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Spain: Constitutional Court Finds Catalonia Sovereignty Declaration Unconstitutional

(Apr. 24, 2014) In response to a legal challenge made by the Spanish government, on March 25, 2014, the Constitutional Court (CC) of Spain ruled that the sovereignty declaration passed by Catalonia’s regional parliament early last year is unconstitutional. (El Constitucional Considera Ilegal que Cataluna Se Declare Soberana, EL PAÍS (Mar. 25, 2014).)

Under the Spanish Constitution, a region does not have the power to unilaterally call a referendum on self-determination to decide on its integration in Spain. (Constitución Espanola (CE) 1978, art. 92, La Moncloa website [official website of the Presidency of the Government of Spain]; Press Release, Tribunal Constitucional, Nota Informativa No. 26/2014, El TC por Unanimidad Estima Parcialmente el Recurso del Gobierno contra la Declaración Soberanista de Cataluna (Mar. 25, 2014), CC website.)

The CC, in a unanimous vote, concluded that the Catalan government does not have the right to form separate institutions based on the region’s 2013 declaration of independence. It ruled unconstitutional and null the declaration made by the Catalan regional parliament that Catalonia has a sovereign right to hold a vote on its future. The CC upheld a legal challenge by the national government to that declaration, stating that Catalans may only exercise their “right to decide” in accordance with the Constitution, which asserts the indissoluble unity of Spain in articles 1.2 and 2. (Id.) The conservative majority of the CC pressed to annul the declaration as unconstitutional, while the liberal minority considered that the sovereignty declaration was not legally binding, and therefore the court should have dropped the entire case. (El Constitucional Considera Ilegal que Cataluna Se Declare Soberana, supra.)

The CC also ruled that holding the Catalonia independence referendum, as intended by the Catalan government, was not in itself against the law, if it was conducted within the framework of the law. (Press Release, supra.)

Catalonia, an autonomous community with a population of 7.5 million, is responsible for about one-fifth of Spain’s GDP and one-quarter of its taxes. Pro-independence groups in Catalonia consider that the region would be much better off financially if it seceded from Spain. (Cataluna Reclama su Independencia de Espana, EL NUEVO DÍA (Sept, 11, 2013), The pro-independence sentiment has been fueled by the economic crisis in Spain in the last few years, which has forced the central government to adopt painful and unpopular austerity policies. (Id.) Public opinion polls in Catalonia show that 59.6% of the Catalonian people want independence from the rest of Spain and want Catalonia to become a new state in the European Union. (Un 60 % de los Catalanes Esta a Favor de la Independencia según una Encuesta de la Generalitat, PÚBLICO.ES (Mar. 18, 2014).)

The Spanish Congress is currently debating a petition by the Catalan parliament to transfer central powers to local authorities, so that Catalonia can hold a a referendum on its status in November. (La Independencia de Cataluna es Imparable e Irreversible. Mentalmente los Catalanes ya Hemos Decidido, PÚBLICO.ES (Apr. 15, 2014).)