The Drafting and Passing of the Statute of Sau

September 1978 to October 1979

The Statute of Sau was drawn up betwen September 1978 and October 1979 by a group of Catalan deputies and senators known as the Commission of Twenty and was the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia until 2006.

Given the state of Spain in the post-Franco period, the process was not without its difficulties and it was always implicitly understood that Catalan autonomy would be increased once democracy was fully established.

The failure to do this is at the core of the current problems that Catalonia has with Spain and have led many Catalans to call for independence.


The Commission of Twenty

Just as he had done in 1977, after the general elections of March 1979, Adolfo Suárez decided to form a minority government that called on occasional agreements with the different political forces, particularly the Andalusian party and the other regionalists, in order to get laws through the Cortes. Suárez avoided the investiture debate, which was a testimony to his fear of acting before Congress.

The most urgent question was to do with the autonomies, as the Basques and the Catalans demanded an immediate processing of their respective statutes of Guernica and Sau.

In fact, in the spring of 1978 some of the Catalan politicians in Madrid had already begun saying that a Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia should start to be drafted so that it could be presented to Congress immediately after the passing of the new Spanish Constitution had come into effect. As is often the case, the Catalans were competing with the Basques to be the first to present their draft Statute because they felt that if the Basques managed to reach an agreement with the State before them, the approval of the Catalan proposal might be delayed.

On July 3rd 1978, the group of Catalan parliamentarians who backed the Statute project met in the Saló de Cent of Barcelona city council and, out of this meeting, the Commission of Twenty was born. The Commission of Twenty was made up of Catalan deputies and senators, who had all been elected to the Cortes in Madrid in June 1977 and would be responsible for drawing up the Catalan Statute.

Its members were Macià Alavedra (CDC), Miquel Roca Junyent (CDC), Laureano López Rodó (AP), Eduardo Martín Toval (PSC), Josep Andreu Abelló (PSC), Josep Maria Triginer i Fernández (PSC), Josep Benet (independent for PSUC), Felip Solé Sabarís (PSC), Jaume Sobrequés (Independent for PSC), Josep Subirats (PSC), Josep Sendra i Navarro (CDC), Jordi Solé Tura (PSUC), Josep Solé Barberà (PSUC), Dolors Calvet i Puig (PSUC), Josep Verde Aldea (PSC), Marcel·lí Moreta (UCD), Anton Cañellas (CC-UCD), Joaquim Arana (ERC), Manuel de Sárraga Gómez (UCD) and Carles Güell de Sentmenat (CC-UCD).

It's worth noting that amongst the group were three politicians who had participated actively in the drafting of the Constitution: Miquel Roca i Junyent for Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya, the communist Jordi Solé Tura for PSUC and the Spanish socialist Eduardo Martín Toval for PSC. Their objective was to guarantee that the statutory project adapted as well as possible to political and legal framework established by the Constitution.

The Commission of Twenty met for the first time on August 1st in the Saló de Cròniques of Barcelona City Council, because according to Jordi Pujol in the first volume of his memoirs, President of the Generalitat, Josep Tarradellas didn't only stay away from the drafting of the law but, in Pujol's words, "he manifestly boycotted it when he refused allow them to use a room in the Palau de la Generalitat". The president's attitude obliged the group that was drafting the statute to meet at the city council building on the other side of Plaça de Sant Jaume.

Even though the Generalitat finally assumed the costs of drawing up the Statute, which were 1,136,800 pessetes, Pujol says that Tarradellas stayed away from Catalonia's most important law because "he had little faith that things would come out well", and affirms that "In fact, he didn't want it to go ahead so that he could maintain his position of political privilege."

Pitched against Tarradellas presumed desire to slow down the process, Pujol and others wanted to push it forward as quickly as possible with the aim, as Pujol says himself, of establishing "the basis of Catalonia's fit with Spain". Jordi Pujol was convinced that, if more time was taken, "the centralist and anti-autonomist tics would come back and we'd end up getting stuck". Fortunately, Convergència's desire to push forward was shared by PSC and PSUC, who held the political majority in Catalonia at the time.

The Commission of Twenty began the task of drawing up the draft on September 8th 1978 and the bulk first draft was elaborated at meetings held outside Barcelona between September 12th and 15th. The group met at the Parador de Turisme in the town of Vilanova de Sau, overlooking Sau Reservoir, for this reason it is known as the Statute of Sau, just like the 1932 Statute of Núria had been named after the town where it was drafted before it. The group met again in Barcelona on September 26th and October 17th to add the finishing touches.

The process was badly affected because content of the articles was repeatedly leaked to press and because was being drafted in parallel to the Spanish Constitution. Even though the Commission of Twenty denied the veracity of the content that appeared in the press, what appeared in El País on October 21st was almost exactly the same as the content drafted in Sau and Barcelona.

