The Spanish Constitution needs to adapt because of the serious political crisis gripping the country, to reinforce and re-legitimize its institutions and its basic rules of democratic coexistence.

The Spanish model of territorial administration, known as the “State of Autonomies”, is a system which shares some elements with federalism: the autonomous communities have parliaments with legislative powers as well as their own governments and they possess a series of competencies particularly with regard to social policy, such as in the areas of health, education, culture, environment and certain transportation infrastructures.

Spain is not a fully federal model for the following reasons: the Statutes of the communities (constitutions) have to be approved by the General Courts (Congress and Senate) before being subjected to a referendum in the corresponding communities; the communities are not fully guaranteed their own competency frameworks as the State government has the capacity to impose its policies despite the fact that they might be in the sphere of the competencies of the communities; the finance system is controlled by the central State, with little shared fiscal responsibility with the communities; mechanisms for cooperation between the communities are practically non-existent and those between the communities and the State are very weak; the second legislative chamber, the Senate, does not directly represent the communities.  

The principal failing of the Spanish system is the lack of appreciation and generosity that the central State demonstrates towards the national minorities that make up the State. The Catalan, Basque or Galician languages, for example, do not receive the same consideration as Castilian Spanish; they are co-official languages in their respective territories but they do not enjoy the same support and protection as the majority language, despite having endured marginalisation and persecution at the hands of the State throughout history.

Another example is the systematic violation of the competencies of the autonomous regions on the part of the State government, to the point that it genuinely becomes a process of recentralisation and a hollowing out of autonomous competencies.

The Constitution of 1978 was the result of a series of complex balancing acts as well as of the pressures against the recognition of the territorial diversity of Spain exerted by Francoist interest groups, such as the army.

The Constitution recognises the existence of distinct nationalities and regions but, at the same time, notes the “indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation, the common and indivisible homeland of all Spaniards”. Such language reflects the worst of Spanish nationalism. It establishes the right of the nationalities and regions to their own autonomy but maintains the central State’s own territorial division: the province.

The Constitution did not establish a closed state model but rather allowed for diverse possibilities for the development of the territorial model—which was originally devised as a means of assuaging the demands of the Catalonians and the Basques for self-governance. The aspirations of the Catalonians and the Basques were not wholly realised but, on the other hand, what privileges were gained were generalised throughout the Spanish state. 

No solution will emerge until constitutional reforms are made that will, amongst other things, recognise the plurinational and plurilinguistic character of the State—Spain is not one nation with divergent traits but rather a plurinational State or, a nation of nations. It is necessary to recognise the right of the different elements which make up the State to decide their own future, for example through a basic, democratic guarantee of a new agreement with the State. The competencies of the communities must be preserved from interference from the State government. A fairer and more balanced financing system is crucial; currently the communities which are strongest economically, headed by Catalonia, are those which contribute a greater proportion to the State than the richest states in any other country. It is also necessary to regulate the participation of the communities or member states in the decisions of the State and in European politics.

Possible Changes

Constitutional reform can be considered, without any doubt, the foremost subject for the Spanish democracy. There are two reforms that are completely unavoidable. In the first place, an explicit reference to the fact that Spain is part of the political organization of the the European Union and, in the second place, the reform of Title VIII devoted to the Spanish Autonomous State which, at the same time, would have an impact upon the powers and responsibilities of the Senate. The latter question -i.e. the amendment of the territorial distribution of power- is probably the most intrincate one, yet absolutely necessary.

Spain should expand the current "state of the autonomous regions" which grants significant powers to regional governments, albeit in a vague and, some say, insufficient way. The reformed Constitution would clearly specify the powers that are devolved to the regions, and it would acknowledge the "singularities" of certain territories (chiefly Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia, which all have their own languages). This would be a way out of the tense situation created by Catalan nationalists' pro-independence drive, effectively increasing that region's powers while falling short of outright secession from Spain. The new structure would define which powers fall to the central government and to the regions and municipalities.

Reform is not an aim per se, but an instrument to tackle the changes in society. But, the question is:

  1. Does Spain know what it really wants t?
  2. Does Spain want to keep on deepening the political decentralization?
  3. Does Spain want a Federal state?
  4. Does Spain want a Confederal structure?
  5. Does Spain want a symmetric or an asymmetric model?

Agreeing on these major questions and excluding any sort of ideological sectarianism constitutes the greatest challenge for Spanish current political actors.


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