07 September, 2017
The Spanish government on Wednesday has asked the Constitutional Court to block the Catalan parliament from voting on a bill that lays the groundwork for an independence referendum.
The votes of 72 pro-independence lawmakers were enough to pass the so-called "referendum bill" after more than 11 hours of debate that ended with 52 opposition members of parliament walking out in protest.
The bill was submitted to the parliament outside of its normal schedule which prompted criticism from opposition parties.
Wednesday's parliamentary debate in Barcelona saw tensions flare when the regional body's top speaker, Carme Forcadell, announced that the vote on the bill would go ahead without the customary vetting of a legal committee.
The cabinet of Catalan President Carles Puigdemont was expected to immediately sign a decree setting the vote for October 1 and opening a deep political and institutional crisis.
The return to solid growth has weakened public backing for independence, although polls show that nearly eight out of 10 Catalans want to have the right to vote. The Constitutional Court considers the referendum illegal because unlike countries such as Canada or the U.K., Spain's constitution simply does not allow for this type of vote.
"What is happening in the Catalan Parliament is embarrassing, it's shameful", Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said.
His conservative Popular Party and the court argue that the Spanish constitution does not allow regions to unilaterally decide on sovereignty.
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Catalonia yesterday announced a law to make formal its plans for an Oct 1 referendum on whether to declare independence from Spain, a vote the Spanish government says is illegal and which it has said it will stop.
"You will not split up Spain, but you are breaking up Catalonia", Alejandro Fernandez of the ruling People's Party (PP) told pro-independence lawmakers.
Catalonia, a region of 7.5 million people with its own language and culture, accounts for about 20 percent of Spain's economic output, and has significant powers over matters such as education, healthcare and welfare.
The pair discussed opening a commission to evaluate updating and modernizing Spain's system of autonomous regions, which Rajoy is reported to have valued "positively".
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called on Spain's constitutional court to nullify the bill the moment it was agreed.
Catalonia's parliament voted on Wednesday to hold an independence referendum on October 1, setting up a clash with the Spanish government that has vowed to stop what it says would be an illegal vote.
Opponents of independence for the wealthy northeastern region of Spain greeted the decision with jeers.