Spanish court suspends Catalonia’s declaration of sovereignty

Convergencia i Unio party leader  Artur Mas

Convergencia i Unio party leader Artur Mas

 

The constitutional court has declared without effect a Catalan “declaration of sovereignty” presented earlier this year, angering politicians from the northeastern region who want to break away from Spain.

Yesterday’s decision means the court has agreed to consider an appeal by the central government against the declaration on the grounds that it was unlawful.

The declaration, approved by the region’s parliament in January, described the 7.5 million Catalan people as “politically and legally sovereign” and nationalists saw it as a first, symbolic step towards independence.

It also declared the beginning of “the process to bring about the exercising of the right to decide so that the citizens of Catalonia can choose their political, collective future”.

This was a reference to the Catalan government’s plan to hold a referendum on independence in 2014, despite Madrid’s insistence such a move would be unconstitutional.

While the constitutional court’s decision means any legal repercussions of the controversial document are suspended as it considers the case, the tribunal will now have to decide definitively whether the declaration is constitutional or not.

The ruling is seen as a crucial legal victory for the conservative government of Mariano Rajoy, which is deeply opposed to giving Spain’s regions more autonomy, let alone independence. The administration reasons that successfully blocking the declaration of sovereignty via the courts means it will also be able to prevent the referendum itself in a similar fashion.

However, the Catalan parliament, dominated by pro-independence parties, was defiant yesterday, pushing ahead with the creation of a commission to debate the referendum process.

Artur Mas, the Catalan regional premier who is leading the referendum project, described the court’s decision as “highly worrying and deeply disappointing”.

The signs are that the ruling will further strain already poor relations between Madrid and Catalonia.

In 2010, the constitutional court accepted an appeal by Mr Rajoy’s Partido Popular (PP) against several clauses in a statute giving Catalonia increased powers.

Nationalists say that decision was one of the main causes of a recent upsurge in pro-independence sentiment.