Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The Never Ending Story Of The Catalan Estatut

There's no escape from the Estatut, Cataluña's now not very new at all autonomy statute. The deliberations by Spain's Constitutional Court concerning the Estatut have dragged on for years, assuming of course that there is any deliberating taking place at all! It now seems amazing that I ever imagined the verdict might be delivered before the last general election. The case for the Estatut being unconstitutional was originally presented by the Partido Popular, one of many attempts by that party to obtain results from the tribunal that they could not get via elections or parliamentary votes. The statute was approved by both the Catalan and national parliaments, as well as by a referendum in Cataluña.

The reason for the delay in the verdict, if we are to believe the reports in the press, is because the court is completely divided over what to do about the Estatut. It is claimed that there is a majority against allowing the Estatut through with only minor modifications, but that does not seem to mean that this majority can reach agreement on what should be done. Frustration over this delay is increasing and last week 12 Catalan newspapers published a joint editorial protesting about the situation. This in turn provoked protests from the right about illegitimate pressure being placed on the Constitutional Court, even though the newspaper editorial is nothing more than a legitimate expression of opinion. The PP know all about applying pressure on the judges, they have made multiple attempts to exclude those judges whose opinions might not coincide with their own on the issue. Their proposed replacements for those whose term has expired are loyal conservative hardliners.

The main issues on which the court has been unable to reach a verdict seem to be those which suggest that Cataluña has an identity as a nation, a concept which is of course anathema to Spanish nationalists, but it is arguable whether it is anti-constitutional. There were attempts to avoid this kind of challenge, for example the preamble to the Estatut simply records the fact that the Catalan parliament voted on the issue of the national status of the region. In many ways the parts of the statute that attract the most attention are not the most important in terms of powers for the regional government, but they are the ones that have the most symbolic value on both sides of the argument.

Anyone who wants to pretend that the process of deciding the Estatut's constitutional status is not deeply political is welcome to believe anything they like, but the court is essentially a creature of the two main national political parties; the PP and the PSOE. The current division within its ranks is a faithful reflection of the fault line over regional autonomy in national politics, that line runs through the PSOE rather than in between the two parties. It is the reported defection of a PSOE nominee to the conservative side on key issues that is said to have blocked the court's verdict. The longer they take to make their minds up the less credible the result is going to be and it is not just Catalan nationalists who are questioning whether this is really a good way of doing things. Sometimes you have to wonder whether it's a good idea to have a written constitution at all, never mind a court supposedly there to enforce it. Perhaps the solution might be to impose a sanction of "administrative silence", meaning that if they fail to pronounce on a law within a certain period it automatically becomes constitutional. Then maybe we can all leave Groundhog Day.

Back in Cataluña the newspaper editorial has raised the political temperature. It is unlikely that the entire population is as concerned about the issue of the Estatut as that editorial would have us believe. Perhaps readers who live there can tell me if I'm wrong about this, but I suspect it is an issue of far greater importance to the political and media elite than to the population in general, most of whom probably don't include choosing their favourite article from the Estatut amongst their party games. This is not to say that a decision to declare large parts of the statute unconstitutional won't be seen as an affront by many people in Cataluña, a bit of perceived interference from Madrid is never going to go down well even if Barça do keep beating Real Madrid. If an unfavourable verdict emerges before the planned votes on independence that will take place in many municipalities later this month then things could get very interesting. Although the way things are going that seems like a wildly optimistic time frame.

Meanwhile, the PP is keeping a low profile on the issue. Mariano Rajoy knows that his party is unlikely to win more votes in the region but what he really wants to do is to demobilise the anti-PP vote which means that the gap between PSOE and PP in Cataluña more or less accounts for the difference between the two parties at national level. The PSC, local wing of the PSOE, has reason to be worried about the whole affair and there are already noises being made stressing their autonomy from the national party. It may not help that they seem unable to make their mind up about the independence "consultations", and elections are due to be held in Cataluña next year. Anyway, let's finish with some Estatut humour. It's a mixture of Catalan and Castellano, but anyone familiar with A Night At The Opera should understand it regardless of their language abilities.


