Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Themes That Can Change An Election....The Constitutional Court

It seems hard to imagine what the Constitutional Court could possibly have to do with the result of the next general election. After all, this is supposed to be one of these institutions that is above the day to day political fray, and whose members are chosen from the lists of the great and good to take on the onerous task of looking after the constitution. That's the theory, but now let's deal with the reality; this tribunal is currently the scene of one of the most bitterly fought political battles of the last few years in Spain.

This battle has been underway for several months, although you could be forgiven for not noticing. The opposition Partido Popular (PP) has filed challenges on constitutional grounds against almost every major piece of legislation in this parliament. However, the most important challenge they have made has been to the reform of the Catalan autonomy statute, the Estatut. They have even challenged as unconstitutional clauses which they have supported in similar statutes in other regions. It is this issue which has provoked the battle inside the highest court. The court has not yet even begun their formal deliberations on the issue, all of the fighting is taking place over which of the members will be allowed to participate in the hearings. The reason for this infighting is the equally divided political balance of the court between right wing members... and the rest. Note that I didn’t say “left wing” because frankly I doubt that any of the members of the court are really more than moderately left of centre. The right wing faction is nevertheless truly right wing, and it is acting as a cohesive political bloc with the intention being to deliver a verdict on the Estatut before the general election.

Now if you intend to carry out hearings on an issue in an impartial manner with the “best interests” of the nation in mind what you don’t usually do is set out in a very determined way to remove all of those members of the tribunal who might opt for one particular side of the debate. That is what the right wing faction on the Constitutional Court are trying to do, they have already succeeding in excluding from the debate one member who had done nothing more than prepare a report for a previous Catalan administration to the one which promoted the Estatut. With one down they have now turned their fire on the president of the tribunal in an attempt to replace her with someone more sympathetic to the cause. All of this in an attempt to create an artificial right wing majority which can bring down one of the most important measures introduced by the current government. That is why this battle is important, if the Estatut is declared unconstitutional the result will be political turmoil and those behind the move know it.

The outcome is still unclear, but at least it removes any idealistic notions about the non-political nature of these institutions. The first test for membership of the Constitutional Court is not your experience or your knowledge of that document; instead it is your political loyalty to those who propose you. It seems to matter little to these political appointees whether they destroy the credibility of the court in the process of getting what they want. The Estatut was approved by the Spanish parliament, and subsequently in a referendum, despite that it can still be destroyed by 5 determined political appointees who feel constitutionally obliged to impose their opinions on the rest of the country. It’s called democracy.

1 comment:

Tom said...

"They have even challenged as unconstitutional clauses which they have supported in similar statutes in other regions." - this is clearly because the PP likes to pretend that the stakes are higher in Catalonia. Because so few Catalans vote PP (it's the 4th party, I believe, in this important Autonomy), the PP have long used the tactic of being openly hostile to Catalonia and the Catalan people, safe in the knowledge that it can only help them in the rest of Spain.

What this policy also achieves is an increasing feeling of indignation over here, which often transforms into greater support for independentist groups, thus adding fuel to the flames the PP fans. It's both a clever and a spectacularly risky strategy which plays with the integrity of Spain more than any policy from any other major party in Spain (and I include ERC in that grouping). As i've pointed out before, when you can take a clear look at the sort of politics the PP engages in, you can only surmise that they don't care about Spain at all. What interests them is power and power alone, to the detriment of any and all who might obstruct their aims.