Oil referendum postponed while national government appeals “unconstitutional vote”

Oil referendum postponed while national government appeals “unconstitutional vote”

Update 4 November: And at the first available hearing, the Constitutional Court has unanimously formally suspended the Canarian Government’s planned referendum. The suspension comes as an integral part of the formal acceptance to process of Madrid’s appeal, which will now go forward for hearing, and does not presume any judgment about the root issue by the court.

Update 25 October: The Canarian government has announced that it is putting the referendum on hold until the Constitutional Court has given a ruling as to its legality. The statement by presidencia was made just hours after the Spanish deputy PM Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría said that the national government itself would be appealing to the court on the grounds that the referendum was unconstitutional. The date for the hearing has not been set, but the court’s judgment cannot come before 4 November when it next sits. The Canarian government insists that its planned vote was legal, but says it will wait until the Constitutional Court rules before deciding its next move.

Update 21 October: Genel Energy says that it has found oil in the Sidi Musa-1 field off the Moroccan coast. The company says that the oil is at a depth of 2,825m and it will now proceed to isolate and check pressure, permeability and productive capacity. Technically, therefore, this sounds like an early announcement, but oil there is. And being just 200km from the Canaries that, it is likely to be a real boost to those who say Spanish exploration should proceed in order to get the maximum economic benefits for the country generally, and the Canaries specifically because there will be prospecting near here regardless of what Spain decides or the Canaries thinks.

Update 19 October: Estimates of numbers vary, as always, but it does seem that around 21,000 attended the demonstrations in total, comprising 4,000 in Tenerife, 6,000 in Gran Canaria, 8,000 in Lanzarote (a huge number for the island which most expects to be affected), 2,000 in Fuerteventura, 415 in La Gomera, 250 in La Palma, and 150 in El Hierro, and 100 in La Graciosa.

Just to clarify, the numbers quoted come from the government, which was fully behind the call for the demonstration, so they are not going to be downplaying these figures! There are some sources quoting higher numbers, but on this occasion I think the government’s figures are accurate because they have no reason to downplay them, and indeed every reason to talk them up.

Update 12 October: The popular no campaign “Movimiento Ciudadano Contra Las Prospecciones” has called a Canaries-wide protest for 18 October. The locations for gatherings are shown in the poster above: in Tenerife, this is Parque García Sanabria in Santa Cruz. The no campaign’s “Save Canarias” website is HERE, and it also has a Facebook page HERE. If nothing else, it will be interesting to see the level of protest which turns out on the 18th across the archipelago.

Update 2 October: It was only yesterday that Industria minister José Manuel Soria said that it was still not absolutely clear what the regional government was intending. Well it is now. Canarian president Paulino Rivero has announced today that the referendum will take place on 23 November, and that anyone legally resident in the Canaries, over 16 years old and on a local authority padron, will be able to vote in answer to the question “¿Cree usted que Canarias debe cambiar su modelo medioambiental y turístico por las prospecciones de gas o petróleo?”

The question is phrased as an either/or: “Do you think that the Canaries should change its environmental and tourism model for gas or oil drilling”. In other words, the two models are presented as antithetical, which of course is the government’s stance, that oil prospecting will destroy tourism.

Despite President Rivero’s argument that the vote is entirely legal and constitutional since it is framed within the ambit of 2010’s Ley de Participación Ciudadana, and despite the fact that it appears clearly to be a plebiscite rather than a referendum, Madrid says that it is going to refer the vote to the Constitutional Court. Soría said only yesterday that the national government would take action – as it would in any other area – if the Canarian Parliament passed a motion for an unconstitutional measure. Clearly there is not even agreement on what a constitutional vote is.

Update 1 October: Plebiscite or no,  oil exploration will start around the end of November, Industria minister José Manuel Soria said on breakfast television. On the issue of Madrid’s stance on the “referendum”, Soría said that it was still not absolutely clear what the regional government was intending, but if the Canarian Parliament passed a motion for an unconstitutional referendum, the national government would take action – as it would in any other area.

Thoughts mught turn to the current major controversy about the proposed independence referendum planned in Catalonia, with the government saying that this weeks ruling from the top Constitutional Court that such a referendum would be illegal could end result in the regional president being sent to prison. Could the same happen in the Canaries? Is this why lame duck President Rivero is calling for a plebiscite, rather than a referendum proper?

Oil exploration, anyway, is set to start regardless of the politics, with Soría saying that Spain’s unemployment figures and poverty levels do not allow the luxury of the country turning its back on such an opportunity.

Update 4 September: Canarian president Paulino Rivero has announced in parliament this morning that the “consulta popular” on oil prospecting will take place before 30 November. The vote will not be a referendum, but a plebiscite, since it will not be legally binding but is intended to determine the opinion of Canarian residents. Even so, Madrid has forbidden it, but the vote will go ahead, says Sr Rivero, regardless.

Update 11 April: As expected, Madrid has now debated and formally vetoed Canarian President Paulino Rivero’s plans for a referendum, saying it would be unconstitutional, and therefore illegal. In response, Coalicion Canaria’s Claudina Morales accused Industria minister Soría of acting out of nothing but sheer self interest. She said in Parliamentary session that Soría knew he would never now be Canarian president, that his conservative party would lose the next general election, and that he was therefore  feathering his nest and setting up future employment with Repsol, the company set to carry out the exploration and drilling.

In the face of demands for her to retract her words, she was backed up by nationalist group leader José Miguel Barragán. Feelings are running high on both sides, but the end result will be that any referendum that the Canaries might yet hold will be deemed not just illegal but also constitutionally disobedient, and would run the risk of Madrid taking legal action against the islands.

Original post 12 February: A huge row has blown up between the Canaries and Madrid over oil prospecting off the eastern islands of Fuerteventura and Lanzarote. The president of the Canaries, Paulino Rivero, has proposed a referendum in these islands as to whether oil exploration by Repsol should proceed. The national government, however, and in particular the Industry minister, José Manuel Soria, himself a Canarian, has said that such a referendum would be illegal because the decision on whether to go ahead is not within the jurisdiction of the Canaries – the people or their government.

Canarian minister Fernando Ríos has retorted by supporting the regional president, saying that the proposed consultative exercise is “legal and profoundly democratic” because it is backed by national laws governing autonomous regions, as well as the Spanish constitution itself, and Canarian government legislation. Sr Rios said said that minister Soria’s comments are nothing but an attempt to shore up support for the national government, and to deny the Canarians – of whom he is one – a voice.

Some will no doubt see the Canarian president as posturing for political gain given that he has been losing support for his re-election bid in his own party, while others will welcome any attempt to get the region a say in something that many see as a vital issue for the Canaries. It would indeed be interesting to see whether the Canaries as a political voice would be swayed more by environmental arguments than economic ones. Whether the people will have a chance to express that view is another matter entirely.


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