Lavengro in Spain said...

As you suggest, an awful lot of people here really couldn't care less about the Estatut (as I have said: http://tinyurl.com/y9n4lcm). The turnout in the referendum was 50% with a small majority in favour.

The problem is that the PSC has been hijacked by the Nationalists. There is no proper debate because anyone who does not jump up and down and slaver in ecstasy at the thought of Catalonia as a nation with its own national symbols, sports teams, airport, historical rights, haunted houses, and all the rest of the nationalist baggage -- including obviously the national language to be used on all occasions -- is about as popular as those sad souls who eat pork pies in synagogues. And that's before we even mention the PP -- yes, there really are people who are not Catalan nationalists but who do not support the Spanish nationalists either. But that joint editorial was formally supported by the Catalan College of Physicians and Barça Football Club among others. I kid you not.

Having said that though, the delay is scandalous and the reasons for it even more so. Most of the Estatut is not really contentious, and the bits that are either don't matter or will
have to be sorted out some time anyway. At this stage they should just let it go.

Xoán-Wahn said...

I wish I knew more about this issue. I just don't have the time to read the Spanish constitution and the Estatut to compare! I don't think it would make much difference though, as you have to have legal training to properly interpret legal jargon. It would be nice to know what the people of Cataluña/Catalunya actually think!

Graeme said...


Most of us have better things to do with our time than sit down with copies of the constitution and the Estatut. I think we can argue that the people of Cataluña have been consulted and those who wanted to express their opinion did so in the referendum that approved the Estatut. The turnout wasn't great but it wasn't terrible either and when you take into account that the "No" camp included those completely against the reform and those who thought it didn't go far enough the result was fairly clear and legitimate.

@Lavengro in Spain

I don't think the PSC has been hijacked by Nationalists. What they have done with a certain amount of success is position themselves as a local brand in Cataluña rather than a national one that only represents anti-nationalist voters. The alternative to doing this would just be to say that the Generalitat belongs to Convergencia.

John (no name) said...

Lavengro, it is not correct to say that there was a small majority, it was 74& to 21%. In addition, as mentioned by Graeme, opposed to it were many of those who felt it did not go far enough.

In the end the Estatut was so totally neutered as to return almost nothing of significance to Catalonia, and this attempt to bring it down through Conservative term-expired judges where democratic means failed is simply a means of maintaining the fiction that Catalonia "gets too much". As always, those who claim to be most in favour of Spanish unity provoke division in order to gain narrow party advantage.

While many people may indeed not be following it avidly, Graeme is right that a refusal of key remaining clauses, symbolic or otherwise, will indeed lead to great dissatisfaction, showing once more as it would that Spain is just not prepared to act in good faith when it comes to its contituent nationalities. This, combined with the current popular referenda on independence and the rise of Reagrupament could well move many people from a previous position of favouring more autonomy towards realising that Spain will never accept federalism, and towards the movement for independence.

Rajoy argues that it is important to "play by the rules of the game", which is of course true, but if rule one of the game is that "you are not allowed to play", then there is an issue. This whole process only gives more weight to Reagrupament's call for a unilateral declaration of independence by the Catalan parliament. Many people see the gradualism and entryism of CiU and ERC as having failed.

The PSC has certainly not been hijacked by "nationalists", what has instead happened is that ERC has been hijacked by PSC and has now been maintaining a passionately unionist party in power for 5 years.

Rab said...

@Lavengro: you read El Mundo, listen to COPE, etc, (la Brunete or la caverna mediatica) and you end up writing ridiculous things like "the problem is that the PSC has been hijacked by the Nationalists".

Since the Capitanes took control, the "catalanist" element in the PSC is in the sidelines and ERC is dancing to PSC-PSOE’s tune. Carod is Montilla's porter boy. This will lead to ERC’s electoral disaster and the arrival of Reagrupament at the next elections.

Tom said...

@lavengro - As has been said by the others, don't forget that ERC and other pro-independence groups backed abstention in the Estatut vote, because of the way it had been butchered by the PSOE/PSC. But then you knew that, didn't you?