Monday, January 28, 2013

Spanish President wants to curtail foreign activity of Catalan government

Originally published in Vilaweb on January 28, 2013

The Spanish government is preparing a law to control international trips, initiatives, and agreements undertaken by the "autonomous" communities

In Catalonia's process toward self-determination, one of the areas in which the Catalan government has begun to put more attention is internationalization. Precisely because of its importance, the Spanish government has proposed stopping the Catalan government's foreign actions, and to that end is preparing a "Law of Foreign Action and Service" according to an article published today in El País. The bill will be presented in the Council of Ministers today for its approval and foresees, among other things, that the Ministry guide and approve the international relations of the autonomous communities.

The autonomous communities could act in other countries but they will have to inform the Spanish government about all of the trips, visits, and initiatives that they wish to undertake. The Ministry will decide if such actions are approved and that will depend on whether or not they are in accordance with the objectives stipulated by the Spanish government. "Unity of movement and coordinated institutional loyalty" will be the principles invoked by the new law.

The Spanish government can't prohibit the president of an autonomous community from making an offical trip, but they can approve it or not. And the Spanish embassies will also disregard such trips.

In addition, the new law also foresees that the Spanish government control any agreements that an autonomous government sign with foreign organizations in order to verify that these do not violate or overstep their jurisdiction and aren't unconstitutional. They will also be refrained from participating in foreign affairs or in international treaties.

Any proposals to create foreign offices will also be subject to prior approval by the Spanish government. Any "recommendation" made on any of these principles will be considered binding in those autonomous communities that have not fulfilled their budget stability objective. Just last week the Catalan government announced that its 2012 budget deficit was 2.3%, 8 tenths over the objective set by the Spanish government.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

"Largely Symbolic"

"Largely Symbolic" That's how the AP has described Catalonia's landmark Declaration of Sovereignty. On the one hand, that's true: declaring a country's sovereignty is loaded with symbolism. Here is Catalonia finally standing up and saying that it has the right to decide its own future. But if you interpret "largely symbolic" as "having little legal standing" as those newspapers seem to do, then you'd be grossly misled. The Parliament of Catalonia was elected on November 25, 2012 with the highest turnout that that Parliament has ever seen. The Declaration of Sovereignty was approved by a favorable vote of 85 of the 135 Members. It is a monumental step on the road to independence. Symbolic for its significance, I'll give you that.

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Updates:

Great to see an accurate portrayal in CNN: Catalan Parliament declaration pushes self-determination
"It is not an outright statement of independence, but parliament's declaration insists that the Catalan people, in northeast Spain around Barcelona, have the right to self-determination."

Here's the initial roundup of the immediate coverage of the Catalan Parliament Declaration of Sovereignty, which is distressingly limited to repeated versions of the AP article, a better one from Reuters, and another from DPA, a German press agency.

Europa Online Magazine pretty much has the facts straight (from DPA): Catalan Parliament approves referendum on independence
"The parliament of the large north-eastern Spanish region of Catalonia on Wednesday approved a declaration paving the way for a referendum on independence, despite objections from the national government in Madrid."

And here is the Reuter's story, as it appears in EuroNews Catalan lawmakers pass resolution on sovereignty

EITB.com Catalonia votes on motion calling for right to decide political status

GMA News Online: Catalan lawmakers pass resolution on sovereignty
"Catalonia's parliament approved on Wednesday a declaration of sovereignty signalling the start of an uncertain journey towards a referendum on independence from Spain for the northeastern region."

ABC was first to carry the stilted AP story: Catalonia Declares Itself a Sovereign Entity It's also being carried by The Guardian, Huffington Post, Washington Post and Fox News

Reuters has someone on the ground: photograph: Catalunya's separatist supporters meet at the entrance of Catalunya's Parliament during a session in Barcelona

Catalonia declares its sovereignty

Originally published in Vilweb on January 23, 2013

CiU, ERC, ICV-EUiA and one representative of the CUP vote in favor of the Declaration which defines Catalonia as a "sovereign political and legal subject"• The PSC (Socialists) side with the No of the PP and C's • Five Socialist MPs do not vote


