opinion
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PSOE: federal option

The step latterly taken by the Socialist Party seems to respond to an emergency situation caused by the secessionism of Artur Mas

The step latterly taken by the PSOE seems to respond to an emergency situation caused by the secessionism of Artur Mas. It is, however, consistent with previous PSOE stances, such as the forgotten Santillana agreement. True, the proposal comes a bit late. It should have comes as a prompt alternative to the independence line of Mas and Junqueras in the Catalan parliament. But both the Catalan (PSC) and Spanish (PSOE) Socialist parties then wandered into a labyrinth of empty words: the former speaking of self-determination (hardly to be distinguished from the "right to decide") while eschewing the word independence; the latter fretting over the prospect of a break with the PSC. Mas, of course, has turned a deaf ear to the proposal, as coming from a Spanish source, and thus both untrustworthy and irrelevant.

Yet the project is there, the details worked out to a more than sufficient level, so that we can evaluate it critically and at least tentatively admit that a constitutional change is capable of resolving, at least on the technical level, the tensions created in recent times by the visible burnout of the existing regional government system.

The two keys to the project are, I think, a substantial increment in the political role of the regions as such, which justifies, as the text suggests, that the regional Statutes could be renamed Constitutions, with their powers delimited in two different orders so as to silence the noise raised in the recent years of quasi-federalism by the tugs-of-war in the vertical sense between each region and the national state, when it was pointed out that the appeals to the Constitutional Court in those same years exceeded those made in four decades in the German Federal Republic. This situation has been costly in terms not only of politics and administration but also of ideology, since it encourages "victimism" and comparative grievance, regional interests being set against those of the "Spanish state."

The recasting of the composition and functions of the Senate is also inevitable

However, the Socialist project does succeed in drawing a line between federal state and confederation. The existing power relations are inverted in the formal plane, eliminating the existing ambiguity and confusing distribution of powers, which are wide open to alteration under article 150.2 of the Constitution. In the proposal, state powers being once established by the Constitution, all others would naturally devolve upon the regions, which could develop as they saw fit within due respect for those of the state, but without fearing that ambiguity may leave a loophole for the state to curtail regional powers. Likewise the procedure for appeal against any such encroachment is precisely defined, and a time limit set within which the Constitutional Court must reach a decision on it, to avoid repetition of the case of the challenge to the Catalan Statute, which took years to resolve.

The recasting of the composition and functions of the Senate is also inevitable. The Senate is to be elected region by region, so that it serves as a national forum for the interests of the various regions. The minimization of the Constitutional Court's powers is, however, questionable; as is the attribution of full, unreserved educational and linguistic powers to the regions.

Catalan and Basque demands would thus be satisfied but some qualification would be desirable, as also in another issue: the "principle of ordinality," which amounts to playing in one sports league without risk of being relegated to a lower one. The articulation of the "principle of solidarity," i.e. that rich regions have to cough up at least something for the benefit of the poorer ones, could be more precise. As for regional financing, the recognition of the special arrangements of the Basque Country and Navarre should not serve as an excuse for the proliferation of such privileges. Now to make the proposal pleasing to the PP and the Catalans - no easy task.