Catalan conundrum


THE HEADLINE in El Paisproclaimed that Spain’s constitutional court had endorsed Catalonia’s “autonomy statute”. In Barcelona, however, the headlines took a contrary view: the court had skewered key elements of the statute. And on Saturday a million marchers concurred, insisting on their right to be seen as a nation.

The four-year-old statute expands already significant powers of self-rule into areas of taxation, judicial matters, airports, ports and immigration, but had been challenged by the country’s conservative, strongly unionist opposition Partido Popular (PP). The court last week approved the statute, but after striking down 14 of 233 articles and changing 20 others. Most controversially, and with significant implications elsewhere in Spain, not least in the Basque Country, it ruled that the statute’s definition of Catalonia as a “nation” had no legal standing because “the constitution only knows one nation, Spain.”

The statute asserts that “the Catalan Parliament, based on the feelings and wishes of the citizens of Catalonia, has defined by an ample majority that Catalonia is a nation.” The sentence will not be removed but will cease to have any legal validity and Catalonia will remain a “nationality”, as specified by the Spanish constitution. The ruling confirms that relations between Catalonia and the Spanish state will continue to be based on co-operation, but not equality.

Among other articles struck down are those that refer to Catalan as the “preferential” language in dealings with the public administration in the region and increased powers over the region’s judicial system. In protesting the ruling, Catalonia’s proponents of greater autonomy within Spain made commmon cause with those favouring outright independence. But the latter overwhelmingly dominated the march – Jesús Montilla, the Socialist regional premier, was booed on several occasions, as were many mainstream politicians – and in the regional elections this autumn the nationalists are predicted to make strong gains.

In ruling against a statute that represented an honest compromise and had been accepted both by popular vote in Catalonia and a majority in the Spanish Parliament, Spain’s conservative-dominated court has handed back to Socialist prime minister José Luis Zapatero, a political timebomb that could well hasten rather than put a halt to the break-up of the Spanish Republic. Unionism may well rue the day.