With not long to go until its 40th anniversary, never before has the Spanish Constitution been subject to such intense reconsideration. In the wake of the Great Recession and widespread corruption, a political crisis took root that has left the field open for populists and ultra-nationalists who believe that the 1978 text is the source of all of the problems of representation and political organization that the country is currently suffering. That is not true.
There are voices that are inviting us to wipe the slate clean. But that is not what we need. The system in Spain does not need to be scrapped
It’s an old custom in our country to tear everything down every once in a while, with a self-destructive will that has caused us great damage in the past. Today, once more, there are voices that are inviting us to wipe the slate clean. But that is not what we need. The system in Spain does not need to be scrapped. On the contrary, we enjoy an enviable democratic framework that needs to be taken care of, revised and reformed to prolong its life and improve it.
The Spanish Constitution is the fruit of a rare political consensus at a historical time in which an entire nation that was emerging from a dictatorship designed a project for a country united by values that are included in its first article: a social and democratic state with a rule of law based on freedom, equality and pluralism. Its enactment, as has already been said, has served as a legal framework for a country whose economic and social development have progressed at breakneck speed in barely four decades. Today, on its 39th anniversary, it is clear that it needs to be brought up to date.
For years now, a number of different voices – including that of this newspaper – have been calling for a revision that is able to adapt the text to the current reality and reduce some tensions, such as those of the territories. However, in the same way that the Constitution is not to blame for all of the political ills that afflict us, nor will its overhaul be the solution to everything.
The reality is that it is today’s politicians who should challenge each other when it comes to the reasons behind so much questioning of a fundamental law that just needs a few tweaks; including, the definition of the country’s territorial organization, the setting of each region’s powers of self-government, reforms to the Senate, the incorporation of the European Union as a source of law, the end of the male line of succession within the crown, and little more. Consensus and minimal changes, but they are crucial. This should be the general rule.
Politicians are showing themselves to be incapable of designing a new project for the country or to generate any enthusiasm for its consolidation
The consensus of 1978 is not to blame for the nationalist tensions and the disenchantment with politics among Spanish citizens, but rather the incompetence of today’s political forces. In contrast to that consensus, in Spain dissent has taken root among the political class, along with the inability to even negotiate the reshaping of a solid Constitution that is clearly aligned with that of its European opposite numbers.
Given the current political fragmentation in Spanish politics this task looks difficult, but it will not be impossible. Ultimately, the absence of absolute majorities will force the need for wider negotiations to take place.
The problem is that, being mired in disputes, the politicians are showing themselves to be incapable of designing a new project for the country or to generate any enthusiasm for its consolidation – unless the plan is based on an antiquated dream of independence or a crusade against it.
The problem is not the application of Article 155 of the Constitution (the measure taken by the central government to suspend self-rule in Catalonia after the regional parliament voted through a unilateral declaration of independence). It is the fact that it had to be applied in the first place. Because it is political action (or inaction) that is generating disaffection, as well as mistrust toward politics and the tensions that have led to a serious institutional crisis such as the one we have seen in Catalonia.
The Catalan crisis has created a paralysis among certain politicians who appear incapable of walking and chewing gum at the same time
There is public demand for the article of the Constitution about territorial organization to be updated. Its drafting corresponds to a blueprint, the State of the Autonomous Regions, which has already been developed and established. There is also demand for a new regional financing system to be put in place, one that is based on predetermined procedures, with little margin for political arbitrariness. A system that would definitively enshrine territorial solidarity and keep each region happy without generating new grievances. Addressing this question would still not bring about the end of territorial tensions, but the same voices that speak out in such defense of the Constitution – and the consequent social harmony – are delaying the project, allowing for a direct attack on the legal framework that has guaranteed that harmony.
The Catalan crisis has created a paralysis among certain politicians who appear incapable of walking and chewing gum at the same time, and they are forgetting the real importance of their mission: to try to resolve the demands of the voters. Regional financing is not an abstract question that solely falls to the regional governments. It affects essential services such as education and health. But there is a negligent tendency to put off pending tasks; whether it is the tackling of everyday issues, or the redrafting of a Constitutional text for which there are already sufficient and sensible proposals. The apathy of the politicians is a factor that is damaging the social harmony that has been achieved thanks to the support of the Constitution.
English version by Simon Hunter.