 2014, 19:13

Spain’s Congress is tomorrow expected to reject a plan by the region of Catalonia to stage a referendum on independence, a decision that is likely to increase tensions between separatists and unionists.

The national Congress will meet to debate and vote on a Catalan proposal to grant the north-eastern region the powers needed to hold the referendum.

The Catalan regional government has already set a date of November 9th for the ballot. However, the conservative central government in Madrid says it cannot take place because it lacks legality.

With both the governing Popular Party, which has a majority in Congress, and the main opposition Socialists opposing the referendum, tomorrow’s vote will almost certainly be a resounding “no” to the Catalan plan.

The vote follows the ruling last month by Spain’s Constitutional Court that a referendum could only be held if changes were made to the constitution.

The Catalan regional leader, Artur Mas, who is the figurehead of the independence drive, has said he will not attend tomorrow’s debate, because he would prefer not to give his political opponents in Madrid the “great victory” of watching him lose the resulting vote in the flesh.

In 2005, the then leader of the Basque region, Juan José Ibarretxe, suffered a humiliating political defeat when he watched as Congress roundly blocked a similar plan he had presented.

While Mr Mas appears determined to stay away from Congress, he remains defiant and recently said he had not ruled out a unilateral declaration of independence.

On Sunday he said: “What is happening in Catalonia, although some might find it hard to believe, isn’t the obsession of a few, but the will of many. It’s not the will of a few brainless leaders.”

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has not confirmed whether he will take part in the debate, although he is expected to take this opportunity to make the argument against both the referendum and Catalan independence.

His deputy prime minister, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, on Friday said the government is open to dialogue, but insisted that acting within the law was the priority.

“We will ensure the law is complied with,” she said. “Spaniards have the right to decide what Spain is – only the entirety of Spaniards can decide that.”

Fernando Vallespín, a sociologist at Madrid’s Autónoma University, said the only way to break the deadlock might be via an alternative proposal being advocated by the opposition Socialists: a federal settlement that gives Catalonia more powers, but not full independence.

“Both parties are very polarised on this issue,” he said. “The Spanish government is sticking to strict constitutional legality and the [nationalists] want to break that legality. I don’t think there’ll be an easy agreement.”