and regions in
Juan Romero González (*)
Professor in Human Geography. Department
Corresponding author. Tel. 00-34-96-386-42-37; fax: 00-34-96-386-42-34
E-mail address: Juan.Romero@uv.es
The main keys of the debate about the state
Any impartial observer of Spanish political
development can verify the formidable changes which have taken place over the
last twenty years. Few would question the importance of the advances made since
the signing of the Constitution in 1978 and its posterior development. Without
considering its content untouchable, nor denying the possibility of a rereading
or, were it the case, modification by consensus, it is essential that the transcendency of what has been achieved over the last two
decades is valued most positively. The transformation from the uniformising and excluding authoritarian model of the dictatorship
to the present
These achievements acquire their full historical
transcendence and political significance by contrasting them with the absence
of an idyllic past in the creation of
This clash, so characteristic of the Spanish past, is the undeniable product of a very concrete cause: the outstanding pre-eminence of coercion with regard integration, used by the right during the last two centuries either as the legitimate representative of political power in some cases, or as deforciant in others. From Cánovas to Maura, from Primo de Rivera to Franco, not only have Spanish conservatives had a patrimonial idea the State, but also the very idea of what Spain was and what it should and should not be, rejecting, when not repressing, any dissident revelation of diversity that went one step further than mere folklore.
Not bearing this past in mind, it would be impossible to
comprehend the existence of a feeling of relative injustice among many citizens
or the political manifestation of this in peripheral democratic nationalisms.
At the same time, but in the opposite sense, bearing this past in mind, however
irreconcilable certain positions among the democratic parties may seem in
today’s political arena, the present state of affairs is certainly an
improvement on any of the past states. And it is precisely this which
necessitates moving further forward in the building of the concept of Spain
which, taking its starting point in the Constitution of 1978, must delve more
deeply into developing a framework for the acknowledgement and coexistence of
its different identities, these having the need to construct together an
affective notion of Spain on the basis of how they see themselves today and
want to be in the future. An attainable concept of
The situation at present is testimony to the fact that the
debate surrounding the form the State ought to take occupies a substantial part
of the very broad political agenda in
There is no shortage of examples of the growing divergence of opinions and staging of political clashes surrounding the form of the State, and all of them eloquently reflect the very different conceptions and strategies at the heart of political autonomy as well as peripheral democratic nationalisms. However, various political resolutions, the use of parliamentary majorities to either block agreements between Autonomous Communities or avoid the debate on Senate reform, the binding of bilateral agreements – disguised as State agreements – between the two majority parties in the Spanish parliament, or the announcement by central government of a future Autonomous Cooperation Law to “close” the model, do little to help build a favourable climate to obtain a basic consensus among all the political voices with democratic representation in the different parliaments. The reinforcement of political strategies designed to give a biased, incomplete, inflexible or sole, true reading of the Constitution of 1978, or the concretion of certain political debates emanating from Spanish nationalism, as in the recent elections in the Basque Country, are worrying symptoms of a mood which shows a notable political incapacity to take on board, accept or even understand that Spain is a plurinacional reality containing peoples who demand greater political powers within their respective relevant spheres of democratic decision making. At the other extreme, the strategy initiated by the political voice of Basque democratic nationalism does not guarantee many potential points of agreement by going down a road which allows us to continue moving forward together without recognising any of the differences which go beyond the purely cultural or linguistic.
The fundamental question proposed here to reflect and debate upon is whether we are facing a consolidated State, the form of which has yet to be “closed”, “stabilized”, “completed” or “culminated” by the introduction of a number of modifications and/or innovations which will lay the foundations for an improved functioning of the Autonomic State, or whether we are at the end of the first and important positive stage of political decentralisation which, once consolidated, will allow us to take on the constitutional challenge, or better still the historical challenge, of accommodating each and every one of the different nations which make up the Spanish State.