The leaks were attributed to somebody from Madrid and were interpreted as an anti-autonomic manoeuvre. Given that the Spanish Constitution hadn't been approved yet, it was feared that the leaks might influence the final draft of the Magna Carta and so restrict the Catalan demands.

Approving the Catalan Statute

On October 28th the drafting of the Spanish Constitution was considered complete. It appeared that there was now no chance of underhand tactics and the group went back to work at Sau between November 3rd and 5th 1978. On December 29th 1978, the draft was finally approved by the Assembly of Parliamentarians, which was an unofficial body comprising all the Catalan deputies and senators but was the closest thing that the Catalan people had to democratic representation at the time.

The vote was presided by Josep Tarradellas and with 58 votes in favour, none against and the abstention of Lluís Maria Xirinacs, the draft was sent to the Spanish Cortes in Madrid that same evening so that it could be processed as a bill. The time limit for handing the draft of the Statute into the Cortes was midnight because, following the passing of the Spanish Constititution at referendum on December 7th, Adolfo Suárez had called new elections and the Spanish Parliament was about to be dissolved.

Whilst the Catalans had taken their time over the Statute, the Basques had managed to get Suárez to agree to their economic concert and presented their projected Statute to the Cortes a few hours before the Catalans. The calling of Spanish elections delayed both processes equally but as time has told, the Catalans decision not to push for economic privileges and the right to collect taxes, as the Basques had done, would cost them dearly.

The general elections of March 1979 confirmed the results of 1977 with UCD winning without an absolute majority and PSOE continuing as the main opposition party. The future approval of the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia conditioned the elections in the Principality and all the parties claimed they would defend to Statute of Sau to the hilt. The socialists said that they were the only party strong enough in Spain to guarantee that the text approved in Madrid would be the same as what had left Catalonia, whilst Convergència claimed it will get the Statute through the Cortes as quickly as possible without cuts. This was very similar to the positions adopted by PSC and Convergència during the ill-fated reform of the Statute in 2006.

Meanwhile, UCD made it clear that they were unhappy with some of the articles and would make some amendments in Congress. The Catalans' desire to base future electoral circumscriptions on the traditional Catalan vegueries rather than than Spanish system of provinces was a particular bone of contention. At the same time, ERC demanded support from the voters in order to introduce a series of amendments to the Constitutional Commission that would guarantee the protection of the Catalan language and the process of electing Catalan parliamentarians, amongst other things.

During April, despite remonstrations to the contrary, the Catalan politicians suspected that Madrid would try to delay the approval of the Statute. On April 3rd 1979 the first municipal elections since the Civil War were held. In Catalonia the victory went to PSC and PSUC and to a lesser extent to CDC, which resulted in the three-way "pacts for progress" in the early years of the municipal mandate. As a result of their victory in the municipal elections, the Catalan parties felt strong and promoted citizen mobilisations such as the one on the Day of Sant Jordi on April 23rd 1979 to demand the Statute and put Madrid under pressure.

Finally on April 27th, the Constitutional Commission was constituted in the Spanish Cortes. It was made up of 17 UCD deputies, 9 from PSOE, 2 from PSC, 2 communists, a Basque socialist, one from CiU, one from PNB, one from CD and from the mixed group. The right-wing members would do all they could to delay approving the Statute, arguing that they couldn't approve both the Basque and Catalan Statutes at the same time and that the Cortes' priority was to pass other organic laws, including the law of the Constitutional Court. Madrid would be helped by the attitude of President Tarradellas, who the Catalan deputies would later accuse of lacking firmness throughout the process.

On June 12th 1979 the BOE of the Bill for the Statute of Catalonia was published and UCD interposed 59 amendments against it, which affected three quarters of the text. The objective of the Spanish centre right was clear. They wanted to restrict Catalan autonomy as much as possible. Similarly, PSOE showed little support for the Catalan demands. The Spanish socialists were only concerned that the Statute respected the Constitution and that the level of autonomy that was granted was compatible with solidarity with the other peoples of Spain.

PSC, PSUC and CDC weren't prepared to cede. The difference in positions would result in multiple meetings between Suárez and his closest collaborators and the Catalan representatives in marathon sessions of afternoon, evening and night, which were designed to put the Catalans under pressure. Finally, on August 13th 1979, the mixed Constitutional Commission and the Delegation of the Assembly of Parliamentarians of Catalonia approved the text almost unanimously. The Catalan representatives left reasonably content, possibly because they had lost less than they had expected.

On October 25th 1979, the Catalan people ratified at referendum the text of the Statute of Autonomy that had been passed by the Spanish Cortes. The participation was 60.5%of the the electorate, with 88.1% of the votes in favour, 7.8% against, 3.5% in blank and 0.5% null.  

