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Interview with Alfred Bosch, MP for Barcelona in the Congress of Deputies

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I had the opportunity this week to interview Mr. Alfred Bosch, a member of the Spanish Congress of Deputies with the Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, or ERC[1]. Mr. Bosch had invited me to meet with him after reading my article, “Catalonia and Spain: End Game Scenarios”: he wished to comment on some controversial details in the analysis. We met in his office, on the sixth floor of the congressional offices next door to the Congress itself.

The following is a summary of our interview, not a verbatim transcription. The opinions expressed in this article are not mine. The informal conversation was held entirely in Spanish and any errors or misrepresentations of the statements of the speakers are entirely my own responsibility. This transcription has been reviewed and approved by the participant.

Mr. Bosch, you said you wished to comments on some controversial elements in the framework I had published to analyze possible outcomes of the Catalan referendum process?

Yes; in general I agree with the framework and its structure. But one of your outcomes is the revocation of the Catalan charter of autonomy, invoking Article 155 of the Spanish constitution? That is incorrect: Article 155 makes no mention of suspending, much less revoking any community’s Charter[2]. The government does not have the authority either; this is a matter that would have to go through the Constitutional Court.

But Article 155 does say that the government can compel any community that is violation of the laws or the Constitution to meets its obligations and take all measures necessary to do so.

Certainly it does, but those measures must be legal measures; the government cannot use illegal means to combat what it considers to be illegal actions by one of the communities. Revoking the charter of autonomy would be illegal; it is nowhere contemplated in the Constitution. The Spanish government would first have to instruct the President of Catalonia to comply with its orders.

What if the Generalitat refused to comply or ignored the order?

Then the government would have to go through the Courts; the Court would have to find in favor of the government and then issue a judicial order. But let me stress again that a community’s charter cannot be revoked or suspended; the government has no authority for that.

Mr. Bosch, during the debate of April 8th in the Congress of Deputies with the representatives of the Catalan Parliament, Mr. Rajoy alluded to the possibility of a constitutional reform process as an alternative to the Catalan referendum process. Have there been any subsequent discussions along those lines?

No, Mr. Rajoy has not mentioned it since that occasion. But, in fact, the Deputy Prime Minister (Soraya) Sáenz de Santamaría came out soon afterwards to dismiss the notion. The Catalans would first have to renounce any intention of holding a referendum and only then “we would see”.

Would Esquerra support a constitutional reform process if it were made?

First, such a proposal would have to be made! And there isn’t one, nor has there ever been any intention of making a serious proposal. It is up to the government to take this step if they are interested in exploring this alternative; for Esquerra, the door was closed on the possibility of a constitutional reform when the Courts rejected the 2006 reform of the Estatut[3].

A referendum is for us an obligation that we have with Catalan society, with our constituents. We would be willing to accept international mediation in principle, by the EU or UN for example, if it would help in improving the dialogue with the Spanish government, but only in setting the terms of a referendum. The vote itself is not negotiable.

The possibility of holding a “non-binding” referendum has been held out. What are your thoughts on that?

Yes, I’ve heard of such proposals, but let’s be serious. We are not conducting a newspaper survey. You cannot call out the entire population of Catalonia to have them vote on such a question and then tell them “well, we only wanted to know your opinion!” How could we face our constituents afterwards? We’d all be run out of town.

If the people turn out and vote for independence, then of course it is binding. That is Esquerra’s position. What has Mr. Rajoy said about a non-binding vote? Or Mr. Rubalcaba? Or Rosa Díez? They say “not on your life”! Because they all know that any referendum would be binding. Anyone who says different isn’t being entirely honest.

Of course, not everyone in Catalonia wants independence. What if a section of Catalonia wishes to remain in Spain?

If a vote was held, and the majority of Catalans voted “no” to independence, would those towns that voted “yes” become independent? Of course not! The majority would decide for the whole region. It would be the same for a “yes” vote: all of territory that today comprises Catalonia would become independent.

That being said, if the citizens of some part of Catalonia, like the Aran Valley or Tarragona, subsequently wished to reunify with Spain, they could organize a referendum to vote on it. It would have to be a separate process that came after independence; you cannot mix the two questions. But to my knowledge, this is not an issue that anyone is discussing.

The next big date for Catalans is the Scottish referendum. How will that impact the process here?

Yes, certainly that’s an important date. The 18th of September, isn’t it? But actually, our national holiday comes first. We have lots of important activities planned in support of La Diada[4], including a mass demonstration in support of the referendum in the form of a “v” on the main avenues of the city. “V” for vote, “v” for victory. We hope for a very large turn-out, perhaps even surpassing the 1.5 million of recent demonstration.

With regards to Scotland, naturally there will be consequences. If the “no” vote wins, there are certain to be some people disappointed; just as there will be more support for independence if the “yes” vote wins. It seems that “yes” is getting stronger in Scotland; Alex Salmond is a very intelligent and experienced politician.

Regardless of how Scotland votes, the principal message for the Catalan people is that at least the Scots can vote. They contrast the attitude of Westminster with Mr. Rajoy’s refusal to discuss anything and it only makes them more determined to vote. In that sense, even a Scottish negative could be a good thing: it would show that a “no” vote is possible, without threats or intimidation.

