Madrid’s President alone in her push for recentralising Spain

Aguirre, President of Madrid's regional government, asked to return healthcare, justice administration and education powers, which are managed by the Autonomous Communities, back to the Central Government. Prime Minister Rajoy, the leader of the People’s Party (PP) –Aguirre’s party–, stated that a debate about the Autonomous Community model is “out of the question”. Furthermore the PP’s Catalan leader defended the current model, as Catalonia “exerts its self-government as established in the Constitution”. Besides, the Catalan President told Aguirre to return the powers she does not want to manage, but to leave Catalonia aside. He added that the current model was designed “to dilute Catalonia and the Basque Country’s self-governance claims”.

CNA / Gaspar Pericay Coll

April 11, 2012 01:45 AM

Barcelona (ACN).- The President of Madrid’s regional government, a region artificially created in 1983, pushed for recentralising Spain with the excuse of the financial crisis. Esperanza Aguirre, who is also the regional leader of the People’s Party (PP) in Madrid and is one of the main leaders of Spanish nationalism, asked for the Autonomous Communities to have “its main powers” taken away. Aguirre proposed to return to the Spanish Government the powers on “education, healthcare and justice” and to municipalities those of “transport and social services”. According to her, the measure would “save €48 billion”. Aguirre affirmed that it is urgent “to review from its roots” the current Autonomous Community model. She recognised that the current model “was created to integrate the Catalan and Basque nationalist parties”, and according to her “it has not worked”, as it has only made the functioning of the other 15 regions more expensive. Immediately after the Spanish Prime Minister and leader of the PP, Mariano Rajoy, responded to Aguirre’s comments at the Spanish Senate. Rajoy stated that a debate about the Autonomous Community model “is out of the question”. “I am in favour of a model that is embodied in the Constitution”, he affirmed. Furthermore, the PP’s leader in Catalonia, Alícia Sánchez-Camacho, defended Catalonia’s right to govern itself and the current powers it holds. Sánchez-Camacho stated that “Catalonia exerts its self-government as it is established in the Constitution and in the Statute”, which is Catalonia’s main law. In addition, the President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas, who is also the leader of the Centre-Right Catalan Nationalist Coalition ‘Convergència i Unió’ (CiU), directly responded to Aguirre at the Catalan Parliament. Mas told Aguirre to return the powers she does not want to manage, but to leave Catalonia and its institutions aside. Mas added that the current model was “artificially created”, in order “to dilute Catalonia and the Basque Country’s claims for self-governance”.

In the last few months, Spanish nationalists have been pushing for a recentralisation of Spain and are using the current crisis as an excuse. With the urgency of reducing the public deficit and public spending, they have been pushing for concentrating powers in the hands of the Spanish State, and in particular emptying the Autonomous Communities of their powers. They neglect figures relating to the Spanish Government deficit and its own redundancies, and they neglect historical reasons, the existence of other nations within the Spanish State, as well as a diversity of languages and identities. Aguirre’s statement is the latest in a string of similar expressions of centralisation.

Although healthcare is managed by the Autonomies, there is a Spanish Ministry of Health

Already some months ago Spanish nationalists put the blame for the country’s high public deficit figures on the Autonomous Community governments, neglecting the fact that it is the Spanish Government that is directly responsible for the greatest public deficit share and the accumulated debt in a proportion that exceeds by far its spending responsibilities. They also neglected the fact that it is the Spanish Government that has the last word on the funds the regional governments receive, sets the main taxes and manages regional transfers, which are not always transparent and often do not  respect previous agreements. Spanish nationalists also underline what they judge to be redundancies in the management of some powers. In case of redundancies, they always blame the Autonomous Communities. However, they neglect that although healthcare, education, and culture are completely managed by regional governments, the Spanish Government has a Health Ministry, as well as a Ministry of Culture and a Ministry of Education (these two run by the same person in Rajoy’s cabinet).

The Catalan Parliament refuses Aguirre’s words

The most significant refusal to Esperanza Aguirre’s statement came from Alícia Sánchez-Camacho, who is in the same party as Madrid’s President. Sánchez-Camacho, who is the PP’s leader in Catalonia, stated that “I believe that our self-government is to be decided by the Catalans and that it is established in the Constitution and in the Statute”, which is Catalonia’s main law. “Catalonia has its own self-government and its own powers, and I agree with the current laws and norms”, she added. She also expressed her “respect for Aguirre’s opinions, and said that “everybody exerts their self-government as they believe is appropriate”.

However, the clearest refusal came from the Catalan President, Artur Mas, leader of the Catalan nationalists. Mas asked Aguirre to return the powers she does not want to manage but to leave Catalonia aside. According to Mas, what Aguirre’s words show is that there are “two types of Autonomous Communities in Spain: those who desire to have a self-governance and those that were artificially created”. The Catalan President reminded that many of the 17 current regions were artificially created in the early 1980s. For instance Madrid was created in 1983, being the first time in history they had their own parliament and their own government, without formally asking for it and without a claim from citizens. On the contrary, other Autonomous Communities in Spain are nations with a long tradition of self-governance, which in the Catalan case date back to the early Middle Ages. Furthermore, these institutions have had relative continuity throughout their history, with interruptions coinciding with Spanish nationalist and dictatorial regimes. “If the artificially created regions are tired of the current model, they should redesign it”, but “leave aside those who have a non-artificial but a desired and natural will to govern themselves”, the Catalan President concluded.