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Speech by President of the Government in Lower House of Parliament

Monday 16 October 2017

"Madam Speaker, Honourable Members of Parliament,

As you know, the Council of Ministers has agreed this morning to present a formal demand to the Regional Government of Catalonia to confirm whether independence has been declared in Catalonia or not, regardless of the deliberate confusion caused over its entry into force. This formal demand, which falls under the scope of Article 155 of our Constitution, seeks to offer our citizens the clarity and certainty that an issue of such magnitude requires.

The response that Mr Puigdemont offers to this formal demand will shape the future of events in the coming days. It is in his hands to return to legality and re-establish institutional normality, as everyone is calling for him to do, or to prolong this period of instability, tension and the breakdown of co-existence in Catalonia. I fervently hope he makes the right decision.

Honourable Members,

I will try to be clear right from the outset: our democracy at this time is going through one of the gravest moments in its recent history. This is not a dispute about powers or a difference between public authorities. We are not even facing a problem of public order. That is not the case. Unfortunately that is not the case.

What we have seen in recent days in Catalonia, in Spain and in Europe has nothing to do with political differences that are addressed on a daily basis, in a democratic manner in democratic countries. We are facing facts, conduct and attitudes that are well outside the healthy political controversy of civilised societies. We are being questioned and this defiance of legal requirements comes well before any political discussion. I refer to such principles as the rule of law, the supremacy of the law and the deliberate break-up of harmony between our citizens. In short, we are talking about an unprecedented challenge to the pillars on which a democratic society is founded: liberty, plurality and legality.

Honourable Members,

Since we recovered democracy some 40 years ago, the Spanish people have always found, in the diversity of ideas, ambitions and projects, a space for consensus where citizens from all corners of Spain feel represented. This consensus, enshrined in our Constitution, unites generations, territories and people in a common project that has turned us into one of the finest countries in the world. That is what has been put in jeopardy recently.
Honourable Members of Parliament,

The problems at present in Catalonia, albeit serious, are no more than the inevitable consequence of an institutional crisis that has been building up there, deliberately and irresponsibly, for many months now.

What happened at the plenary sittings of the Regional Parliament of Catalonia on 6 and 7 September has detonated an escalation of radicalism, disobedience and turmoil that is unprecedented in our recent history.

The diagnosis of the situation leaves little room for doubt. The governors of Catalonia, the main State representatives there, have used their institutional position to unleash a disloyal and very dangerous attack on our Constitution, on the unity of Spain, on the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia and, what is worse, on citizens peacefully living side-by-side; something that no responsible governor should allow.

On 1 October, the Regional Government of Catalonia broke the law, disobeyed the rulings of our courts, their own legality and, moreover, brought chaos to the streets to simulate a democratic legitimacy that their own decisions wholly lacked.

Those of us here in this chamber embody the legislative power in representation of our citizens. On behalf of our citizens you control the work of the government. We enact laws pursuant to our Constitution and to the will of our citizens. That is democratic legitimacy and no other possible alternative legitimacy exists.

Honourable Members,

What we have seen in recent days in the streets of Catalonia (disorder, division among Catalans, and lastly, the flight of companies) are none other than the dramatic consequences of this violation of the law. It is the law that allows us to live in a civilised manner, that protects the rights of everyone, that defends the weak and that sets the boundaries for peacefully living side-by-side. When the law fails, chaos triumphs, the gateway is opened to abuse and injustice, rights are trampled on and harmony disappears.

We are free when we are subject to the law and we lose that freedom when the law ceases to protect us. That is why what is not legal is not democratic.

Over the course of this speech, I propose to explain in detail what has happened and what the government's response is. I already stated that what is fundamental is that this illegal referendum, designed to wipe out our Constitution, the unity of Spain and the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia, has been an outright failure, as was certified last week by the Central Electoral Board. Consequently, no alleged result of this illegal and fraudulent referendum can be used as an argument to legitimise any political decision and, much less so, the independence of Catalonia.

I will go into this in detail over the course of this speech. I will also listen closely to the proposals that you make and to your contributions to a debate which, as we have all seen in recent days, affects the very heart of Catalan and Spanish society as a whole.

The people of Catalonia and of Spain as a whole have witnessed events in recent days with great concern and dismay. We are all under an obligation to contribute to mitigating this turmoil calmly, defending our rules for living peacefully together and our values, including respect for the truth. 
Honourable Members,

On 1 October, the Regional Government of Catalonia sought to hold an illegal referendum. This was neither an innocent, spontaneous or democratic action. It was the latest episode in a political strategy designed to impose independence that few people want and that is good for nobody in Catalan and Spanish society as a whole.