The Parliament of Catalonia has approved a historic document, the Declaration of Sovereignty, which defines the People of Catalonia as a sovereign political and legal subject. This declaration initiates the process of celebrating a referendum on the political future of Catalonia in 2014, in accordance with the commitments of CiU and ERC in their governability accord. These two parties, joined by ICV-EUiA, supported the document, which also received a vote in favor from a representative of the CUP. The other two CUP MPs abstained, in order to criticize the manner in which the process began. The PSC (Socialists) finally sided with the No to self-determination block, together with the rightist PP and Ciutadans, who called the Declaration of Sovereignty illegal and unconstitutional. But five Socialist MPs protested the PSC stance by not voting: Àngel Ros, Rocío Martínez Sampere, Marina Geli, Joan Ignasi Elena and Núria Ventura. There were 41 no votes, 84 votes in favor, and 2 abstentions. (Two PP MPs were ill, and thus did not vote. There are 135 MPs in the Catalan Parliament.)

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

What is a Declaration of Sovereignty and what is it good for?

Originally published in Vilaweb on 15 January 2013

We explain the consequences of a vote like the one that is proposed for the Parliament of Catalonia


The Parliament of Catalonia wants to vote on a declaration of sovereignty before the end of the month. Nevertheless, the political debate has created some confusion about the extent and the value of such a declaration. We offer here some answers to the most frequent questions.

What is a Declaration of Sovereignty?
Normally, a declaration of sovereignty is made by a group of humans, a nation, that declares to the world that from that moment forward they are the subject of sovereignty, that is, that they don't recognize any other sovereignty to be superior to that of their own people.

Is a Declaration of Sovereignty the same as a Declaration of Independence?
Not necessarily. Often a declaration of sovereignty comes before one of independence. It's logical that a people first declares that it is sovereign and then specifies how it wishes to exercise that sovereignty. But it turns out that declarations of independence often come about abruptly, and therefore, sometimes a single document serves both functions.

Are there consequences to declaring oneself to be the subject of political and judicial law?
There are. But only if those rights are exercised at some point. It's possible, for example, to declare a people's sovereignty and never declare independence. In that case, the declaration of sovereignty is simply rhetorical. But if independence is declared, the foundation of this declaration is always rooted in the previous declaration of sovereignty. If the conflict makes it to international courts, the declaration of soverignty would be valuable.

In the case of Catalonia, what value does a declaration of sovereignty have?
The Catalan case is following a very clear path, so that a declaration of independence, when it arrives, can be legally defended in the international sphere.

In the first place, last September, the Parliament of the 9th Legislature, chosen democratically, approved resolution 742/IX, with which it announced the convocation of a referendum on self-determination. It was the first step in the process towards self-determination. And one should not overlook, at the same time, the earlier three votes (in 1989, 1998, and 2010) in which the Parliament already announced, even while accepting the established legal framework of the time, that it did not renounce the right to self-determination.

With respect to the vote of last September 27th, since this decision was not contained in the platforms of the parties who voted for it, it was prudent to hold new elections, so that the parties could incorporate the wish to hold a referendum into their platforms, and therefore, have the people ratify that wish. In that way, no one could accuse either the parties or the Parliament of deceiving the people. The clearly majority popular vote [on November 25th] reaffirmed the desire to hold a referendum.

The next step, therefore, is to proclaim sovereignty. To tell the world that the People of Catalonia do not recognize any sovereign power above their own and that the cornerstone of the process begun on September 27, 2012 resides in this solemn decision.

If Catalonia recognized a subject of sovereignty different than its own, then it would be obvious that it could not decide on its own, and any decision that it wanted to take would have to be shared or negotiated with those with whom it shared sovereignty. This is the basic reason for the declaration. If Catalonia, for example, recognized Spanish sovereignty over itself, it would then be forced to submit a decision like independence to the vote of all Spaniards.

Can one recognize the sovereignty of Catalonia while going against independence?
Of course. That is the common practice of ceding sovereignty among states, especially in the European context. Catalonia, when it is independent, will probably cede part of its sovereignty to Europe or to supranational entities. Even becoming a part of the United Nations implies a minor cession of sovereignty. Therefore, the one does not exclude the other.

That said, it's not very common to recognize one's own sovereignty and then accept the "status quo" of submission to another, like for example, a 'People of Spain' that included the 'People of Catalonia'.

The principal reason that might justify an apparently contradictory attitude like that one is to defend the prevalence of democracy. Since nations all over the world are recognized as sovereign and sub-national entities are not, it's hard to say that Catalonia is a nation and then at the same time deprive it of its right to exercise its sovereignty. That's why the possibility of the people voting is recognized.