In the first part of the pages to come, the idea developed
is that Spain is at the close of an important stage of development as an
autonomous model based on political decentralisation which from the very
beginning involved the constitutional recognition of existing asymmetries but
today corresponds to a uniformising model given that
the two majority parties followed only one of the various lines drawn up by
Constitution. A brief summary of the most important realizations and
insufficiencies of the
The second part reflects
upon the limits of the
1. The process of political decentralisation. Realisations and insufficiencies.
1.1. Nations and regions. Asymmetry and political uniformisation. Only one of the various possible interpretations of the Constitution of 1978 has been made. Suffice to say that at the time there were other possibilities. The constitutional text finally approved by consensus, contains deliberate ambiguities as well as historical progresses, renunciations and grey areas because the times demanded them. And why in reference to Title VIII, dedicated to model the future structure of the State, it is said that the Constitution of 1978 prefigures both an open and indefinite process (Aparicio, 1999, 36-39). It was the Autonomous Agreements in 1981 and 1992, reached between UCD-PSOE and PP-PSOE (Aja, 1999), that have progressively consolidated the distribution of political power that if in its early days was asymmetrical, today it is, once again, uniformising (Requejo, 1999, 325). And it is precisely this question, related to the reference in the constitutional text regarding nationalities and regions and the recognition of Historical Rights, which has once again become of great political importance. Twenty years on, the historical nationalities, which throughout the entire period have supported the transfer of more powers to all the regions, until finally reaching the almost comparable levels of competence of today, demand with ever increasing intensity, although in very different ways, the right to be different.
The extraordinary complexity of the
present political situation lies in that, if at the beginning of the process
recognising plurinationality was plagued with
enormous difficulties, today these are, if such a thing is possible, even
greater. On the one hand, there exists on the part of the Autonomous
Communities who have followed the procedure set out in Article 143 of the
Spanish Constitution, a logical desire to practise the same level of competence as those who followed that of Article 151 and the Second
Transitory Disposition of the Constitutional
text both of which from the outset afforded a greater level of political
autonomy to the so-called historical
nationalities (Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia, those which had
obtained a statute of automony during the Second
Republic). On the other hand, there is the
renewed protagonism of the intention of the
historical nationalities to begin a second phase which involves the treatment
of the differential facts regarding the basis of the political recognition of
asymmetries. In this phase, the intention would not be to obtain concessions or
recognition of given generic differential facts, an unnecessary task since
these are already contained in the Constitution, but to face the necessity of
tackling what has been deemed convenient to call "fitting" or "full and stable, that is, recognised as well as
comfortable and articulate accommodation of the minority national identities of
the State" (Requejo, 1999, 330). From the
Spanish left, proposals of a federal nature are being proposed, with and
without recognition of a certain degree of asymmetry, as a means of moving
forward in the construction of an Autonomic State, having understood that the
model to aspire to which the Constitution of 1978 prefigures is a federal one. Finally, from conservative Spanish nationalism, whether
it be right or left, there exists the desire
to "close" or "culminate"
the present model, blocking any possibility of moving forward in the
recognition of plurinationality, making other
interpretations of the constitutional text which go beyond generic recognition
of mere cultural differences impossible. The following are the distinct
political expressions to refer to the same State: the Spanish nation, a plural
or pluricultural nation, a
In any case, what is to be emphasized here is that in the present debate very different questions are being mixed together which it would be convenient not to confuse in the political debate because, as is clearly stated in the second article of the Spanish Constitution, some are at a region level and others are at a nation level. Some of the more obvious dysfunctions to be considered, are exclusively related to the coordination and functioning of any strongly decentralized state; the others, also to be dealt with below, are connected to specific unresolved questions which prevent the State of Autonomies from fully identifying with those basic characteristics which define the European federal states; finally, the regulation of plurinationality would constitute the third level, which is not related in any way with the two anterior levels, despite the fact that there does occasionally prevail mistaken or misleading opinions interested in identifying federalism with nationalism or in recognising regional but not national status.