In order to appreciate exactly how we have reached this point, this moment in time needs to be put into context. To appreciate what has happened and to avoid this happening again in the future, we need to go back, above all, to 2012. At that time, the Spanish economy was at a critical point, because we were on the verge of a bailout, and all the autonomous regions were suffering serious difficulties. Catalonia was no exception; in reality, it was the region in the worst situation.

On 20 September that year, the then-President of the Regional Government of Catalonia asked for a meeting at which he asked for Catalonia to sign up to the Regional Liquidity Fund to tackle a debt of more than 5 billion euros. And that is what we agreed.

He also asked me what he knew I could not give him: a Special Economic Regime for Catalonia. I reminded him that this system is not provided for in our Constitution and could not be addressed by Spain as a whole, particularly at a time of such severe economic hardship. His response was that we should beware of the consequences. Remember, Honourable Members, that creative invitation to a dialogue: "either a referendum or a referendum".

Honourable Members,

I wish to make this absolutely clear: I was always willing to enter into dialogue. I held more meetings with leaders of the Regional Government of Catalonia than with the leaders of any other autonomous region. I always expressed my sincere interest in understanding each other and collaborating in finding a solution to the problems of Catalonia.

If they had wanted dialogue, it would not have been necessary to call regional elections in 2012, a simulated referendum in 2014 and other regional elections, although they called them plebiscites, in September 2015, with the result we are all aware of: the person who called them lost more votes than ever. That is another reality that we should not ignore each time we mention this issue. They have never had the democratic support of the people of Catalonia to move towards independence.

Despite that, they continued to push onwards. Instead of seeking an alliance with any of the parties with the greatest representation in Catalonia, instead of seeking a harmonious agreement, they decided to throw themselves into the arms of the most minority and anti-system political force of all - the CUP [Popular Unity Candidature]. It didn't matter that they demanded that Mr Mas sacrifice his public office. They accepted this together with the commitment to launch into the abyss of independence in just 18 months.

The governors of Catalonia cannot argue that there was no dialogue with them because that is simply not true. Nor can they argue that they have not been given support, just like the other autonomous regions, because over recent years they have received almost 70 billion euros under liquidity mechanisms - approximately one third of the national total. Nor can they argue that it was my government or me alone who opposed their claims. I would remind you that this House also rejected granting them powers to organise a referendum on self-determination in April 2014.

That is the reality of the facts, Honourable Members: their arguments are not true and their support is not so great. They have the votes and the legitimacy necessary to govern their autonomous region but not to impose unilateral independence or to wipe out their own Statute of Autonomy.
This is the first anti-democratic mistake in the whole operation and responds to a deliberate strategy to separate Catalonia from Spain against the wishes of most people of Catalonia and of the Spanish people as a whole who, let's not forget, are the only people empowered to decide on this issue.

This plan, as I said, is anti-democratic in its origin, but also in its methods and its consequences. Evidence of that is what happened in the Regional Parliament of Catalonia on 6 September. That was no ordinary sitting, but a fraudulent debate, an act of insubordination in direct contradiction to the ruling on the suspension handed down by the Constitutional Court and which deprived the opposition parties of their legitimate rights.

Our Constitution came under attack, as did the rules and institutions on self-governance of Catalonia and its own Statute of Autonomy, which contains several rules that were violated in the sitting on 6 [September] and which were definitively wiped out in the sitting on 7 [September], with the approval of the Transience Act.

If anyone was unaware before of the true authoritarian and exclusionary nature of the plan headed up by the Catalan institutions, then this became perfectly clear on those dates. In order to impose their project, they needed to stir up Catalans against Catalans, harass those who disagreed and impose a uniformity that does not exist, In other words, trample all over what constitutes the deliberative and inclusive exercise that defines a democratic regime.

Honourable Members,

In light of this attack on our model of co-existence, the State's response was in line with the law, and was both proportionate and comprehensive. Thanks to the joint actions of all the institutions, the logistical organisation of the referendum on self-determination was deactivated before it took place.

On 27 September, the Venice Commission ratified that the proposed consultation did not meet the standards required by the Council of Europe. Subsequent to Sunday's events, the Central Electoral Board, which adopted a unanimous agreement, confirmed that the referendum on self-determination never took place, because it lacked the guarantees of objectivity and transparency in its development, scrutiny and control and hence, no result of this exercise could accordingly be admitted.

That, Honourable Members, did not happen by chance, but due to the systematic action of all the State powers that deprived this vote of any form of legitimacy. I would remind you of some of the elements of that.

