On 11th September 1977, more than one million Catalans took the streets of Barcelona while shouting ‘Freedom, Amnesty, and Statute of Autonomy’. Francoist Spain was over and negotiations to establish a democratic constitution for the state were on their way. The 1978 constitution granted self-government to the regions and nationalities within Spain, and the Catalans approved their Statute of Autonomy in 1979, which granted them a parliament and a government with legislative and executive powers in several matters of public policy.
In 2005, the Catalan parliament approved a reform proposal of the Statute of Autonomy. The aim was twofold. First, after thirty years since the dictator’s death and twenty-seven since the approval of the Constitution, the reform sought to state the formal recognition of the national character of Catalonia and therefore the existence of a plurinational Spain. Second, the reform aimed to further Catalan self-government by increasing the powers exercised by the Generalitat and by securing a better funding system for Catalonia.
This proposal was approved by 90% of the Catalan representatives. Only the representatives of the People’s Party (PP), the Spanish nationalist right-wing party, opposed the reform. The parties that gave support to the reform are commonly labelled as Catalanists, an ambiguous term that includes four parties: 1) the moderate right-of-centre nationalists of Convergència i Unió (CiU); 2) the left-of-centre Catalan Socialists’ Party (PSC), the branch of the Spanish Socialists and Workers’ Party (PSOE); 3) the independence supporters of the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC); and 4) the left-wing Initiative for Catalonia – Greens (ICV).
Former Catalan President and PSC leader, Pasqual Maragall (L), celebrates the approval of the Statute reform proposal by the Catalan Parliament with CiU leader Artur Mas (R)
The reform proposal required the approval of the Spanish parliament. The Catalan proposal was considerably modified in the tough negotiations that took place. At the end of the day, an agreement was reached between the PSOE leader and Spanish PM Rodríguez Zapatero and the CiU leader Artur Mas, which allowed the reform of the Statute to be passed by the Spanish parliament again with the opposition of the PP MPs. The referendum held in June 2006 confirmed the approval of the Statute by the Catalans, with 74% voting for it with a turnout that was slightly lower than half of the electorate.
Spanish PM and Socialist Party leader, Rodríguez Zapatero (C), celebrates the agreement reached to pass the Statute by the Spanish Parliament with the CiU leaders Artur Mas (L) and Josep Antoni Duran i Lleida (R)
Immediately after the Statute was enacted, the PP appealed to the Spanish Constitutional Court claiming that more than half of the articles of the Statute were against the Constitution. After almost four years, the Constitutional Court, with one of the members dead, one forbidden to take part in the discussions, and several others with their mandate expired, published the ruling that put an end to the Statute tortuous path.
Spanish Constitutional Court building
The ruling of the Constitutional Court has been a huge blow to both Catalan self-government and national recognition. The ruling invalidates fourteen articles and provides an interpretative reading for another twenty-seven. A brief summary of what have been either rejected or restrictively interpreted follows.
The Court states that there is no other nation in Spain apart from the Spanish nation. The ruling states that the mention of Catalonia being a nation in the preamble of the Statute has not any juridical value at all, and adds that all the Catalan national symbols like the flag or the anthem only refer to the characterisation of Catalonia as a nationality under the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation.
Catalan self-government derives from the Spanish Constitution, the ruling clearly states. Therefore, there is no legal recognition of a right of Catalan self-government deriving from historical institutions like the Generalitat, which was suppressed in 1714 after the War of Spanish succession.
The ruling states that the Catalan Statute cannot define which level of solidarity the Catalans must carry with the Spanish regions. Further, a clause that stated that the central government should invest the same percentage of the Catalan contribution to Spanish GDP has been ruled unconstitutional.
The decentralised judicial institutions to be created according to the Catalan statute are unconstitutional. Hence, the judicial system can only be decentralised if the Spanish parliament wishes to do so, which seems to be improbable.
The Constitution states that it is compulsory to know Spanish language. The Statute raised the Catalan language to the same official status but the Court has ruled it unconstitutional. Further, the Constitutional Court argues in the ruling that Spanish language must be, along with Catalan, the language of normal use in the education system and the media. This clearly threatens the current linguistic model of the education system in which learning Spanish language is compulsory, but all the other subjects are taught in Catalan.
Once the contents of the ruling were published, a massive demonstration was called by Omnium Cultural, an organisation from the Catalan civil society that defends and promotes Catalan language and culture. The Catalanist political parties gave their public support to the demonstration and called for a massive attendance to reject a ruling that invalidates the level of self-government that the Catalans approved by referendum in 2006.
The President of the Catalan government, the PSC first secretary José Montilla, called for a massive response and also stated that ‘when there is an aggression, people must take the streets’. The Catalan President determination to fight back the ruling of the Constitutional Court on the Statute contrasts with the opinions of the Spanish PSOE leaders, which affirm that the ruling is fair and confirms that a 95% of the Statute is accord to the Constitution.
The Catalans, however, were not happy with the ruling and almost thirty-three years after their march claiming for a Statute of Autonomy, last Saturday the most repeated chant demanded independence. The organisers affirmed that one and a half million people demonstrated in Barcelona, civil society, political parties and individual citizens marching together to say that they had enough.
The unwillingness of recognising the existence of the Catalan nation made people to shout very loudly that ‘We are a nation. We decide’. The demonstration showed that Catalanism is united in rejecting the sentence. But after the demonstration, what will happen? As Omnium Cultural’s President, Muriel Casals, stated: ‘Civil society has done its task. Now it’s the turn of politicians’. With Catalan elections being held next autumn, it is not clear if the Catalanist parties will maintain this slight unity. They have many diverse constitutional projects, from the outward claim for independence of the ERC to the strategy proposed so far by the PSC to use all the legal mechanisms available to recover what the ruling has invalidated from the Statute.
In any case, the mood among Catalans seems to have changed somewhat, and the ruling just confirmed that the Catalans, their nation, and the self-government they voted for do not have room within the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation. The Catalan civil society has made a move, if the political parties do not follow it; there may be surprises in next autumn election.
A crowd of demonstrators in Barcelona’s Passeig de Gràcia
Catalan flags and banners with different mottos were carried by the demonstrators
A banner demanding independence
From left to right: Former Catalan Presidents Pasqual Maragall (2003-2006) and Jordi Pujol (1980-2003); Catalan President José Montilla (2006-); Speaker of the Catalan Parliament Ernest Benach (2003-); and former Speakers of the Catalan Parliament Heribert Barrera (1980-1984) and Joan Rigol (1999-2003)
More than 1 million people rallied against the ruling of the Spanish Constitutional Court
Here you may find some reports on the demonstration:
Catalans march to assert nationhood
1.1. million people rally in Barcelona in favour of greater Catalan autonomy within Spain
Catalan protesters rally for greater autonomy in Spain
Click here to watch a short video of the demonstration.
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