This evening, the President, the Vice President and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Catalan Government held a conference at the European Parliament in Brussels to explain the referendum on Catalonia’s political future. The joint conference, entitled The Catalan Referendum, took place in Room PHS 3C050 and served to better explain the reasons for holding the referendum to the more than 350 people attending the event, including MEPs, diplomats and journalists.
In his opening remarks, President Carles Puigdemont reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to calling a referendum and defined it as “the best possible democratic tool” to determine the will of the people of Catalonia. After briefly explaining the political context that led to the deteriorating relationship between the Spanish state and Catalonia, Puigdemont criticised the central government’s refusal to negotitate and proposed an orderly transition with “legal certainty and maximum guarantees”.
“At the EU level” he noted, “this means an internal enlargement process without discontinuities, in particular with regard to the Economic and Monetary Union and the functioning of the Internal Market”.
Convinced that a referendum is “the most clear, powerful and internationally accepted mechanism to measure the will of the population”, the President made clear that the Government’s intention is to have an agreed-upon vote with the Spanish government. “Our proposal for dialogue will always be there”, he added. “We are willing to discuss every issue: the question, the date, the eligibility requirements, the necessary percentage of the winning option”, however, should the Spanish government “keep its current position and refuse any negotiations”, Puigdemont assured that he would continue with the decision to hold binding referendum.
“I would like to insist on the fact that, up to now, the Spanish Government has categorically refused any negotiations”, the Head of the Catalan Executive stated, assuring that the only decision made by the State has been to take legal action. “Judicialising politics” he said, “with the use of the judiciary and the Constitutional Court, is a clear attack on the separation of powers and takes us farther away from the democratic standards of the European Union”.
“The issue at stake is not independence but democracy”, the President affirmed “it does not affect those who are in favor of a state of their own, but every thinking citizen who believes in freedom”. According to the President, this is “a European problem -and Europe cannot look the other way”. “Europe” he insisted, “should be part of the solution”.
In his conclusion, the President assured that Catalonia will “decide freely on its future by means of a legitimate and legal referendum, with all the effective and binding guarantees offered by democracy”.
“Democracy is best way to ensure greater social justice”
In the second intervention, the Vice President and Minister of Economy and Treasury, Oriol Junqueras, focused the attention on the economic situation of Catalonia. According to the latest macroeconomic forecasts, he stated that GDP growth in 2016 stood at 3.4%, the same as in 2015, and that the outlook for 2017 predicts a 2.7% increase, which is below that of 2016, “but still remarkable”, he said, given that the economy is set against the “backdrop of international economic uncertainty”. “As an actor in this complex and changing scenario” Junqueras explained, “Catalonia aims to consolidate an increasingly competitive and innovative economic model based on higher productivity”.
Regarding Catalonia’s debt, the Vice President explained the “huge efforts” made in the past few years to slow down debt growth rate, which went into pre-financial crisis levels in 2016. “Controlling and reducing public debt is certainly one of the biggest challenges of our administration and a huge responsibility towards future generations”, he said. This “remarkable performance”, Junqueras continued “is achieved under an enormous fiscal deficit with the Spanish central administration: which stands above 7% of the Catalan GDP”.
Furthermore, the Vice President and former MEP voiced his concern regarding Spain’s pension reserve fund, which has been “repeatedly used by the Spanish government to pay current expenses”. “If this continues we will probably see the resource depletion of that fund”, he added
Another concern Junqueras expressed was regarding the level of the Spanish debt, which currently amounts to 100% of the GDP. “This is no trivial matter” he said, “as the Spanish deficit is still outgrowing GDP growth”. In this respect the Vice President affirmed that the Catalan economy “is growing faster than our deficit, closing last year’s deficit at -1% of our GDP, a figure that speaks of our deep commitment to budgetary stability”.
In reference to the need to hold a referendum, the Vice President conveyed his belief that democracy and “allowing the citizens to decide their own future through their vote is the best way to ensure efficient economic policies and greater social justice”
“The Catalan road map is founded on voting, polls and democracy”
Raül Romeva, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Institutional Relations and Transparency and former Member of the European Parliament, also articulated the need for a Catalan referendum just as the Scottish and the British where able to decide on their political future in 2015 and 2016, respectively.
“Europe is laying its own future on the line when dealing with Catalonia”, Romeva affirmed “eventually it will have to take sides […] It is unthinkable if it doesn’t choose democracy”. “If it didn’t, it would be acting against itself and its fundamental values”, he said.
In his concluding remarks, the former MEP affirmed that the Catalan road map “is founded on voting, polls and democracy”. “Our claim is fair, pacific, democratic and based on the respect of the will of the citizens”, he added.