- Legality: the law regulating the referendum and the decrees calling the referendum were suspended by the Constitutional Court; as was the decree on complementary rules and the constitution of the Electoral Board. Furthermore, the General Gazette of the Regional Government of Catalonia published the suspension of these laws on 18 September.

- The Electoral Board: all of the members of the Electoral Board renounced their posts after the Constitutional Court warned them that penalty payments may be imposed. Their renunciation was published in the Official State Gazette.

- Ballot papers and other official documentation: the Guardia Civil, following court orders, seized more than 10 million ballot papers, the formal acts constituting the polling stations, the list of votes and the counting protocols.

- Polling stations: there was no type of official notification to the presidents, officials and members of the polling stations, because the Guardia Civil intercepted the official notifications.

- Official census: no electoral census existed and the Spanish Data Protection Agency opened a case file on the illegitimate use of personal data in relation to the electoral census based on the various official reports made by individuals.

- Census cards: the Regional Government of Catalonia did not send out census cards, which are essential in any call for elections.

- Electoral authorities: the Regional Government of Catalonia stood down as the head of this administration in order to try and evade the penalty payment of 12,000 euros daily, as imposed by the Constitutional Court.

- No public officials oversaw the neutrality of the elections. The ANC, Ómnium Cultural and other associations were both the promoters of the referendum and in charge of overseeing them.

As if all of this were not enough, early in the morning on the same 1 [October], they unexpectedly changed the rules of the game. They said, "vote where you want and as many times as you want. Don't worry about the results, since this has been subscribed in advance".

Honourable Members,

It wasn't important that those in favour of one box were the same people as those who provided the ballot boxes and counted the votes in the most unsuspected of places. Under these conditions, no-one should be surprised that there were more votes than inhabitants of some districts.

It came as no surprise that the IT systems didn't work, that the ballot boxes arrived full or that people voted in the streets or in private homes. And to culminate such nonsense, the Regional President announced his victory before the votes were counted, as if anyone thought he would do anything else.

An exercise, as you can see, that does not meet the most basic tests of transparency, neutrality and control of the truth of the result. And that has been ratified by the Central Electoral Board.

Honourable Members,

There is not a single country in the world that has taken the process we saw on 1 October seriously.

I want to underline that the State has acted in the same way as any other democratic country. Acting against those who break the law is to protect the rights of everyone. That is why I must thank, on behalf of all the Spanish people, those individuals who, in an exemplary manner, and despite very difficult conditions, complied with their duty to defend the common good. I am talking about the judges and prosecutors, and also the police and the Guardia Civil. They all performed their duty with commitment and professionalism. They have seized material, carried out searches, reported offences and issued warrants to public authorities, all with the democratic guarantees of our rule of law. Honourable Members, all of this within the law and to defend, as is our obligation, the law.

No-one likes what happened on 1 October. No-one can feel pleased or indeed satisfied, with the image portrayed, or with the farcical voting or at the crude manipulations of the police and the Guardia Civil on that day. None of this should have happened, but the only people responsible - we should not forget this - are those who forced through this call for a referendum when they were fully aware that it was absolutely unfeasible. The only guilty parties are those who insisted on continuing with their challenge to the Constitution and organised groups of activists to prevent the law enforcement agencies complying with their judicial mandate.

Honourable Members,

Don't look for anyone guilty aside from those true culprits.

Allow me, along the same lines as occurred on 1 October, to make a reflection on democracy and on what this involves, because the manipulated invocation of this process has been so clumsy that I feel it is only right to remind ourselves of three or four basic notions.

The first is that a representative democracy such as we are lucky enough to enjoy in Spain is inseparable - I repeat, inseparable - from respect for the very framework that makes this possible: the framework of the Constitution and the law that all public representatives undertake to uphold and ensure is upheld. Democracy cannot be exercised on the sidelines of the rules that shape this. A democracy without rules and without procedures is simply not feasible. And a democracy in which the rules and procedures are ignored or violated is not a democracy.

Secondly, voting is essential in a democracy, we all believe that, but this mantra that has been so radically abused to say that "voting is democracy" is an absolute falsehood. Voting against democracy, as has been the case here, and even voting outside of a democracy is not democratic. And in this specific case, none of the rules that ties voting to a democracy have been met.

The farce on 1 October was not a democratic exercise, it was an exercise against democracy, and everything that has happened since that day has been no more than the inevitable consequences of this break with legality.

Honourable Members,

During these 40 years, our shared lives have been, in general terms, as peaceful and democratic that the recognition of the basic foundations of our civic harmony could perhaps have been seen as a mere routine, a set of simple maxims or, what is worse, a set of empty phrases. However, in light of the events of recent days, we have all recovered the exact perception of the scope and importance of these values.

