What can’t we do with the Statute?

The Statutes, the Spanish regional devolution laws, have been stripped of their content

I was listening to someone on a radio talk show who, in defending the need for a Statute, asked: "what do you want to do with independence that you can’t do with the Statute?". Immediately an avalanche of arguments came to me, which I’m going to outline below since it’s worth remembering what we want that can’t be achieved with a Statute.

The need to reform the Statute of Sau —passed in 1979— arose as a response to a decline in Catalan autonomy, in conjunction with the abuse of the Catalan government’s basic powers at the hands of successive Spanish governments. Wherever the Spanish Constitution granted exclusive powers to the autonomous communities, the state retained regulatory power in the last instance. The state has progressively and forcefully used these powers since the 1980s. In fact, it has stripped the autonomous communities of their powers by regulating everything it was possible to regulate. Regional governments were unable to decide almost anything of any significance. They had content themselves with simply paying their taxes. This explains why the debate surrounding the financing of the autonomous communities has become so heated: when one is unable to legislate, the only difference one can make to a service is the amount of money one can spend. The little actual politics that can be conducted —and the wisest— is limited to obtaining more funds. Whenever the autonomous communities —and the Catalan government in particular— have found ways to better manage their resources, the Spanish government has boycotted or torpedoed these solutions. In Catalonia, for example, it is customary for local administrations to collaborate through the creation of Consortiums. The PP has attacked and dismantled these consortiums. It has used ‘simplifying administrations’ as an excuse, the ‘economic crisis’ as an excuse and ‘efficiency’ as an excuse. These are all fake excuses. It has destroyed a system of cooperation between administrations that saved resources, which increased the number of possible initiatives (county-level hospitals, for example) and used to avoid administrative inflexibility.

With the Statute and the Constitution interpreted as they have been up to now, Spain’s autonomous communities are unable to decide their own policies

The regional ministers of Education and Health, for example, are well aware that they can hardly decide anything since everything is regulated by Madrid. There has recently been talk of suspending the "Wert decree" that raised the number of students in each class. This is the extent to which the state regulates education. It is the Spanish government that sets, at its choosing, the salaries of the employees in all the administrations —their major expense. Spain can hardly be called the most decentralized state in the world. This is why there was a desire to formulate a new Statute fifteen years ago in Catalonia. All attempts to protect the Catalan government’s powers as part of the Statute of Miravet were blown to smithereens following the Constitutional Court’s (CC) ruling of 2010. The CC, together with the majority of the PP and part of the PSOE, ceased to be arbitrators and proceeded to become active participants in the recentralization and homogenization of the state. They have been establishing homogenizing jurisprudence that totally runs counter to the letter and the spirit of the Constitution. Otherwise, how come those who supported the Constitution in 1978 are now pro-independence, and those who were against it are now constitutionalists? Quite simply, the Neo-Francoist, centralizing and uniformizing tendency has won. It goes against the very nature of the Constitution, and the Statutes have been stripped of their content.

As a result, with the Statute and the Constitution interpreted as they have been up to now, Spain’s autonomous communities are unable to decide their own policies. Their ability to take decisions is severely limited since state control is omnipresent. This explains why the policies that the people of Catalonia might wish to create no longer fit with their current autonomic and constitutional powers.

There are powers which are not autonomic, but which instead belong to the state. They are not insignificant, quite the contrary. Even if the autonomous communities retained their powers in the fields of health, welfare, education, commerce, tourism, industry, culture, language and so on, the state retains the power in highly significant areas: regulation of the labour market, immigration and border policy, regulation of social security, unemployment, defence, policing (a fact which was made very clear to us not so long ago), justice (one of the cornerstones of the CC’s 2010 ruling), the oversight and regulation of all policies, and such "details" as fiscal policy, banking regulation, ultimate control over spending, foreign affairs (which was also made clear in recent months), and a very long list detailed in Article 149.1 of the Spanish Constitution.

The problem is that Catalonia’s autonomous powers have been reduced by the state, particularly when the PP have been in government, and that these other powers —state powers— are essential in order to respond to the ever-changing world in which we live. This is why the Statute does nothing to fix our problems.