The 12 magistrates on Spain’s Constitutional Court on Monday voted unanimously to accept an appeal filed by the central government against Catalonia’s planned referendum, which had been scheduled by the regional premier, Artur Mas, for November 9.
That means that both the law passed by the regional government on September 19 paving the way for the vote on independence for the north-eastern region, and the decree signed by Mas on Saturday setting the official date, have been suspended pending the outcome of the appeal.
The central government, led by Popular Party Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, is fiercely opposed to a referendum on independence for Catalonia, and in its appeal, argued that such a vote would be unconstitutional.
The government is confident it will not have to resort to drastic measures to stop the referendum going ahead
On Monday, the Constitutional Court made clear in its ruling that both the law and the decree were suspended, “as well as the remaining preparative acts for the calling of said consultation or any others linked to it.”
That means that as soon as it receives official notification of the decision, the Catalan government will have to suspend any campaigning relating to the referendum until the court has reached its decision on the appeal. Local councils in Catalonia will have to suspend campaigning when the decision in published in the Official State Gazette (BOE). The Constitutional Court has set 20 days for each side to present their arguments regarding the appeal.
The court can maintain the suspension for a maximum time period of five months, during which time it will have to decide whether to cancel the vote indefinitely or revoke its decision.
Regional premier Artur Mas, of the Catalan nationalist group CiU, was quick to criticize the “supersonic speed" with which the court had acted. In a statement released after the magistrates finished their meeting, which lasted just an hour, the court stated that its decision had been made swiftly given that it was “conscious of the constitutional and political importance of the questions that are involved, for Spanish society as a whole and in particular that of Catalonia.”
The central government is said to be confident that it will not have to resort to drastic measures in order to stop the referendum from going ahead, and that the regional administration will not force public employees – including officers from the Mossos d’Esquadra police force or school principals – to risk their jobs by disobeying a clear decision from the Constitutional Court.
In the worst-case scenario, the government is planning on sending a message to all public employees in Catalonia to remind them of the serious consequences of disobeying a decision made by the court, including the loss of their jobs.