The Origins of the Generalitat
The Generalitat de Catalunya is Catalonia’s current official government body but has its roots in the Diputació del General del Principat de Catalunya created by Pere the Ceremonious in 1359.
In fact, the origins of the Generalitat go back even further to the Corts Catalanes during the reign of Jaume I (1208-1276), which were meetings in which the king negotiated policy with the ‘three branches’ of the nobility, clergy and merchant classes in the towns.
Under Pere II the Gran (1276-1285), the Corts Reials Catalanes became institutionalised and the three branches began to meet every year under the name of the General Cort or lo General de Cathalunya.
In 1289, at the Corts held in Montsió a temporary commission known as the Diputació del General was created to collect a tax conceded to King Pere by the three branches.
This tax became known popularly as the Drets de General or generalitats and in time the term Generalitat began to used as a substitute for the official name of Diputació del General.
In fact, the term was exported to France where les Généralités were created as tax districts.
The Founding of the Institution
After the outbreak of the War of the Two Peters in 1356 against Pedro I of Castile, Pere the Ceremonious’ military commitments became a financial problem for the Crown of Aragon as the king also had to mobilise troops to protect the crowns’s possessions in the Mediterranean, especially Sardinia, as well as defend Catalonia from attacks by mercenaries from over the border in France.
The constant threat of war also meant that many towns’ defensive walls either had to be strengthened or even built from scratch and, furthermore, the modern military tactics of the second half of the 14th century demanded more equipment and also the increased use of artillery was an additional expense.
This meant that the Crown of Aragon could no longer raise enough money by taxing its own possessions but had to introduce new taxes throughout the whole realm.
However, the constitutionalist system of government prevalent in the Crown of Aragon impeded Pere the Ceremonious from being able to impose new taxes without the permission of the Corts or Parlamentum that had been established in each of the territories of the Crown of Aragon by Pere the Great a century earlier.
In the case of Catalonia, the Corts Generals de Catalunya were opened in Barcelona in 1358, continued in Vilafranca del Penedès and closed in Cervera in 1359, where finally an important donation was agreed to help the king defend Aragon and Valencia from the Castilian attacks.
On November 19th 1359, twelve deputies, four from each branch, along with respective auditors, were designated to collect the taxes through the Diputació del General del Principat de Catalunya.
Given the need to collect taxes on a regular basis and also the necessity to manage the royal public debt without the intervention of the king, this commission soon became permanent under the authority of the ecclesiastic deputy, who became known as the President of the Generalitat and the first person to occupy this position was Berenguer de Cruïlles, Bishop of Girona.
Consolidation and Conflict
During to the interregnum of 1410 to 1412 caused by the death of Martí the Humane without heir, the power of the Generalitat increasing considerably.
In 1413, the new king Ferran I was obliged to accept a reform that gave more authority to the Generalitat and allowed it to name and elect deputies without royal authorisation and consequently, the Generalitat began to acquire more political powers.
In this way, Catalonia developed a political system based on the Corts or Parlamentum, which created new legislation as a result of agreements between the king and the people, whilst the Diputació del General de Catalunya, which was designated by the Parlamentum, exercised executive power over economic and political decisions.
In addition to its economic and administrative functions, the Generalitat also enacted decisions agreed upon by the Corts Catalanes and the king, guaranteed that the Catalan Constitutions were respected by the king and his officials and made public the decisions reached by the Corts.
To avoid nepotism, in 1455, the Corts introduced a proto-democratic system known as insaculació, in which the names of the candidates to the Generalitat were put into a sack and drawn out at random.
The growing power of the Generalitat, with increased political, legal and military jurisdiction, culminated in the Catalan Civil War (1462-1472) which pitched the institution against King Joan II of Aragon of the Castilian Trastámara dynasty.
At the end of the war, the king recognised the existence of the Diputació del General and from this point onwards the Generalitat was firmly established.
In 1640, the institution’s position was challenged once again by Count-Duke Olivares, who tried to impose a Union of Arms on Catalonia, which included both the conscription of soldiers and the imposition of taxes.
This led to the incumbent President of the Generalitat, Pau Claris, declaring the Republic of Catalonia and the Reapers’ War ensued, during which time Catalonia became a protectorate of France.
Defeat in the war in 1652 not only led to severe restrictions in the powers of the Generalitat but also, in the Peace of the Pyrenees in 1659, the Crown of Castile gave most of North Catalonia (Rosselló and parts of Cerdanya) to France.