Even if Catalonia were to vote for independence, the EU says that the new country would not automatically be in the EU or the Euro.

That is the position of certain high officials in the EU, such as (President) Durão Barroso[5] and (President) van Rompuy[6]. They are the ones who are most opposed to Catalan independence. I can’t understand why these gentlemen have agreed to spread a message of fear and pessimism which is so contrary to the Europe we are trying to build, a Europe built on peace and democratic respect.

It is worrisome, of course, because it creates fear in the minds of some voters and it is distressing to see public officials resort to them. But I don’t think that anyone is going to let themselves be manipulated by these obvious tactics.

The people who are really in charge of Europe, though, are the heads of the member states, and none of them have voiced clear opposition to Catalan independence.

There is nothing in any EU charter or treaty that deals with a secession event in a member state. Couldn’t the European Union be petitioned to give a definitive answer and resolve the ambiguity?

Yes, a request for a judgment on the question of “internal expansion” could be submitted to the EU, but it would have to come from the government of a member state, and that’s not likely to occur.

If the EU did require that an independent Catalonia request re-admission into the Union, Spain has already said that it would exercise its veto to prevent that.

Spain – and the EU – face two important contradictions in this case. Spain cannot, at the same time, deny the independence of Catalonia and exercise its veto against immediate readmission. If they don’t recognize Catalan independence, they can hardly expel a portion of Spain from the EU while using the veto means recognizing our independence.

The second contradiction involves citizenship. Catalans would continue to be Spanish citizens, since constitutionally the government doesn’t have the power to revoke citizenship[7]. They would continue to enjoy free movement of persons within the European Union. How could Spain exclude or bar entry to Spanish citizens?

What will happen if the government of Spain attempts to prevent the referendum from taking place?

It is not so simple a matter to stop if the people are determined to vote. If the Generalitat places ballot boxes in voting stations and the government of Spain sends Guardias Civiles[8] to take them away, they will not be allow to do so, they will not be let into the buildings. There will be a solid wall of citizens who will simply refuse to permit it, without offering any violence, but without cooperating or conceding. If the Catalan people are determined to decide their own future, they will achieve it.

I don’t think things will come to a bad pass, to violence; but if this were to be the case, then there would be international mediation. The EU could not tolerate a disruption in its fourth largest economy and I believe that practical considerations, economic considerations, would win out over obstinacy. Such a mediation would favor Catalonia, since it would be on the basis of equals and we would finally have the negotiation we have been asking for.

Has Esquerra proposed any minimum requirements for independence? A minimum turnout or a certain percentage of the population voting in favor?

Esquerra is perfectly willing to discuss this with anyone who wishes to make a proposal, everything is negotiable except the referendum itself. The fact is, no one has made a proposal, and we are not expecting one.

Participation? As many as turn up. There was no minimum participation in the referendum on the European Constitution. Only 42% of the voters showed up[9], but that didn’t stop the government from approving the measure in parliament and imposing it on the rest of the country. And as for how many must vote “yes”: a simple majority. 50% +1. We are not going to impose conditions that allow the “no” vote to lose and yet still win: that’s not how democracy works.

Mr. Bosch, thank you for your invitation and your time.

Thank you.

 

Sources and Notes

 

[1] Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (Republican Left of Catalonia) is a Catalan socialdemocratic and anti-monarchical party. It also openly advocates for the independence of Catalonia, which separates it from ideologically similar parties such as the Socialist Party of Catalonia (PSC) which is pro-union. ERC is currently the second largest party in the Catalan regional parliament with 21 seats, and forms a governing coalition with the Convergencia I Unió party (CiU) of Artur Mas.

[2] Factually correct. The Englsih text of Article 155, as found on the official Government of Spain website, reads:

1. If a Self-governing Community does not fulfil the obligations imposed upon it by the Constitution or other laws, or acts in a way that is seriously prejudicial to the general interest of Spain, the Government, after having lodged a complaint with the President of the Self-governing Community and failed to receive satisfaction therefore, may, following approval granted by the overall majority of the Senate, take all measures necessary to compel the Community to meet said obligations, or to protect the above-mentioned general interest.

2. With a view to implementing the measures provided for in the foregoing paragraph, the Government may issue instructions to all the authorities of the Self-governing Communities.

[3] The Catalan Charter of Autonomy

[4] 11 September 2014.

[5] José Manuel Durrão Barroso is the President of the European Commission

[6] Herman Achille van Rompuy is the President of the European Council

[7] Factually correct. The Englsih text of Article 11, Paragraph 2, as found on the official Government of Spain website, reads: No person of Spanish birth may be deprived of his or her nationality.

[8] The Guardias Civiles (Civil Guard) are a national police force with quasi-military responsibilities. There is no direct US equivalent, and they encompass the role of State troopers, FBI, DEA, Coast Guard and to a limited extent, National Guard.

[9] Factually correct. Spanish turnout was 41.8%, the lowest turnout since the Franco era.

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