Parliament says Government should seek Venice Commission’s endorsement for referendum
Barcelona (ACN).- The Catalan Parliament called for the Government to “launch the necessary actions to obtain the advice, recognition, and endorsement of the Venice Commission with respect to the conditions that the referendum should fulfill in order to meet the requirements established by this body”. The Catalan Chamber also agreed to ask the Catalan executive to inform the Commission of the Catalan people’s desire to call “a referendum in agreement with the State”. This point was approved thanks to the votes of governing coalition Junts Pel Sí and the alternative left coalition Catalunya Sí que es Pot. However, the members of the other pro-independence party in the chamber, the radical left CUP, abstained from voting, since they believe that the possibility of reaching an agreement with the Spanish State regarding the referendum is not realistic.
The motion passed this Thursday refers to ten points established by the Venice Commission in relation to referenda. These provide the framework which has to give legal coverage to the referendum; the deadline between the framework’s approval or modification and the referendum’s date; the conditions of the organizing body; the characteristics of the electoral census; the campaign conditions; the kind of question; the deadline between consensus on the question and the referendum’s date; the criteria for the referendum to be considered as valid; and the criteria for the vote to have political and legal effects.
The document also seeks for “prior recognition from the EU and that of the international community” so that the referendum could have “real political and legal effects”.
The motion also calls for the Catalan Government to reaffirm to the Spanish executive its will to reach an agreement on the referendum “in accordance with the legal Spanish framework”.
CUP abstained from most points
Radical left pro-independence CUP, governing Junts per Sí’s main partner in the Parliament, abstained from voting on most points. CUP has repeatedly insisted that coming to agreement on a referendum is not a realistic option, since the Spanish Government has repeatedly said that they won’t allow the vote to take place. On the other hand, they supported the point which refers to the “stagnation of the Spanish State and that of its institutions regarding the refusal to call an agreed referendum”, a behavior which is “clearly authoritarian and which violates the citizens’ democratic rights”, an attitude which makes it “very difficult” for Catalan institutions to carry out the Parliament’s mandate.
The Venice Commission's criteria
The Code of Good Practice on Referendums, adopted by the Council for Democratic Elections at its 19th meeting in December, 2016 in Venice, establishes several guidelines for this kind of vote to have legal and political consequences and therefore be internationally recognized.
The document states that the referendum should be organized by an impartial body and any modification to the legal framework should be made at least a year before the vote would actually take place.
The question put to the vote must be clear; it must not be misleading; it must not suggest an answer; electors must be informed of the effects of the referendum; voters must be able to answer the questions asked solely by yes, no, or a blank vote. Moreover, the question and an explanatory report or balanced campaign material from the proposal’s supporters and opponents should be made available to electors sufficiently in advance.
Regarding the legal framework, the Commission established that referendums must comply with the legal system as a whole, and especially the procedural rules. In particular, referendums cannot be held if the Constitution or a statute in conformity with the Constitution does not provide for them, for example where the text submitted to a referendum is a matter for Parliament’s exclusive jurisdiction.
In relation to the turnout, the document concludes that it is advisable not to stipulate a minimum turnout because that would lump together voters who abstain with those who vote no. A minimum approval rate is also not advisable, since it risks generating a difficult political situation if the draft is adopted by a simple majority which is lower than the necessary threshold.