Fri Nov 27th, 2009 at 10:02:18 AM EST
Yesterday, twelve Catalan newspapers fired a shot across the bow of Spain's Constitutional Court by publishing a hard-hitting joint editorial. El Pais, Spain's largest newspaper, quoted the editorial in full, here excerpted, in its online edition:
|La dignidad de Catalunya · ELPAÍS.com||Catalonia's Dignity - ElPais.com|
|Después de casi tres años de lenta deliberación y de continuos escarceos tácticos que han dañado su cohesión y han erosionado su prestigio, el Tribunal Constitucional puede estar a punto de emitir sentencia sobre el Estatut de Catalunya, promulgado el 20 de julio del 2006 por el jefe del Estado, rey Juan Carlos, con el siguiente encabezamiento: "Sabed: Que las Cortes Generales han aprobado, los ciudadanos de Catalunya han ratificado en referéndum y Yo vengo en sancionar la siguiente ley orgánica".||After nearly three years of slow deliberations and continuous tactical skirmishes which have damaged its cohesion and eroded its reputation, [Spain's] Constitutional Court may be about of issuing a sentence on the Catalan Statute [of autonomy], enacted on July 20th 2006 by the Head of State, King Juan Carlos, with the following header: "Know: That the Cortes Generales have approved, the citizens of Catalonia have ratified in referendum, and I come to sanction the following Organic Law".|
|El Alto Tribunal va a decidir sobre la dimensión real del marco de convivencia español, es decir, sobre el más importante legado que los ciudadanos que vivieron y protagonizaron el cambio de régimen a finales de los años setenta transmitirán a las jóvenes generaciones, educadas en libertad, plenamente insertas en la compleja supranacionalidad europea y confrontadas a los retos de una globalización que relativiza las costuras más rígidas del viejo Estado nación. Están en juego los pactos profundos que han hecho posible los treinta años más virtuosos de la historia de España. Y llegados a este punto es imprescindible recordar uno de los principios vertebrales de nuestro sistema jurídico, de raíz romana: Pacta sunt servanda. Lo pactado obliga. Hay preocupación en Catalunya y es preciso que toda España lo sepa. Hay algo más que preocupación.||The High Court is going to decide on the real dimension of the framework in which Spaniards live together, that is, the most important legacy that the citizens who lived and were protagonists the change of regime at the end of the 1970s will pass on to the younger generations, educated in freedom, fully inserted in the complex European supranationality, and facing the challenges of globalization which relativizes the most rigid trappings of the old Nation state. At stake are the deep paacts which have made possible the most virtuous 30 years of Spain's history. And, arrived at this point it is necessary to recall one of the core principles of our legal system, of Roman roots: Pacta sunt servanda. Agreements are binding. There is a worry in Catalonia and it is necessary that all of Spain knows it. There is more than worry.|
|Hay un creciente hartazgo por tener que soportar la mirada airada de quienes siguen percibiendo la identidad catalana (instituciones, estructura económica, idioma y tradición cultural) como el defecto de fabricación que impide a España alcanzar una soñada e imposible uniformidad. Los catalanes pagan sus impuestos (sin privilegio foral); contribuyen con su esfuerzo a la transferencia de rentas a la España más pobre; afrontan la internacionalización económica sin los cuantiosos beneficios de la capitalidad del Estado; hablan una lengua con mayor fuelle demográfico que el de varios idiomas oficiales en la Unión Europea, una lengua que en vez de ser amada, resulta sometida tantas veces a obsesivo escrutinio por parte del españolismo oficial, y acatan las leyes, por supuesto, sin renunciar a su pacífica y probada capacidad de aguante cívico. Estos días, los catalanes piensan, ante todo, en su dignidad; conviene que se sepa.||There is an increasing weariness over having to stand the angry look of those who continue to perceive the Catalan identity (its institutions, economic structure, language and cultural tradition) as a fault which prevents Spain from attaining a dreamed and impossible uniformity. Catalans pay their taxes (without historical privileges); they contribute with their effort to the transfer of income to the poorest parts of Spain; they face economic internationalization without the many benefits of hosting the State capital; they speak a language with more demographic weight than many official languages of the EU, a language which, instead of being loved, is so often subject to obsessive scrutiny by the official Spanish nationalism, and they uphold the laws, of course, without giving up their peaceful and proven ability to withstand with civility. These days, Catalans think, above all, of their dignity; this should be known.|
Explanation and commentary after the fold.
Reactions to the editorial occupied the Spanish political class for the whole day. The outpouring of support in Catalonia was massive, except for the local People's Party and the anti-nationalist party Ciutadans de Catalunya. In the rest of Spain, the second paper (after El Pais) by circulation, El Mundo, editorialised that the Catalan text was fallacious, while the professional association of Conservative judges called it an "unacceptable pressure" on the Constitutional Court. The Progressive judges' associations, on the other hand, tolerate it as an expression of freedom of speech. Prime Minister Zapatero has expressed "respect and interest" for the Catalan editorial. The People's Party feels "unease" while calling for "calm".
Some explanations of the background are in order. Spain has a Constitutional Court separate from its Supreme Court and charged with deciding exclusively on constitutional issues. The legitimacy of the court is damaged by the political manoeuvering around the appointments to it, to the point that, of its usual complement of twelve Justices 5 new ones should have been appointed but haven't (one has died, and four remain in the court two years after their terms lapsed in 2007). Why? Because the People's Party, in opposition, has blocked the necessary consensus in the Spanish Senate thus preserving the ideological balance in the court inherited from the 8 years of Aznar's government in 1996-2004. Another Justice has been recused in the case of the Catalan Statute as he was allegedly not impartial.
