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The centrifuge

Spain needs one negotiating table for social and economic issues, and another for constitutional debate

A meeting between the Socialist Party and Ciudadanos in March 2016.
A meeting between the Socialist Party and Ciudadanos in March 2016.BERNARDO PÉREZ

What we have in Spain are two overlapping debates. One of them involves a governing agreement. That’s an easy deal. The vast majority of the lower house could easily agree on the specific policies that the central government should undertake over the next five years. Some deputies would pull one way, and some would pull the other way. And they would eventually negotiate some middle-ground position.

But there is another debate for which there is no middle ground, at least for the moment, and that is a deal on the rules of the game. The issue of reforming the Spanish state’s structure is a divisive one for parties. In order to get things moving, we need to keep these two debates separate.

But parties keep insisting on mixing them. They begin by talking about centripetal policies such as labor or tax reform, where parties can converge toward the middle. But then they add centrifugal debates about the territorial structure of the state or the language that should be used in education, which are polarizing issues. Instead of attracting potential allies, they push them away.

If a governing pact includes stumbling blocks to constitutional reform that cause rejection among other political forces, it becomes difficult to find allies

That has been the fundamental problem with both failed pacts that Ciudadanos reached with the Socialist Party (PSOE) first in February, then with the Popular Party (PP) in August. The trouble was not so much that these pacts lacked a congressional majority, but rather that they included some uniting elements (many, in fact) but also some dividing ones (few, but enough to ensure failure).

The social policies included in the PSOE-Ciudadanos agreement could have won support in Congress as well as an enthusiastic response from wider society. 

Similarly, the economic policies written into the PP-Ciudadanos deal would make the business community and foreign investors squeal with delight. A combination of both, complemented with contributions from other parliamentary forces, could serve as a basis for a liberal, progressive government not unlike Denmark’s.

But Denmark does not have Catalonia. If a governing pact includes stumbling blocks to constitutional reform that are rejected by other parties, it becomes difficult to find allies. The solution lies in separating the debates: let us sit at one table to clinch a governing deal based on social and economic policies, and let us sit at another to open up a constitutional debate. But let’s not stick everything into the centrifuge.


English version by Susana Urra.


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