But the population can decide voluntarily whether to submit its sovereignty to another. This is also a sovereign act which cannot be appealed, because it's obvious that if the Catalan people have the right to self-determination, this right cannot be conditioned by which decision it might make.

How many votes are necessary to declare sovereignty?
There is no established figure. In fact, international jurisprudence even accepts that sovereignty doesn't need to be proclaimed by a formally constituted parliament. It could be declared by an assembly that was created expressly for that purpose. But it is obvious that, the closer the declaration is to the evolution of existing law, the more judicial weight it will carry.

There is the possibility that the proclamation of independence ends up in a legal confrontation between the Spanish and Catalan states in the International Courts. If that happens, the court will analyze the method taken for declaring independence, starting with the notion that the more representative of the will of the population, the better. And in this respect, the sequence explained before and the number of votes both count.

Starting from a simple majority, then, the closer that we get to a super majority, the better since we can then can argue that there is greater legitimacy, in the case of a legal conflict.

Can getting to this majority make the declaration unusable, if concessions must be made to everyone?
A declaration of sovereignty only has to satisfy two provisions: that the subject which is proclaimed, the Catalan Nation in this case, recognizes no other sovereignty above its own and therefore constitutes itself as a sovereign subject; and that it wishes to exercise its sovereignty in a specific way, deciding the legal status that it adopts internationally. While those two points are clear, the declaration is sufficient.

If the declaration of sovereignty is not approved, can independence be voted on later?
Independence can always be voted on, whether or not there is a previous declaration of sovereignty, because voting for independence is itself a demonstration of sovereignty.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Barcelona Bar Association defends Unilateral Declaration of Independence if Spain prohibts referendum

Originally published in Vilaweb, January 7, 2013. (I'll admit that the translation of the legal language is a little wobbly, but I believe the meaning is correct.)

The Committee for the Defence of People's rights of the Barcelona Bar Association (Il·lustre Col·legi d'Advocats de Barcelona, or ICAB) contends that self-determination is Catalonia's inalienable right. (Note that the Barcelona Bar Association was founded in 1833 and currently has 20,000 members.)

The Committee for the Defence of People's rights and the Free Legal Practice of the Barcelona Bar Association says that self-determination is one of Catalonia's inalienable rights since it is a fundamental and universal right of all peoples, according to international law. The committee confirms that the current framework of the Spanish Constitution does not allow Catalonia to exercise its right to self-determination but it stresses that in a democratic society the law is nothing more than the expression of the popular will. The Barcelona Bar therefore defends the convocation of a referendum as well as a unilateral declaration of independence, if the Spanish government prevents a referendum from being held.

The Defence Committee of the Barcelona Bar remarks that the right to self-determination is recognized internationally and as a result the number of sovereign states has quadrupled since 1900, and it underscores the fact that 20 of these states are the result of a secession of one part of a territory, as in the case of Norway, Finland, Ireland, Iceland, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Slovenia and Montenegro.

The Barcelona Bar dismantles the Spanish argument that popular sovereignty resides in the totality of the citizens of the Spanish State with the reminder that the Charter of the United Nations attributes the right of self-determination to peoples, not states. Therefore, the Bar affirms, "the concept of the Catalan people as the political subject with the right to decide is unquestionable".

On the other hand, the Bar notes that the Spanish Constitution does not permit the exercise of the right to decide and therefore declares that that is in contradiction with "the democratically demonstrated will of the national community". Therefore, the Bar maintains that "this concept cannot accept the kidnapping of the people's will in name of a legality that is coactively imposed."

For all of that, the committee considers that "the Spanish government would have no recourse for opposing the decision of the Parliament of Catalonia to give voice to the citizenry so that they can, freely and as a majority, express their will, in favor or against, with respect to the creation of a sovereign Catalan state." If the option in favor of independence were to win, it adds, "the Spanish government would have no legitimate standing for opposing entering into a process of negotiation in order to establish conditions for the secession."

If the state prevented the celebration of a referendum on self-determination or it refused to accept the results of a referendum, the Barcelona Bar Association believes a Unilateral Declaration of Independence proclaimed by Parliament would be feasible. If that were to occur, they say, "the Declaration of Independence would go into effect immediately in order to make the new state exist," because it would "follow the minimum criteria of a constant population, specific territory, and its own political authority," the characteristics that define a state.