The First Abolition
During the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714), the Generalitat occupied a secondary role as it was the Junta de Braços that had sided with Archduke Charles of Austria against Felipe V.
Even so, following defeat in 1714, in violation of the Catalan Constitutions, the Generalitat was abolished and the Decrees of the Nueva Planta were imposed.
During the wars against Napoleon, known in Catalonia as La Guerra del Francès, from 1808 to 1812, Catalonia was self-governed by the Junta Superior de Govern del Principat de Catalunya and the Reial Audiència de Barcelona was named the supreme legislative body.
The Junta Superior de Govern also named the Captain-General of Catalonia and imposed taxes in order to finance the war against the French and so adopted many functions of the Generalitat, abolished a century earlier.
The Junta Superior de Govern was abolished by the Corts of Cadiz in 1812 and replaced by the Diputació Provincial de Catalunya, although in practice Catalonia was still under French occupation.
In 1820, during the Liberal Triennial, there were calls for the restoration of the Diputació Provincial de Catalunya but following the death of Fernando VII in 1833, there was a restructuration of local government and the historic territory of Catalonia was divided into the four provinces of Barcelona, Tarragona, Girona and Lleida.
The Carlist Restoration
In 1872, the pretender to the Spanish throne, Carlos VII, led an uprising that was particularly powerful in the Basque Country and Catalonia, where he promised the restoration of the traditional charters and institutions.
The Catalan troops, under the command of General Rafael Tristany captured Vic, Manresa and Olot, giving them control of a large part of interior Catalonia.
The first symbolic act was the swearing of the Catalan charters and on October 1st 1874, the Diputació General de Catalunya was restored with Rafael Tristany sworn in as first President of the Generalitat.
The institution was based in Sant Joan de les Abadesses from where the Boletín Oficial del Principado de Cataluña was published until March 1875.
In the decree of the constitution of the Diputació General de Catalunya signed by Carlos VII at Estella-Lizarra, it was clear that the intention was to return to Catalonia, the laws, charters and institutions abolished in 1714.
According to historian Jaume Grau, “the restoration returned to Catalonia Taxes, Justice, Municipal Government, Police, Army, Education and Civil Service, a collection of powers that Catalonia still has not recovered today. Nobody can deny that one of the motivations of the Carlists was the recovery of the freedoms lost in 1714.”
The restored Generalitat lasted until 1876, when after the battle of Montejurra, Carlos VI was forced into exile in France and Alfonso XII was proclaimed king.
The Mancomunitat of Catalonia
Between 1914 and 1925, the Mancomunitat or Commonwealth of Catalonia can be seen as both a successor to the original Generalitat and a precursor to the modern one.
As I mentioned earlier, in 1833 Spain had been reorganised into provinces, which were named after their capitals so in Catalonia this led to four separate government intstitions being created, the Diputació de Barcelona, Diputació de Girona, Diputació de Tarragona and Diputació de Lleida.
This was particularly unpopular in Catalonia as the diputacions had no connection between each other so the historic region had effectively been dismembered.
In 1911, a political process began to attempt to reunite the four Catalan provinces and, without giving them more power, allow them to share resources and despite central government opposition on April 6th 1914, the Mancomunitat de Catalunya was created.
The Mancomunitat brought together the 96 Catalans provincial deputies in the Spanish Cortes along with a Council formed by 8 ministers and a President.
The first two presidents Enric Prat de la Riba (1914-1917) and Josep Puig i Cadafalch (1917-1923) were both members of the conservative Catalanist party, the Lliga Regionalista, and many important infrastractures in Roads and Ports, Hydraulic Projects, Railways, Telephones, Welfare and Health were created during their respective governments.
During this period the Biblioteca de Catalunya, Escola Industrial, Escola Superior de Belles Arts, Escola Superior d’Alts Estudis Comercials, Escola de Bibliotecàries, Escola Superior d’Agricultura and Escola del Treball were all founded and with the support of the Institut d’Estudis Catalans, Pompeu Fabra began his normalisation of the Catalan language with the publication of Normes ortogràfiques (1913), la Gramàtica catalana (1918) and Diccionari general de la llengua catalana, which didn’t see the light of day until 1932.
This was due to the military dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera which began in 1923 and first imposed Alfons Sala as right-wing President of the Mancomunitat before abolishing the institution completely in 1925.