The effective and peaceful management of the complex weave of interests that characterise co-existence in an advanced country demand permanent and consensual dialogue under the daily auspices of the law. Either the law is the serious cornerstone of our co-existence or any society breaks down into endless conflict.

When the law is broken - democratic law - society as a whole feels this and the way is paved for generalised senselessness and chaos. Fear emerges, as does insecurity and unease, peaceful co-existence is broken and our well-being ends up being wiped out.

Before 1 October, and also after this date, we have witnessed all manner of examples of this breakdown in our peaceful co-existence: we have seen confrontations between citizens, harassment of mayors who refused to collaborate with the referendum, the intimidation of judges who refused to collaborate with the referendum, journalists insulted, and the persecution of our security forces. We have seen conduct that is inadmissible in some schools and threatening slogans on walls against those who dare to disagree, and we have witnessed the infringement of personal data that should be protected by the law.

In this atmosphere, dozens of companies have announced in the last few days that they will leave Catalonia. Large corporations, benchmarks in their entrepreneurial capacity, who enhanced the prosperity of this autonomous region and who contributed to take the Catalonia Brand throughout the world, have been forced to leave there under the threat of a breakdown.

Furthermore, in the last few days, several rating agencies have downgraded the rating of Catalonia, something that has not affected the region to the extent that it continues to be financed by the Spanish Treasury.

The tourism sector has ended up being one of the sectors hit hardest by this instability, with a fall in reservations, according to sector sources, of up to 20% in luxury hotels, and some 40% in tourist apartments. Just one figure serves to highlight the negative impact, which is truly noteworthy: there have been many more warnings and recommendations to international travellers on the occasion of these events over recent days than as a result of the terrorist attacks in Las Ramblas and Cambrils back in August.

We should not continue being called to witness new forms of deceit. These serious consequences will be followed by other worse consequences in Catalonia until such time as order, legal certainty and the rule of law are re-established. That is why it is urgent, Honourable Members, to return to legality as soon as possible. Do this as soon as possible and avoid continued social tensions and an economic downturn.

Those responsible for the regional institutions must bring an end to this breakdown that is causing so much harm to all the people of Catalonia, to the reputation of this region, to its future and to its well-being. Never before in its history have the people of Catalonia enjoyed so many freedoms, so much autonomy, so many funds to spend, along with so much international recognition. That is all at risk now. The adage that states that "all extremism ends up destroying what it aspires to" has once again been confirmed. Pro-independence is on the verge of bringing to an end the finest period in the history of Catalonia.

The reality, the unforgiving reality, Honourable Members, is that at the stroke of a pen the entire false basis on which the myth of a fairy-tale independence had been based has been torn apart. It is not peaceful, it is not free and it will not be recognised by Europe. Everyone now knows the cost, which is very high.

A fraudulent referendum such as the one held on 1 October cannot sweep away a region of 7.5 million people, or the fourth largest country in the European Union.

Spain will not be torn apart as long as its citizens decide that this will not be the case and any government, whether headed up by me or by any of you, will be obliged to defend the unity of the country and national sovereignty.

This is a shared asset that cannot be split up, amputated or sold cheaply, nor can it be subject to bartering, magic tricks, disparagement or trick shots.
Precisely for that reason, and because of its tremendous importance, no-one should be surprised that since the outset I have sought the backing of all those prepared to defend our Constitution and our co-existence.

I called for reasonable and generous support, because values are being threatened that are important for us all, values that we share and that we have placed well above any differences we may have. These are the principles that harbour and make it possible for us to disagree under peace and liberty.

The unity of democrats is highly important and here and now I undertake to continue persevering to maintain them and, if possible, extend them.

Honourable Members,

I am well aware that the future of Catalonia and the tranquillity of its citizens depend on closing this fracture in society and healing the wounds that so many tales and so much radicalism have caused to its social being.

Catalonia, like the rest of Spain, is the result of a weave of intertwined affections over centuries, Honourable Members; a place where everyone can be different without anyone considering themselves to be better than any other.

That is the future that we must aspire to - to rediscovering this culturally mixed Catalonia that has contributed so much to the well-being and progress of Spain. And to achieve that we must rely on the pro-agreement and integrating Catalanism that has always had a comprehensive vision of its country and that has managed to make its achievements universal.

Today's Spain cannot be understood without the contribution of this constitutional and pro-European Catalanism that was a necessary collaborator in our collective successes. And I can state this as one in the know because I directly took part in some of the agreements forged during a period of loyal cooperation that we all miss today.

