The Estatut and the Independence Movement

from Catalonia Is Not Spain: A Historical Perspective by Simon Harris

Catalonia Is Not Spain: A Historical Perspective by Simon Harris

After Jordi Pujol retired in 2003, the Tripartit coalition came to power. It was time to rethink Catalonia's relationship with the state and a new Statute of Autonomy was drafted. Even before it was debated in Congress, the Partido Popular began an anti-Catalan hate campaign. After the Estatut became law in 2006, the party brought an appeal before the Constitutional Court. In 2010, the court finally made its ruling public and overturned most of the Estatut. A massive demonstration was staged in Barcelona and the modern independence movement was born.


Chapter 25: The Estatut and the Independence Movement

Jordi Pujol's retirement after 23 years as President of the Generalitat and a general dissatisfaction with the peix al cove  strategy meant CiU failed to win a majority in the Autonomic Elections of 2003. Although CiU were the most voted party, PSC were able to come to an agreement with the traditional Catalanist left-wing republicans Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) and the eco-communists Iniciativa per Catalunya-Verds (ICV). This three-party coalition between PSC, ERC and ICV was known as the Tripartit and former Mayor of Barcelona, Pasqual Maragall, became President of the Generalitat.

The new millenium was clearly a time of change. In the general debate in the Catalan Parliament in 2002 all parties except PP had come to the conclusion that a reform of the 1979 Statute was necessary. The party that was clearest about this was Esquerra Republicana.

Jordi Pujol had always argued that if the 1979 Statute was applied correctly without restrictions, Catalonia would find its place within democratic Spain but the new generation of CiU leaders realised that this would never happen, especially when PP were in power in Madrid.

Then, as now, the PSC were in favour of what they called asymmetric federalism. This would give greater powers to the Catalan and Basque governments and reduce the effect of café para todos. In a plurinational state such as Spain, clearly dominated by the Castilian language and culture, the minority nationalities need greater control over linguistic, cultural and educational policy in order to survive, develop and protect themselves from attacks from certain political tendencies. Unfortunately, neither of the main Spanish parties have ever understood this.

Tax Deficit

The other main problem facing Catalonia was the system of finance. Since as far back as the Reapers' War in the 1640s excessive taxation has always been a source of friction between Catalonia and central government.

Count-Duke Olivares overestimated the Catalan population to fund the Thirty Years War and in 1716 Felipe V introduced the special cadastre taxation system under the Nueva Planta Decree. In the 19th and 20th absolutist monarchs and dictators took advantage of revenues from Catalan industry without reinvesting in infrastructures. Modern Spain was no different.

Back in 1988, every Catalan paid an average of 377,000 pesetas in tax to central government but only received 267,000 pesetas back. This amounted to a tax deficit of 110,000 pesetas per person per year whilst other Spanish regions on average received a tax surplus of 47,000 pesetas a year.

The situation remained the same throughout the 1990s. A 2003 study showed that the city of Barcelona received more than 10 million euros less than it needed between 1991 and 2002. State investment per person per year was 83.39 euros in Barcelona compared with 176.48 euros in Madrid.

A similar study in 2002 estimated an annual tax deficit 6,800,000,000 euros a year, equivalent to around 8% of the Catalan GDP. This imbalance has remained consistent. Latest figures from 2011 show an annual deficit of 15,006,000 which is equal to 7.7% of the Catalan GDP. This makes Catalonia the most heavily taxed region in Europe.

Madrid has always tried to discredit any Catalan claims with respect to finance making out that Catalans are always complaining and asking for more. This fits nicely with clichés about Catalan meanness. However, adequate finances are the only way the Generalitat can secure an efficient welfare state and maintain social services, housing and infrastructures for the people of Catalonia.

The idea of solidarity with poorer regions is all very well but when these regions have more hospital beds per head or are able to provide children with free school books, Catalans feel hard done by. The fact that Catalonia has to fund its motorway construction by tolls due to lack of government investment has detrimental effects on the economy.

