Catalonia is on the verge of yet another crucial day in the long-lasting dispute between those who want to secede from Spain and those who want to prevent it happening. The Parliament has been summoned on Tuesday for the debate to reinstate Carles Puigdemont as the President of Catalonia. Yet, it is not clear whether this will happen or not—and if it does, how the pro-independence parties can even make it possible.
Here are some key points for understanding where we are now, and what could happen tomorrow.
Can Puigdemont be sworn in at a distance?
The Spanish Constitutional Court has allowed Carles Puigdemont’s candidacy for president, but only if he turns up in person. After around six hours of deliberations, the judges decided not to accept Puigdemont’s bid, if it is made from Brussels. Thus, the Spanish court will not allow him to be sworn in as Catalan president at a distance or with another MP representing him. What’s more, the Spanish Constitutional Court also stated that if Puigdemont wants to stand as the candidate, he will need previous authorization from a judge. Yet his lawyer, Jaume Alonso-Cuevillas, said that Puigdemont is “far” from asking for judicial authorization.
Will Puigdemont return to Catalonia?
Puigdemont faces an uneasy dilemma: the only way he might be able to retake his post is by returning to the country—at the risk of ending up in prison. Three months ago, Puigdemont and his ministers were dismissed by the Spanish government following a declaration of independence. Faced with criminal charges, he left the country alleging he did not trust the Spanish judiciary to offer him a fair trial.
Based in Belgium, the Catalan leader is now free to move around Europe, as the Supreme Court withdrew an international arrest warrant over concerns that Belgian legal criteria might interfere with the ongoing judicial procedures in Spain. Puigdemont, who was able to run in the December 21 election from abroad, became the most voted pro-independence candidate, and secured a majority of seats in the Parliament making it possible to form a new government.
Can the MPs in Brussels or in prison vote?
The MPs that are currently in prison will be able to vote by proxy in the investiture debate. However, the MPs in Belgium won’t be able to vote tomorrow, as the Constitutional Court judges decided that they “cannot delegate their votes” in the investiture debate.
After the court’s decision, Lluís Puig and Clara Ponsatí, two of the ministers in Belgium along with president Carles Puigdemont, stepped down as members of the Catalan Parliament in order to secure a pro-independence majority in the chamber. The resignation was announced only two days before the investiture debate is to be held in the Catalan Parliament. Today, another minister in Belgium, Meritxell Serret, stepped down as a member of the Catalan Parliament.
Their decision comes a day after the Spanish Constitutional Court ruled that the MPs in Belgium could not vote by proxy in the investiture debate. The Court also resolved that in order to be reinstated as president, Puigdemont must return to Catalonia, hand himself in, and ask for judicial authorization to attend the swearing-in ceremony.
Accepting or disobeying the court’s decision, what’s the role of the Parliament bureau?
The Constitutional Court also issued a warning to the members of the Parliament bureau, which is charged with deciding how to proceed with Puigdemont’s swearing-in. Spain’s highest court made it clear that anyone willing to contravene its ruling will be brought before the courts.
Here lies the dilemma for the recently elected Catalan Parliament president, Roger Torrent, a member of the pro-independence Esquerra Republicana party: sticking with the plan and allowing Puigdemont to be sworn-in without judicial authorization might make him criminally liable. The previous Parliament president, Carme Forcadell, was sent to prison for allowing a vote on independence and only released after paying €150,000 bail.
Torrent could adjourn the session, and also propose a different candidate for president—a possibility suggested by one of his party colleagues, who said that the priority should be to restore the government, and put an end to Madrid’s direct rule. Yet, Puigdemont’s party, Together for Catalonia, is firmly opposed to electing anyone but him, and so is CUP, an anti-capitalist party whose four MPs give the pro-independence parties their majority of seats.
How many votes does Puigdemont need to be sworn in as president?
At least 68 MPs out of 135 have to vote for Puigdemont. If the investiture debate is finally held, the candidate for president has to be chosen by an absolute majority of votes. Yet, if the candidacy does not get at least 68 votes, a second vote will take place within 48 hours. In the second vote, the candidate need only get a simple majority of votes, that is more votes in favor than against.
If no candidate reaches a simple majority, the Catalan Statute of Autonomy says that a candidate has to be sworn in as a Catalan president within two months following the first vote. Otherwise, the Parliament will be dissolved and a new election called.