The Constitutional Court upholds ruling that Balearic Islands’ civil servants are no longer required to know Catalan
On the same day, the Court re-affirmed its decision to keep its current Chairman in position despite his anti-Catalan public stance and having been a member of the governing People’s Party (PP) until 2011. On top of this, Catalan and Basque Members of the European Parliament from five different parties formally asked the European Commission to intervene against the politicisation of the Spanish Constitutional Court, stressing that EU democracies should have an independent judiciary. The Constitutional Court is the highest interpreter of Spain’s legislation, has to guarantee the respect of fundamental rights and acts as a referee between the different government levels and political actors. In this capacity, it ruled against the appeal presented by the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) against the law that abolished the requirement to know Catalan for working as a public servant in Majorca, Minorca, Ibiza and Formentera, despite it being the local language.
Madrid (ACN).- The Spanish Constitutional Court announced on Wednesday that it was rejecting the appeal presented by the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) against the Balearic Islands’ law that abolished the requirement for civil servants working in this Autonomous Community to know the Catalan language. A majority of the Court considered the law making Catalan an extra rather than a formal requirement to be fully constitutional. Catalan is the local language of Majorca, Minorca, Ibiza and Formentera, and it is the mother tongue of many inhabitants of the Balearic Islands. For this reason, it is one of the two official languages of this Autonomous Community, together with Spanish. With the new law, issued by a regional government run by the People’s Party (PP), there will be civil servants working in the Balearic Islands who do not understand the local language. This means that not all the citizens of the Balearic Islands will able to relate to public bodies in their mother tongue. On the same day, the Court re-affirmed its previous decision to keep its current Chairman in position despite his anti-Catalan public stance and having been a member of the People’s Party (PP) - which runs the Spanish Government - until 2011. As a result of this, Catalan and Basque Members of the European Parliament from five different parties today formally asked the European Commission to intervene against the politicisation of the Spanish Constitutional Court. They stressed that EU democracies should have an independent judiciary and urged the Commission to act “quickly”, considering precedents such as Hungary. The Constitutional Court is the highest interpreter of Spain’s legislation, has to guarantee the respect of fundamental rights and acts as a referee between the different government levels and political actors.
The Constitutional Court’s majority backed the law proposed by the Balearic Islands Government and approved in June 2012 by the regional Parliament, controlled by an absolute majority of the People’s Party. In fact the law provoked historical members of the PP to quit the party because they considered that the reform was attacking the Catalan language, their mother tongue. Catalan has been the Balearic Islands’ language since the early 13th century, when Catalans won Majorca from the Arabs and repopulated the Islands with people from the Catalan Costa Brava. In 1986, a few years after the Balearic Islands got their Autonomous status after the end of Franco’s Fascist military dictatorship, there was a broad political agreement among Balearic political forces and civil society to make Catalan language a legal requirement for becoming a civil servant. In addition, public schools would teach following the language immersion principle, as is done in Catalonia.
The PP’s anti-Catalan crusade in the Balearic Islands
However, the new leader of the regional PP and President of the Balearic Islands Government since 2011, José Ramón Bauzá, has decided to put an end to this and “Hispanicise” the Islands, as one of his closest collaborators said in front of the regional Parliament. Last year, Bauzá changed the law requiring the knowledge of Catalan language and it also reformed the school system to put an end to the language immersion principle. The unilateral reforms have provoked great protests, particularly among teachers, who are holding an indefinite strike for the last 10 days. In addition, last Sunday one of the largest demonstrations ever witnessed took place in Palma de Mallorca, the capital city of the Balearic Islands. Teachers fear that the new system will not guarantee that pupils know Catalan once they finish school.
A minority of the Constitutional Court does not support the reform
The majority of the Constitutional Court, which is chaired by a former PP member and has many members with Spanish Nationalist stances, considered the new law making Catalan an extra and not an obligatory requirement to be fully constitutional. They stated that “there is no discrimination” because there is no “preferential treatment of Spanish over Catalan”. In addition, the Court stated that the law approved by the PP has now been approved in a context of “a wide implantation of knowledge of the Catalan language within the public sector”, and therefore they do not see a risk of relegating Catalan. However, 4 Court members out of 10 voted against the decision and issued dissenting opinions. One of them stated that the new law “does not sufficiently guarantee linguistic rights”, included “in Article 3.2 of the Constitution” and “Article 14.3 of the Balearic Islands’ Statute of Autonomy”. The other opinion stated that the new law does not take into account “the duty of the Balearic Islands Government to process [things] in the language chosen by the interested person”.
The anti-Catalan President of the Court will continue in his position
The Catalan Government and Catalan Parliament had requested that the Constitutional Court’s Chairman, Francisco Pérez de los Cobos, should be excluded from debates affecting Catalan institutions and culture because of his lack of neutrality. Two weeks ago the Court rejected the petition and confirmed Pérez de los Cobos in his current position. The Catalan institutions presented a final appeal, which has been rejected today, the same day the Court was backing the Balearic Islands’ reform.
Pérez de los Cobos made one of his most controversial statements in 2005, when he said at a public event that “Catalans are educated to hate Spanish culture”. However, the list of controversial statements is long, and also includes xenophobic pronouncements against English and Italian people. For instance, the Spanish Constitutional Court’s Chairman said that “there is not a single political act in Catalonia without a demonstration of masturbation”. He also said that “money is the rationalising balm in Catalonia”, which refers to the Spanish stereotype that Catalans are miserly. On top of this, he also made the following statements: “Englishmen have learned how to clean themselves from their cats” and “There is no people believing less in the Law than Italians”.
MEPs ask the European Commission to act on Spanish Constitutional Court
Catalan and Basque MEPs from all the parties except the PP asked the European Commissioner for Justice, Viviane Reding, to intervene over the Spanish Constitutional Court’s lack of independence. 6 MEPs from Catalonia and the Basque Country, from Social-Democrat, Christian-Democrat, Liberal, Green and Left-Wing ideologies, demanded that Brussels impose the European criteria of independence of the judiciary on Spain. According to them, the fact that Pérez de los Cobos was a member of the PP at least between 2008 and 2011 – the starting date is unknown because no explanations have been given by the PP, Pérez de los Cobos or the Constitutional Court – violates one of the conditions for being a Member State of the European Union. They state that the political membership of the Chairman of a Constitutional Court is “a unique fact in Europe”. As an example of this lack of independence, they cite the Court’s rejection of the request to exclude its President from the issues directly affecting the Catalan Government or the People’s Party. The 6 MEPs are: Ramon Tremosa, Salvador Sedó, Maria Badia, Raimon Obiols, Raül Romeva, Izaskun Bilbao and Iñaki Irzabalbeitia.