A drive round the outskirts first of Madrid and then of Barcelona makes it clear that there is a massive difference in the money spent on roads. It's even more galling that communities with a surplus, such as Extramadura or Galicia, have so much money left over that they are able to give handouts to their citizens. This is always a surefire election winner for their PP administrations.

In 2003, just as now, the tax deficit was a cause of friction between Catalonia and central government. The debate concluded that a system similar to the concert economic of the Basque Country and Navarre in which the Autonomous Government collects taxes and returns a stipulated amount to central government would solve the problem. In principle, such a change shouldn't require constitutional or statutory reforms but rather political will from central government and a recognition that the current system was inequitable.

Drafting the Estatut

After the Pact of Tinell, the 'Agreement for a Left-wing Catalanist Government' signed by the three Tripartit parties in December 2003, the process of reforming the 1979 Statute of Autonomy was given the green light. Popularly known as the Estatut, a draft of the new Catalan Statute was finally passed by the Catalan Parliament in September 2005 after much negotiation.

The most newsworthy addition to the new Estatut was the definition of Catalonia as a 'nation' rather than a 'nationality' as it was described in the Spanish Constitution. Another clause stipulated that Catalan should be on the same level as Castilian making it an obligatory rather than merely co-official language. The text defined the Generalitat as the ultimate arbiter in terms of civil law, language, culture, education and system of government and similarly, the Tribunal Superior de Justícia de Catalunya would be the supreme justice body in Catalonia.

The fiscal problem was also addressed by creating a Catalan Treasury that would have the capacity to collect taxes. Other articles redefined the concept of 'solidarity between territories' and guaranteed that the state's reinvestment in Catalonia would be proportionate to its population. Between 1991 and 2005, the Spanish state reinvested just 12% of taxes in Catalonia whilst the Catalan population made up 16.5% of Spain's population and the Catalan economy accounted for 18.8% of the country's GDP. This was not only unfair but also unsustainable.

The proposals would have no chance with the Partido Popular in government but in March 2004, PSOE's new leader, José Luís Rodríguez Zapatero had replaced José Maria Aznar as Spanish President. In November 2005, Artur Mas (CiU), Manuela de Madre (PSC) and Josep-Lluís Carod-Rovira (ERC) presented the Estatut proposal before Spanish Congress.

The Catalans' central argument was that the 1979 Statute was out of date. It had been passed in an atmosphere of tension when the Spanish parliament still included many Francoists. The threat of a coup d'état by the Bunker had never been never far away. The original Statute had never fulfilled Catalan aspirations. Thirty years later under a consolidated democracy, it was time for a rethink.

The PP Campaign

On the very same day as it was presented in Congress, Partido Popular brought an appeal against the Estatut before the Constitutional Court. The tribunal responded by saying that you cannot present an appeal against a proposal before it has become law. After a number of meetings between Artur Mas, José Luís Rodriguez Zapatero and representatives of other parties more than 50% of the articles had been modified. A much diluted Estatut was finally scheduled for debate in Congress.

The Spanish media unleashed an extraordinary anti-Catalan campaign even before the Estatut had been debated. Various organizations including the General Council of the Judiciary, the Bank of Spain and even the Catholic Church and Trades Unions all voiced their opposition. The Partido Popular called for a referendum in the whole of Spain on whether Catalonia should have a new Estatut or not. They also organised a boycott on Catalan goods and staged a demonstration in the Puerta del Sol in Madrid with 200,000 participants shouting 'Viva España!' It was clear that right-wing hatred for Catalonia was still as strong as it had been under Franco.

As President Zapatero said at the time, "I'm going to try to say this clearly: we aren't inventing a new Catalonia in any way. We are inventing a new Spain in which the old Catalonia, the old Castile, the old Basque Country and the old Andalusia will have an honourable place and where Madrid, which is already a top-level international capital, won't have to confuse itself with Spain as it had to until recently in order to be more than it was ... It's not a question of Catalanising Spain but rather to federalise Spain more openly."