The same text was then approved in plenary sessions of the the Congress of Deputies on November 29th and the Senate on December 12th and sanctioned and issued by King Juan Carlos I on December 18th.

In March 1980, the first elections to the Basque and Catalan parliaments were held. PNV won in the Basque Country with Carlos Garaikoetxea becoming the new lehendekari and  Convergència won in Catalonia with Jordi Pujol becoming the new president of the Generalitat.

The passing of the Basque and Catalan Statutes, and the discussion surrounding the Galician one, increased the hopes of many regions of achieving autonomy by the quick route of Article 151 of the Constitution and so achieving the highest level of competences possible from the start and of having their own Parliament and Court of Justice. By the slow route of Article 143, this would only happen after five years of autonomy. Faced with the likelihood of a "carrousel" of autonomic referendums the government decided to rationalise the process.

The problem came in Andalucía, where the first steps established in Article 151 had already been taken so the government felt obliged to call an autonomic referendum, whilst recommending that the voters abstain, which provoked the resignation of the Minister of Culture, the Andalusian Manuel Clavero Arévalo. PSOE and the Andalucians of PSA, however, campaigned in favour of the YES, which was a disaster for the government and UCD. The beneficiary was PSOE who from then on became the dominant party in Andalucía.

The result was the diluting of the rightful claims to historic nationality of the Basques and Catalans in what became known as café para todos or coffee for everybody.

Catalan Autonomy Defined

Although the great failure of the Statute of Sau was that the Commission of Twenty did not press for Catalonia's right to collect its own taxes, as the Basque negotiators did, it did define Catalonia's position within the fledgling Spanish democracy.

The 1979 Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia defined Catalonia as a nationality and that in order to have self-government would be constituted as an autonomous community. The Generalitat of Catalonia would be the institution that organised self-government politically. It established that the Generalitat would comprise of the Parliament, the president of the Generalitat and the Executive Council or government.

The Parliament of Catalonia, which is elected for a period of four years for universal suffrage and in agreement with the system of proportional representation, represents the people of Catalonia. It is Catalonia's legislative power and approves budgets as well as promoting and controlling the political action and the government.

The president of the Generalitat is elected by Parliament from amongst its members and is appointed by the King. It is the president who directs and coordinates the action of the Executive Council or Government and is the highest representative of the Generalitat and of the State in Catalonia.

The Executive Council or Government is the collegiate organ of government with executive and administrative functions.

The Statute defined the exclusive competences of the Generalitat as well as those shared with the State, which fixes the basic directives, so the Generalitat is mainly responsible for the execution of State legislation in various areas. However, given that the whole Spanish political system was going through a process of transition, the Statute of Sau anticipated the transfer or delegation of competences that hadn't yet been assumed by the Statute itself.

In order that the Statute would be put into practice effectively, the Consell Consultiu or Consultative Council was created as part of the Generalitat. This body was responsible for ruling whether or not to present appeals of unconstitutionality to the Constitutional Court.

The Statute also determined that Catalan is, along with Castilian Spanish, the co-official language of Catalonia, and that it is the Generalitat's responsibility to guarantee the normal and official use of both languages and take measures to ensure their learning and create the necessary conditions that allow their full equality as rights and obligations of the citizens of Catalonia.

An important falure, though, was that, unlike Castilian, knowledge of the Catalan language was not established as an obligation of all citizens of Catalonia. This has led to the imbalance between the two languages and has led to many disputes with Madrid over the last 35 years. It also disposed that Aranès had to be taught and teated with special respect and protection

As far as territorial organisation is concerned, the Generalitat should structure its territory in municipalities and comarcas. It could create supracomarcal demarcations, such as vegueries, as long as it maintained the organisation of the province as local body and territorial division when it came activities of the state, such elections.

At the same time, the Statute of Sau established that Catalan law is applicable on Catalan territory preferably before any other law, although as the frequent disagreements with the Spanish Constitutional Court have shown, it is ultimately subordinate to the Spanish Constitution and laws. Although in theory the jurisdictional organ in which the judicial organisation culminates in Catalonia is the Tribunal Superior de Justícia de Catalunya, in reality the TSJC is dependent on the Spanish Consejo de Poder Judicial.

It also established that the Generalitat can establish cooperation agreements with other autonomous communities as well as its own press, radio and television. The Generalitat could also create and maintain an autonomous police force, which it did in 1983, although the Mossos d'Esquadra didn't become Catalonia's main security force until 2000.

Dissatisfaction with aspects of the Statute of Sau led to the drawing up of a new Statute of Autonomy, which was passed by the Parliament of Catalonia, the Spanish Cortes and at referendum in 2006. However, a ruling by the Spanish Constitutional Court in 2010 limited many of its competences so in many respects Catalonia currently has a lower level of autonomy than it did in 1979.

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