Catalan politicians get agitated while the rest of Spain remains indifferent on the Catalan Statute?s sentence

The political unity against the Spanish Constitutional Court?s sentence on the Catalan Statute of Autonomy seems on the edge of being jeopardised by discussions about how to proceed and the organisation of the citizen demonstration on the 10th of July.

CNA / Gaspar Pericay Coll

July 6, 2010 05:34 PM

Barcelona (CNA).- One week ago, on Monday evening, the Spanish Constitutional Court decided to trim the Catalan Statute of Autonomy, which has been in force since August 2006. Following 4 years of controversial debate and growing animosity from the citizenry, a Constitutional Court comprised of members with expired mandates finally decided to modify Catalonia’s main law, a kind of “Catalan Constitution”, declaring unconstitutional 14 of its articles and reinterpreting 27 more. These few articles altered many main ideas of the Statute, cutting Catalan aspirations. In Catalonia’s political sphere and in some parts of Catalan society, the news has fallen like a bomb. In the rest of Spain, the news has been received with either indifference or a feeling of victory or relief, undermining the political consequences of the sentence.
The sentence has created a division between the Catalan political class and the rest of Spain. For instance, on Monday there was a meeting between all of the Autonomous Communities of Spain. The Catalan Minister for Home Affairs, Institutional Relations and Participation, Joan Saura, has commented on the sentence of the Constitutional Court (CC), stressing that this decision will also affect the Statutes of Autonomies of other Autonomous Communities. The rest of the representatives have shown no reaction to his words, showing no solidarity, no understanding, and which may be more worrying, no concern for the consequences that this decision may have for Spain as a whole, not only for Catalonia. Only the representative of the Balearic Islands, a community that also belonged to the Medieval Crown of Aragon and also has Catalan as a co-official language, has supported Saura’s words. The rest, silence.

In front of the political consequences, indifference in Spain and concern in Catalonia

This silence seems to be the climax of a week of undermining the sentence and its consequences. There are 4 main political consequences:
- A reduction of the Catalan Autonomy and an inflection point in the decentralisation process which started 30 years ago.
- A restrictive reinterpretation of the Spanish Constitution, modifying for the second time in democracy the Constitutional pact of 1978 (the first time was after the military coup of 1981). This modification has reduced the Spanish Constitution and has taken legitimate Catalan aspirations, voted via referendum by the Catalan people, out of it.
- The disaccreditation of the Constitutional Court and of the political class, increasing disaffection among citizens in a moment of an economic crisis. The situation is worsening with a clash of legitimacies between the Court’s decision and the law approved via a citizen referendum.
- The increase in the gap between Catalan nationalists and Spanish nationalists, leaving a compromised solution between both emptier and thus weaker.

In front of these consequences, the Catalan politicians have focused especially on the first two: the reduction of Catalonia’s autonomy and the modification of the Spanish Constitution. The third one has been seen in Catalonia as a clash of legitimacies, a disaccreditation of the Court and a disaffection towards the idea of Spain. However, there has not been a real analysis on the disaffection, which in Catalonia, is growing towards its own political class and towards the Statute of Autonomy and the debate around it. In fact, while Catalan politicians are spending these days fighting to lead the reaction against the sentence over the demonstration's motto, a large amount of citizens seem very tired of this debate. Though the reasons of the tiredness and the way they express it are different. Catalan nationalists have seen their fears against Spanish nationalism confirmed and they are tired of looking for agreements with the rest of Spain. The thesis that such an agreement between Catalan and Spanish nationalists is impossible is growing. Moderate Catalan nationalists are turning more towards independence and are becoming more transversal and solid. The rest of Catalonia’s society, which include the non-nationalists and those not interested in politics, seem really tired of the identity debate and would like to talk about anything else but the Statute.

At the Spanish-level and within the rest of the autonomous communities, there has not been a concerned reaction on the Constitutional Court’s sentence. The citizens of the rest of Spain do not care about the issue or are irritated by it, either because they feel the Spanish nationalism attacked or because, simply, they are very tired of the issue. The main political parties, the ruling Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) – which voted for the Catalan Statute of Autonomy and then acted as it did not do so – and the conservative and Spanish nationalist People’s Party (PP) at first celebrated the sentence as a victory and then undermined its importance and ignored the above stated political consequences.

