The Drafting of the Estatut d'Autonomia de Catalunya


The genesis of the current democratic disconnection between Catalonia and Spain goes back to the attempt to reform Catalonia's Statute of Autonomy, commonly known as the Estatut, over a decade ago.

For various reasons the agreed texts of Spanish Constitution of 1978 and the creation of the Autonomous Communities a year later fell short of what many people had hoped for. After 36 years in power, the military and the far right, who had run the country until Franco's death in 1975, were unwilling to give up power and an overly liberal constitution or the cession of too much power to the traditional nations, particularly Catalonia, could have provoked a reaction. The memory of the Spanish Civil War was still very much alive.

Even so, on February 23rd 1981, there was an attempted military coup in which a group of gun-toting civil guards took over the Spanish Congress in Madrid and held politicians hostage for 24 hours. Tanks rolled over the streets of Valencia in the early hours of the following morning before the insurrection was put down.

Spain's transition to democracy was often touch and go so it wasn't surprising that many of Catalonia's long-standing demands were put to one side until the time was right.


That time came with the start of the new millennium, when change seemed imminent in Catalan politics. The President of the Generalitat since 1980 and leader of the right-wing Catalanist Convergència i Unió (CiU) coalition, Jordi Pujol, announced that he would not be standing for the presidency again and began ceding power to the party's chosen candidate, Artur Mas.

Two of the main opposition parties, Partit dels Socialistes de Catalunya (PSC), led by Pasqual Maragall, and Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC), led by Josep Lluís Carod-Rovira, included a reform of the Estatut in their electoral programme. Even CiU, who under Pujol hadn't wanted to rock the boat due to the party's history of pacts with the Partido Popular in Madrid, came on board and proposed a more moderate series of reforms.

Although CiU won most seats in the elections to the Parliament of Catalonia of 2003, they didn't win an absolute majority and Artur Mas was unable to form a government. PSC and ERC came to an agreement with Iniciativa de Catalunya-Verds (ICV) in what was known as the Tinell Agreement, more specifically the Acord per un govern catalanista i d'esquerres or Agreement for a left-wing Catalanist government, in December 2003 and Pasqual Maragall was invested as President and Carod-Rovira as Conseller en Cap or First Minister in what was known as the Tripartit, a three-party coalition.

In his investiture speech, Pasqual Maragall stated:

"The Estatut we want is a renewal of the pact between all the peoples of Spain [...] This new relationship with Spain can only developed under the title of union and freedom. The new Estatut must be Catalonia's proposal for Spain because the Estatut must be in agreement with a constitutional reform that cannot be postponed any longer [...]

Without wanting to condition the final result of the proposal for the improvement in self-government that might come from this House, I believe I am obliged to put forward some of the main points shared:  a constitutional recognition of the Generalitat as a State institution - not as a State itself, a redefinition of the extent of the competences of the Generalitat, the presence of the Generalitat in the European Union and international organisations, collaboration between the Generalitat and local government and improvement, obviously, of the autonomic finance system [...]

Catalonia wants a plural Spain that defends and promotes all its languages and cultures as an undeniable wealth ... What we want is what happens in Switzerland, where everyone in the country knows that it has four languages."

Once the new Government of the Generalitat had been constituted the Parliament of Catalonia began work on the reform, which centred on three main areas: Symbols and Representative Aspects, Judicial Power and Competences of the Generalitat, particularly with regard to the Finance System. Perhaps the most emblematic of the resolutions was to change the definition of Catalonia from ""nationality", as was described in the 1979, to "nation".

However, even before the draft was complete, questions were raised in Madrid. Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the PSOE President of Spain, who had unexpectedly come to power on March 14th 2004 mainly as a result of the previous government's involvement of Spain in the Iraq War and the Al Qaeda terrorist attack in Madrid just a day before the election, had included a promise to reform the Estatut in his electoral programme. Everybody thought that he had little chance of winning the election and for this reason the reform of the Estatut was a promise he hadn't expected to have to keep.

It was no surprise when, in an article called "A Certain Idea of Spain" published in ABC in February 2005, the Leader of the Opposition, Mariano Rajoy of the Partido Popular, expressed his opposition to the idea of Spain as "a plurinational, plurisovereign, federal or any kind of diminishing State". He went on to accuse Zapatero of being "dragged along" by "the wishes of those who don't want to know anything about Spain".

Things got more difficult for Zapatero when former President of Spain and legendary PSOE leader, Felipe González, joined the detractors. "Something as serious as Catalonia isn't invented," he said. "Catalonia is already invented and when it wants to build something solid, it should do so by respecting the foundations."