I have always been, and remain, a staunch supporter of dialogue as a way to resolve conflicts in politics, in daily life and in any other facet of life; but I should warn you, because many things are said, that it is impossible to accept, under the appearance of ambiguous dialogue, the unilateral imposition of points of view that you know are impossible for the other party to accept.

Nor is it possible to establish dialogue to agree on something that is expressly prohibited under Article 2 of the Constitution - negotiating on the ownership of sovereignty that corresponds to all the Spanish people and on the indivisibility of Spain.

That is something that should be taken into account by the many "mediators" that have offered their services in recent days, the majority with good intentions to help in finding a way out of this situation. I can but thank them for their concern and their interest, but no mediation is possible between democratic law and disobedience and illegality.

Honourable Members,

Here we are not trying to clarify a difference of interpretation of the Constitution, State laws or the Statute of Autonomy. The Regional Government of Catalonia is perfectly aware that it is breaking these laws. What is it then that is sought through mediation? For a third party to say to the Government of the Nation that is should abandon its duty to uphold the Constitution and the law and ensure that they are upheld? For a third party to give its seal of approval to the disloyal actions of the Regional Government of Catalonia? That a right is recognised that does not exist?

Honourable Members,

The mesh that has been woven around a supposed right to decide, and that many people have believed in good faith, is, in reality, a deceitful way to invoke a right to self-determination that is not provided for in any democratic Constitution; I repeat, no democratic Constitution provides for this. The United Nations, whose resolutions are partially invoked in a self-interested fashion, do not recognise this right except to those people subject to colonial domination, while, in contrast, they maintain, and I quote this textually, that "any attempt designed to destroy partially or wholly a country's national unity and territorial integrity is incompatible - I repeat, Honourable Members, incompatible - with the aims and principles of the United Nations Charter".

To put it more simply, the invocation of a "right to decide" that does not exist in a democratic country that respects international law and is an active member of the international community and one of the most complete democracies in the world is false and a violation of any rule under international law.

Honourable Members, 

Can we hold dialogue is a situation like this? Of course we can. We can talk about the quantity and quality of the public services, their financing, improving self-governance, about how to combine efficiency and solidarity, and about accountability.

Can we improve the framework of co-existence? Of course we can. Between us all and within the framework of the existing bodies. Firstly, the Conference of Regional Presidents, which the Regional Government of Catalonia sought fit not to attend, and all the other sector coordination bodies. Bilaterally, of course we can as well, within the framework of the different resources that exist to that end. And we can undoubtedly talk in this Parliament as well.

We can talk about everything and anything that the Constitution and the law permit us to talk about, and with all of those who are willing to talk. A reform of the Constitution can even be proposed. This is a long way away from being a perpetual law, nor does it lay claim to such. Far from it, every one of its determinations, including the most basic rules can be modified and this aspiration is duly recognised and provided for in the very Constitution. But the Constitution can only be modified by the rules and procedures provided for therein.

In a deliberative democracy such as ours, anything can be the subject of dialogue; but, we should remember, dialogue is the opposite of trying to take steps down the path of illegality, threats or done deals.

I will end now, Honourable Members.

I will employ the words used by King Felipe in his speech on 3 October, "We will come out on top because we believe in our country and we are proud of who we are. Because our democratic principles are strong and sound. They are so because they are based on the wishes of millions of Spaniards to live in peace and liberty".

The government will continue to meet its obligation to defend the law and the unity of Spain. It will do so while always seeking the fundamental principle of recovering harmony and social peace, because "we are all the children of the same sun and tributaries of the same river".

Under the heat of this shared sun, generations of men and women have grown up who have shared a history, a culture, many dreams and also certain disappointments.

Like in any country, our history has some very painful chapters that we have found a way to overcome, the lessons of which we have incorporated into our way of life together. We have spent centuries together, mixing with one another, sharing feelings and this common space that has room for us all.
We have found ways to make our diversity a fortress. That is why today's Spain that is suffering from what is happening is a Spain that wants Catalonia and that feels it is a fundamental part of it: with its own language, its own culture and its own way of life.

It is this integrating, friendly and serene Spain that I want to also acknowledge from this platform. I am talking about the thousands and thousands of Spaniards who have turned out into the streets over recent days, even in the streets of Catalonia, to spontaneously express their patriotism and their love for their country, including from very different political positions. They have done so, without histrionics, without exclusions, but with the joy of acknowledging each other as colleagues with the same common cause.

For all of them, it is time to bring this rupture to an end and do so serenely, with prudence and with the ultimate goal of recovering our peaceful way of life together.

Thank you very much."

Non official translation