I'm not going to mince words about the People's Party because the Spanish Right Wing thinks of Spain as their ranch, which they have an inalienable right to govern, and stop at nothing, not even the stability of the State and the integrity of its Institutions, in order to attain power. They demonstrated this in spades in 1993-6, starting with accusations of electoral fraud when they failed to win the 1993 elections as they expected, followed by their refusal to accept their electoral defeat in 2004 which led them to encourage conspiracy theories that the PSOE, together with ETA, was behind the March 11 bombing everyone else attributed to Al Qaeda-inspired militants.
In this vitiated atmosphere, a wave of reforms of Spain's Autonomy Statutes has been unfolding, with predictable if undesirable consequences. Spain is a unitary state, but it has devolved very extensive powers to its "regions and nationalities" (to quote the Constitution of 1978) by means of "Autonomy Statutes" to the point of being as decentralised as some of the EU's federal states, making Spain a federal state in all but name. This is remarkable in that the Constitution was drafted and approved barely 2-3 years after the death of Franco, who ruled Spain for 36 years suppressing Spain's multinational character. In point of fact, Spain's Second Republic (1931-6) had enacted a Catalan and Basque "Autonomy Statutes" and was in the process of approving one for Galicia when the Civil War broke out. The current People's Party represents the kind of Spanish Centralist Nationalists who found the 1930's Autonomy Statutes abhorrent to their ideal of "One Spain". They have to live with devolution and wrap themselves in the Constitution and use regionalist rhetoric when it suits them, but since 2005 they have been playing a dangerous game of undermining Spain's state institutions as a way to stop the reform of the Autonomy Statutes which they find inconvenient.
The reform of the Catalan Statute started with the Catalan regional elections of 2003. In them the Conservative Moderate Nationalists of CiU lost the regional government for the first time since 1979 to the Socialists led by Barcelona Mayor Pasqual Maragall (of 1992 olympic fame). The new Socialist government, allied with other left-wing parties, embarked on a reform of the Autonomy statute which, after 25 years, was an eminently sensible thing to do. Then in 2004 Aznar stepped down as Prime Minister and his party unexpectedly lost the elections. However, Aznar acceded to the consultative Council of State (Consejo de Estado) as a former Prime Minister and lay in waiting, ready to pounce when that body had to pronounce itself on the draft Catalan Statute approved by the Catalan Parliament in 2005. I am not exaggerating: Aznar acted in an unseemly fashion having to be rapprimanded by the Chairman of the Council of State because of his insistence on debating the constitutionality of the statute, something the Council was not charged with doing. Also, as soon as the Council had issued its advice on the Statute, Aznar stepped down from it to join the board of Murdoch's News Corp (from which he was already receiving income as a "consultant" while he held his Council position). And, finally, it had been during Aznar's term as Prime Minister that former Prime Ministers had been inducted into the Council, a position that all three previous Prime Ministers had declined to take up when it became available.
But this didn't end there. Unable to stop the Catalan Statute at the Council of State, the PP tried to do it in the Congress and, failing that, they decided to lodge a constitutionality question on the statute with the Constitutional Court. They did this before the Stature had been enacted, which meant their case was thrown out, but in late 2006, after the Catalan people had approved it in a referendum they tried again, this time getting their challenge in. Meanwhile, they were already blocking the renewal of the governing body of the Spanish Judiciary (which also has a consultative role on new legislation), the General Council of the Judiciary (Consejo General del Poder Judicial) again to preserve the ideological balance inherited from Aznar's time as PM - this blockade lasted 4 years, during which the PP lodged unconstitutionality complaints against just about every law passed by the Spanish Parliament. Three years later, here we are. The judiciary remains politicised at every level (including the High Courts of the Autonomous Communities) and not only because of the PP - this is a chronic flaw exploited by all parties.
It should be noted that in 2005 the PP also encouraged a boycott of Catalan products in the rest of Spain, as well as claiming throughout that Zapatero wanted to "break up Spain". Later, when the Catalan-based utility Gas Natural attempted a takeover of Madrid-based Endesa, the People's Party led a campaign against a "foreign firm" taking over a "Spanish firm". Never mind that the "foreign firm" was Catalan and that there was no such criticism when the German E.On attempted to buy Endesa after Gas Natural's bid failed... This is an example of how the PP can, at the same time, claim that Catalonia is Spain and that Catalans are foreign.
So, what now? In the last months there have been a number of non-binding referenda on independence organised by city councils across Catalonia, and now we have yesterday's joint editorial. And this at a time when, in the context of the updating of their own Autonomy Statute, the Basque nationalist parties have finally accepted the Constitution as the guarantor of their own national rights. The PP's atavisms do threaten to undo the progress of the last 30 years.
The worst that can happen is that the Constitutional Court does strike down or reinterpret a substantial part of the new Catalan Statute. There is a scenario in which the Catalan polity engages in civil disobedience, and I don't really want to consider what the reaction of the Spanish Centralist Nationalists (including at least the whole PP and a segment of the PSOE) would be. The political pressure on the Socialist governments in both Catalonia and Spain would mount. Would Catalonia really consider independence? How would Zapatero react? Could he be unseated if he refused to use force to preserve the "indissoluble unity of Spain"?
As a concluding thought, after knocking the PP so much I have to admit that a large proportion of the Spanish population is deeply and unseemingly anti-Catalan, which I find remarkable and ultimately incomprehensible. The boycott of Catalan products I mentioned above did not need a lot of pushing to be taken up by people across the country. It really is that bad...