The position of the Catalan parties in favour of a new Estatut was concisely summed up by Joan Saura of ICV in an article entitled "What does Catalonia want?", which was published by El Pais in May 2005. "Our proposal isn't sovereignist or rupturist but rather completely constitutional and inspired by the federal philosophy and models.  We are talking about a project that attempts to deal with the historical problem of the relationship between Catalonia and Spain, and of the full acceptance of unity in the national, cultural and linguistic diversity of the State. [...] We propose a leap forward in self-government, an in-depth reform of the agreement between the State and the Generalitat, with rules that are more in accordance with the reality of a plural State. The great challenge is that Spain recognises itself as a plurinational reality."

The Catalan parties were broadly in agreement about many aspects of the new Estatut, but the precise nature of Catalonia's financial relationship with central government was a particular cause of dispute. After much negotiation Pasqual Maragall and Leader of the Opposition, Artur Mas, finally reached an agreement on a definitive text to be debated in the Parliament of Catalonia. The financial model would be similar to the economic concert, used by the Basque Country and Navarre, which would mean that Catalonia would collect its own taxes and the pay the State an agreed amount that included an extra quota that showed solidarity with the poorer regions of Spain. The two leaders also agreed that the Estatut would guarantee the laicism of the education system.

The proposed Estatut was ratified by the Catalan Parliament by 120 votes out of 135 in favour on September 30th 2005. Predictably, only the Catalan Partido Popular voted against.

The presentation of the document for debate in the Congress of the Deputies provoked a knee-jerk reaction in the rest of Spain. The General Council of the Judiciary, the Bank of Spain and the Catholic Church all spoke out as did many trades unions and employers' associations. The Partido Popular called for a referendum on the Estatut and began collecting signatures against the document even being discussed in Congress.

The tabling of the Estatut was accepted and the text began to be processed by the Constitutional Commission of Congress, which was presided by Alfonso Guerra of PSOE. As each of the Catalan parties still had different criteria, Manuela de Madre (PSC), Josep-Lluís Carod-Rovira (ERC) and Artur Mas (CiU) each presented their arguments separately.

During the commission it soon became clear which of Catalonia's pretensions provoked most reaction in Spain: the definition of Catalonia as a "nation", the obligation of knowing Catalan, which gave it the same status as Spanish in Catalonia, the creation of a Consell de Justicia de Catalunya or Judiciary Council of Catalonia, the new finance system and the protection of the competences of the Generalitat.

On December 3rd 2005, the Partido Popular called a massive demonstration in the Puerta del Sol in Madrid, which was attended by 200,000 people. Mariano Rajoy's speech was the high point of the event and his most applauded statements were "we are not part of a nation of nations" and "there is only one nation, the Spanish one", which were received with cries of "España! España!"

On January 21st 2006, the tension that the Estatut was provoking outside Catalonia caused the Federal Committee of PSOE to order its General Secretary and the President of Spain, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, to halt negotiations. However, that same afternoon, Zapatero met with Artur Mas, who after a marathon 6-hour meeting agreed to make some compromises. Firstly, the term "nation" would still be used in the preamble but, in Article 1, the term "nationality would be used. Secondly, Catalonia would forego the right to collect its own taxes in return for higher investment, and a guarantee that Catalonia wouldn't drop positions in the classification of Autonomous Communities according to per capita income as a result of its contributions to the Interterritorial Solidarity Fund.

This unilateral decision by Artur Mas badly affected relations with Esquerra Republicana, who insisted on the term nation being included in the articles and on taxes being collected by Catalonia. The Zapatero-Mas agreement smoothed the Estatut's progress through the Constitutional Commission and the debate in Congress finally took place in Congress on March 30th 2006. The resolution was passed with votes in favour from PSOE, CiU, ICV and other smaller parties and votes against from Partido Popular and Esquerra Republicana, obviously for very different reasons. On May 10th, the Estatut was approved by Senate with ERC abstaining this time.

On the following day, as a result of their opposition to the Estatut, Pasqual Maragall expelled the six Esquerra ministers from the government of the Generalitat. However, plans for a referendum on the Estatut went ahead. The referendum was held on June 18th 2006, and with a relatively poor turnout of around 50%, the Catalan people approved the Estatut with 73.9% of the votes in favour. The Estatut had been through both the Catalan and Spanish Parliaments and had been approved at referendum. It was now law.

The result was a Pyrrhic victory for Maragall, who almost immediately announced that he would not be standing again as President of the Generalitat in the elections to the Parliament of Catalonia that would be held in November.

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