Politicians’ reactions in Madrid

The PSOE celebrated that the Constitutional Court “only” eliminated 14 articles and reinterpreted 27 out of the 223 that the Catalan Statute for Autonomy has. In a rather frivolous analysis, the Spanish Government argued that “95%” of the text was saved, Vice President María Fernández De la Vega quantified. The Spanish Government celebrated it as a victory and ignored the importance of the 5% which had been touched by the Court. It also ignored the sentence’s collateral political consequences. Prime Minister Zapatero, who reacted 2 days after the sentence, even agreed that the sentence was consolidating Catalonia’s self-government. While the current Catalan Statute of Autonomy has a larger number of competences than the previous one approved in 1979, today’s Statute (the version modified by the Court) has less competences than the its version put into force 4 years ago. Competences on financial equilibration, taxes and decentralisation of Justice have been severely touched. In addition, more symbolical but very important points on Catalan politics have been modified; the main problem is that these points were some of the primary reasons for creating a new Statute. They affect the recognition of Catalonia as a nation as well as the Catalan language.

The People’s Party (PP), which was the party appealing to the Constitutional Court to invalidate more than a hundred articles of the Statute of Autonomy, celebrated the sentence as a victory, as the Court did in fact declare some of the text’s points unconstitutional. However, they have preferred to keep a low profile. In fact, not even the party’s President and candidate to become the Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, has given his opinion on the sentence in an entire week. Rajoy’s reaction, apart from surprising, undermines the Court’s transcendental sentence. The reasons for this low profile is that the PP needs Catalan votes to reach the Spanish Government. The PP has extremely poor results in Catalonia (around 15% of the votes), and without votes in Catalonia, it has very few chances of winning in the entire Spain. However, the silent treatment was broken by the party’s Secretary General, María Dolores de Cospedal. De Cospedal accused the Catalan President of “being a fascist” for not agreeing with the Court’s sentence and asking Catalan citizens to demonstrate on the streets next Saturday. This affirmation is rather surprising from the Secretary General of a party that has as its “founding president” someone who served in several Franco Governments during the Spanish fascist dictatorship. The People's Party in Catalonia has stressed that this sentence transforms what was a biased and non-representative Statue of Autonomy into one that can be recognised as theirs by all Catalans.

Politicians’ reactions in Catalonia

In Catalonia, however, the unity claimed by all on the evening of the sentence seems to have not resisted the passing of time very well. After one week, the current main discussion among Catalan politicians is about the motto of the demonstration scheduled on Saturday, the 10th of July. The Socialist Catalan President, José Montilla, announced that he would go to the demonstration organised by the civil society organisation Òmnium Cultural, the main NGO promoting Catalan culture. However, Montilla said during his institutional speech reacting to the sentence that the Catalan flag should be the motto that everybody should be standing behind. The demonstration organisers have proposed the motto: “We are a nation. We decide”. The Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) has some problems with the part “We decide”, as it seems to support the right to self-determination, which is not fully supported by the PSC. The Centre-Right Catalan Nationalist party (CiU) lead by Artur Mas, a party that could win the next elections according to the polls, used this controversy to attack Montilla and the Socialists. In addition, he also attacked Prime Minister Zapatero’s positions, who is also Socialist and from a federation within the Catalan Socialist Party. Furthermore, on Friday, Artur Mas threatened to stop supporting Prime Minister Zapatero in the Spanish Parliament. The CiU’s support has been essential in the passing of the deficit reduction package as well as the labour market reform. In both votes, Zapatero’s Government was on the edge of collapsing and provoking general elections that most likely would have been won by the PP.

The smaller parties in the Catalan Government, the Left-Wing Catalan Independence Party (ERC) and the Catalan Eco-Socialist Party (ICV), announced that they would make Catalan citizens talk. For ERC, this sentence has shown that Spain will never recognise its diversity and plurality, and thus Catalonia will never see its national reality recognised within Spain. They conclude that, since the path for autonomy has failed, the only possible path is that of independence. ERC proposed to consult the citizens on the Catalan independence; the referendum will not be held immediately but it will become its main political objective. The motto “We are a nation. We decide.” suits this goal perfectly. Besides, the ICV believes that what should be done is to make people decide as soon as possible on the modified Statute of Autonomy. A referendum should be held and Catalan citizens should have the right to say if they want this modified text or not. If not, the Statute of 1979 will be the one in force. It has to be said that the current Statute of Autonomy has been in force since August 2006 and some 45 new laws have been prepared based on its competences.