Congress passed the proposed Estatut with PSOE, CiU, ICV and most other parties voting in favour. Partido Popular and Esquerra Republicana voted against for very different reasons.

ERC dissatisfaction with the watered down Estatut caused a crisis in the Tripartit, which led Pasqual Maragall to expel the 6 ERC councillors from the Catalan government. The Estatut was approved by referendum in Catalonia with 73.9% of a poor turnout voting in favour. It became law on August 9th 2006.

A few days later, Pasqual Maragall announced that he would not be standing again as President of the Generalitat. He would be succeeded by José Montilla at the head of a new Tripartit after the Autonomic Elections of November 2006.

The Consititutional Court

Before the Estatut had become law, the Partido Popular presented a 411-page appeal to the Constitutional Court attacking virtually every aspect of the document. The use of the word 'nation' to describe Catalonia was particularly upsetting to the party obsessed with 'the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation' of the 1978 Constitution. The appeal attacked the use of the Catalan language, the status of the Catalan judiciary and the Generalitat's jurisdiction over education and culture. The right of the Generalitat to have international diplomatic relations and the proposed changes to the finance system were also questioned.

The revised Estatut would leave Catalonia with no more, or perhaps even less, autonomy than the 1979 Statute. To add insult to injury, in a show of  indissoluble unity, the Spanish Ombudsman and the Autonomous Communities of Murcia, La Rioja, Aragón, Communitat Valenciana and Balearic Islands presented separate appeals of their own.

To be honest, I wasn't particularly interested in politics at the time and most of the controversy went over my head. I assumed that an Estatut that had been ratified both by Spanish Congress and a referendum in Catalonia was bound to be respected. Given the fact that so much of its content had been cut already, it seemed the perfect compromise. I heard rumblings of the Partido Popular attacks but if you live in Catalonia, most of the time you don't take much notice of what's happening in the rest of Spain.

As the process was taking so long, I thought nothing would come of it. I vaguely remember telling one of my Esquerra Republicana friends engaged in an anti-PP rant to stop being so paranoid. The football was on. There were more important things to consider. Or so I thought.

The Constitutional Court sentence was finally emitted on June 28th 2010. In a document that mentioned the 'indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation' no less than 14 times, the word 'nation' was allowed to remain in the Estatut's preamble but the Constitutional Court ruled that it had no 'legal usefulness' with regard to Catalonia. Not surprisingly, the Catalan language was not accepted as preferable in the administration nor obligatory in education unlike Castilian.

In total the Court declared 14 articles unconstitutional and specified a legal interpretation for the wording of another 10. Apart from language, proposals for the Catalan judiciary and powers for the Generalitat were curbed. Not surprisingly, everything regarding finances and territorial changes was either deemed unconstitutional or interpreted in such a way that the Generalitat was effectively straitjacketed.

The Way Forward

It's difficult to express the feelings I had when I woke up and read the news of the ruling in the papers the next day. I was dumbstruck. I knew about the anti-Catalan campaigns of the Partido Popular but had never taken them too seriously. I'd read enough history of both Catalonia and Spain to be able to reel off examples of Spanish governments oppressing Catalonia from Felipe V to Franco but I had the naïve belief that Spain was a modern European democracy with an objective judicial system. Franco and the Falange were a thing of the past. How wrong I was.

For me and many other citizens of Catalonia, the Constitutional Court ruling marked a change in the way we viewed Spain. The Estatut was sensible and moderate and would have done so much to placate Catalan aspirations. If it could be thrown out by a politically-motivated legal system then there was no hope of Catalonia ever being recognised by centralist Spain.

A demonstration with the slogan 'Som una nació. Nosaltres decidim' - 'We are a nation. We decide' was called for two weeks later. On July 10th 2010, I was amongst the crowd of more than a million people that thronged the streets of Barcelona. A movement had been born. Nobody was clear of how to go about it but the only way forward we could see was independence for Catalonia.

Now Read Chapter Two of Catalonia Is Not Spain - The Right To Decide

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