The Republican Generalitat
By 1931, the Bourbon monarchy had lost all credibility and at the Pact of San Sebastian, the republican parties began to prepare the way for the abolition of the monarchy, the declaration of the Spanish Republic and the recognition of the autonomy of Catalonia.
After the municipal elections of April 12th 1931, which led to King Alfonso XIII leaving the country, Francesc Macià, leader of Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya and winner of the elections, declared “the Catalan Republic as a State within the Iberian Federation”.
This declaration worried the provisional government of the Second Republic in Madrid, who sent ministers Fernando de los Ríos, Marcelino Domingo and Lluís Nicolau d’Olwer to Barcelona on April 18th.
After tense conversations, Macià backed down in return for the resoration of the Generalitat de Catalunya, which would be presided by Macià himself and a provisional government (1931-32) a provisional assembly of representatives from the municipalities and commissioners who would take the roles of the suppressed Diputacions of Barcelona, Girona, Tarragona and Lleida and the seat of government would be the Palau de la Generalitat in Plaça de Sant Jaume n Barcelona.
The Catalan deputies drafted a Catalan Statute of Autonomy, the Estatut de Núria, which passed by referendum on August 2nd 1931 and modified and approved by the Spanish Parliament on September 12th 1932.
On November 20th 1932, elections to the Parliament of Catalonia were held and Francesc Macià was ratified as President of the Generalitat and Lluís Companys as President of the Parliament of Catalonia.
On December 25th 1933, Francesc Macià died and the Parliament of Catalonia nominated Lluís Companys as his successor whilst Joan Casanovas i Maristany was President of the Parliament until 1938 when he was replaced by Josep Irla i Bosch.
The Estatut Interior de Catalunya of May 25th 1933 had defined the autonomic institutions and the relationship between them in terms of an Executive Council, headed by the President and formed by ministers from the respective departments.
The transfer of police powers meant that the figure of the civil governor could be replaced by a Junta de Seguretat de Catalunya and a Tribunal de Cassació with juridiction over civil and autonomic matters.
On October 6th 1934, in response to the entrance of the right-wing CEDA into Spanish government, Lluís Companys unilaterally declared “the Catalan State of the Spanish Federal Republic” but the insurrection was put down on the same day and Companys was imprisoned.
Between October 1934 and February 1936, the Catalan Statute of Autonomy was suspended by the right-wing government in Madrid and the presidency of the Generalitat was occupied by a series of civil governors.
With the victory of the Popular Front in the elections, the suspension was lifted on February 16th 1934 and Lluís Companys was released and returned as President of the Generalitat.
The Generalitat governed Catalonia under Companys throughout the Spanish Civil War, which started on July 18th 1936 but following General Franco’s victory in 1939, it was abolished once again along with all Catalan institutions.
In 1940, President Lluís Companys was captured by the Gestapo in France and on his return was executed by firing squad at the castle of Montjuïc in Barcelona.
Following Companys death, Josep Irla, President of the Parliament throughout the Civil War, became President of the Generalitat in exile and was replaced by Josep Tarradellas in 1954.
The Modern Restoration
On September 29th Franco’s decree abolishing the Catalan institutions was repealed and a provisional government of the Generalitat was restored with Josep Tarradellas being named President on October 17th, more than a year prior to the passing of the Spanish Constitution in December 1978.
From 1977 to 1978, Tarradellas formed a government of concentration made up of twelve ministers in order to draw up the new Catalan Statute of Autonomy, which was passed by referendum in November 1979.
On March 20th 1980, elections to the Parliament of Catalonia were held and Parliament was constituted for the first time in over 40 years on April 10th 1980.
The first elected President of the contempoary Generalitat was Jordi Pujol, who occupied the position for 23 years until 2003.
Other presidents have been Pasqual Maragall (2003-2006) and José Montilla (2006-2010) and the position has been occupied by Artur Mas since 2010.
The Generalitat Today
According to the current Statute of Catalonia, the Generalitat of Catalonia is the institutional system on which the government of Catalonia is based. It consists of the following elements:
- Parliament of Catalonia
- President of the Generalitat
- The Government or Executive Council
- Consell de Garanties Estatutàries – Council of Statutory Guarantees
- Síndic de Greuges – Ombudsman
- Sindicatura de Comptes – Public Audit Office
- Consell de l’Audiovisual de Catalunya – Audiovisual Council of Catalonia
- Comissió Jurídica Assessora – Commission of Legal Assessment
- Various Delegations Representing the Generalitat Abroad