Madrid questions the Autonomous Community model

In the last few days, a series of declarations by Spanish leaders put some dark clouds over the future of the Autonomous Communities model, a cornerstone of the current Spanish Constitution. The People’s Party (PP) shot first, claiming for more centralism, and the Spanish Socialist Party did not want to be left behind. Today, Prime Minister Zapatero showed up by surprise at the Senate to defend the current model.

CNA / Gaspar Pericay Coll

January 19, 2011 10:08 PM

Barcelona (ACN).- A more centralised Spain and less power and freedom for the Autonomous Communities - Spanish Nationalists are using the economic crisis to question the current model, a model that brought about the most prosperous era Spain has ever experienced in the last 3 centuries and a model that has succeeded in reducing political tensions within the State. In Madrid, this is seen differently. In a context of crisis, with regional and municipal elections in May and Spanish elections in 12 months, warming up Spanish Nationalism ensures votes. Therefore, Spanish Nationalism strikes back, pushed by party interests and fear; a fear of foreign powers labelled as “financial markets”, “Western Governments” and “globalisation”, and a fear of internal forces that could break the unity, the periphery that questions Spanish Nationalism’s uniformitarian spirit.

Former Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar shot this weekend at the current State’s organisation. Aznar questioned the decentralisation and “its seventeen equal institutions”, while mixing the Autonomous Community model with the current economic crisis. This weekend, Spanish Prime Minister, in an interview with the Financial Times, implicitly questioned the Autonomous Communities’ liberties, such as the freedom to manage their own budget. After 3 days of intense debate leaders of the People’s Party and the Socialist Party are asking for “harmonisation measures” or, directly, a new organisation of the Autonomous Communities’ powers. Meanwhile, in Catalonia, the Government and the “Catalanist” opposition were defending Catalonia’s self-government. Today, Zapatero went to the Spanish Senate by surprise to defend the current Autonomous Communities’ model.

Zapatero came to the Spanish Senate the day after the High Chamber allowed senators to speak in other co-official languages, apart from Spanish, a fact that provoked the angriness of Spanish Nationalist media and politicians. Before, only Spanish language was allowed, a situation that is similar in all Spanish-level institutions. Zapatero defended the use of Catalan, Basque and Galician at the Senate. He also defended plurality and the current Autonomous Communities’ model, a result of the Spanish Transition from Franco’s dictatorship.

17 Autonomous Communities but 2 different fiscal systems

Nowadays, Spain has 17 Autonomous Communities. 2 of them have special treatment: the Basque Country and Navarra, as they collect all the taxes in their territory and they negotiate with the Spanish Government the amount to be paid for the services the State delivers there. Catalonia is in another group, with 14 other communities, that is not able to decide on its own funding. It is decided by the Spanish Government.

Nowadays, the Spanish Nationalism mixes public deficit and economic crisis with the Autonomous Communities. The moderate leaders of the Spanish Nationalism talk about “harmonisation”, “better coordination”, and rationalisation of the costs. The most radical ones, such as Aznar, directly talk about suppressing institutions and completely re-organising the model.

The main problem for the Catalan political forces is that they fear a veiled, or not so unveiled, will of centralisation and reducing Catalonia’s autonomy. But in this debate, the Basque Country and Navarra seem to be left beside, with their fiscal privileges unquestioned. That is why the Catalan political forces are on guard.

Where the current model comes from?

The current Spanish Constitution foresees the Autonomous Communities and clearly states, black on white, an automatic procedure for the historical communities to get the Autonomy back. The only 2 territories that have had the status of Autonomous Community before Franco’s dictatorship were Catalonia and the Basque Country, and Galicia was in the process of getting it while the Civil War clashed. Navarra did not have the autonomous community status but it had its legal specificities preserved throughout history, including during Franco times.

The current Spanish Constitution says that Spain is made up of “nationalities and regions”. Spain’s main law dedicates an entire chapter to the Autonomous Communities. The law was thus foreseeing that Catalonia and the Basque Country would get back their self-government institutions immediately. It also foresaw a special procedure for Navarra. Then, the Constitution dictated that other territories could ask for their autonomy, if they were respecting the foreseen procedures.

All this was the result of complicated negotiations in 1977 and 1978, when the Fascist regime’s members were also sitting on the negotiation table. Later on, the Spanish Government interpreted the Constitution in one way - to accelerate the creation of the Andalucian and Galician Autonomous Communities, while Catalonia, the Basque Country and Navarra already had their autonomy back. However, the current model is the result of the decision of the Spanish Government in 1982, months after the military coup of 1981. The current model was created to dilute the Basque and the Catalan autonomies. The current model was a concession to the Spanish Nationalism. Regions that never asked for autonomy suddenly got it and Spain found itself with 17 Autonomies and a de facto federal model. However, the federal spirit seems absent in many parts of the country, such as in Madrid, and true federal institutions are lacking.