the first level, many questions related to the efficient running of the
At the second level, are those questions which prevent us from identifying ourselves with a federal state. The mere consideration here of some of the most important of these (the financing system, the inexistence of requests for coordination and political decision making between the different executive levels, the representation of the Autonomous Communities in the European decision-making organisms, the lack of mechanisms which would allow autonomous parliaments to decide on the structure, functions and composition of constitutional bodies such as the Constitutional Court...), gives an idea, despite the advances of historical proportions already achieved, of the ground still to be covered in the process of full articulation of political power of a “composed-state” (as defined by the Constitutional Court) such as the Spanish one.
1.2. Political autonomy and financing. It has been
said that the system of financing is one of the key issues in the construction
In the mid nineties, the group of experts given the task of analysing this question declared that "...the root of the problems suffered by the present system of autonomous financing lies in the inappropriateness of this system with regard the structure of the state set out in the Constitution of 1978, an inappropriateness which has been developing ever since. The decisions of decentralised spending are out of keeping with a centralised financing structure and, above all, lead to recurring financial disequilibriums which are ultimately a burden on the budget of the central administration" (Monasterio et al., 1994, vol. II, pag.299).
Without having to repeat here the considerations of this group of experts, which incidentally are shared, it can be confirmed that the financing model of the Autonomic State has made it evident for over more than twenty years, with more clarity than in other areas, the great difficulty present in trying to achieve a better “fit” which, in accordance with the Constitution, would give full meaning to the real apportioning of political power carried out in Spain: political autonomy, financial autonomy and sufficiency, full fiscal co-responsibility, solidarity, equity and coordination.
As is known, this process of political decentralisation has granted the Autonomous Communities, at different rates, an important capacity and autonomy in the development of economic, social and territorial cohesion policies. Above all, it has awarded them great historical protagonism in the construction process of the Welfare State. And it is in relation to the public social policies that some of the most important problems present over the last twenty years and highlighted in this study can be detected.
The functions and services transferred to the Autonomous Communities in terms of welfare are essentially comparable, if we focus on their political capacity, however, they are not as yet comparable if we refer to the resources that each regional government is able to set aside to fulfil the statutory and constitutional obligation to provide the same services and the same quality to all citizens, irrespective of their place of residence.
The process of the transfer of political power from the central administration to the Autonomous Communities implicitly contained from the start an unequal financing per inhabitant, the consequences of which are still present today. The procedure initially used to calculate the financing of the services transferred was based on the principle of the effective cost of the transferred matter. In accordance with this, each autonomous community would receive from the Ministry of Finance a sum equivalent to the effective cost that Central Government said it would apportion to that territory to guarantee the transferred service. Subsequently, it has been shown that the unitary State did not set aside exactly the same resources per inhabitant per region and, as a consequence, when calculating the effective cost of the services to go ahead with their transfer, some Autonomous Communities received more poorly financed services than others (Pérez, 1997). As the fundamental nucleus of the transfers was made up of the transfers in health and education, each Autonomous Community had to initially confront the situation under unequal conditions. The later revisions of the financing model, in 1992 and 1996, did not resolve this important question. Neither has it been dealt with in the recent agreement of 2001, despite its noticeable advances from the equity perspective.
The clear initial asymmetry in the financing of autonomous social policy peaks considerably if the statutory communities of Navarre and the Basque Country are included in the comparison, given that they have at their disposal a financing per inhabitant very much superior to the rest to guarantee the same public services. This position of advantage, that none of the different financing agreements of 1992, 1996 or 2001 have resolved, should not be attributed to the fact that these communities have a different system of financing recognised in the Spanish Constitution, different from the common system governing the other regions, but to the fact that the sum bilaterally negotiated between these communities and central government allows them to have access to more resources than those communities under the common system for financing identical matters.
This is the politically relevant element, which has never been seriously faced up to until now, and which explains why other autonomous parliaments and governments denounce situations of comparative (dis)advantage, even demanding bilateral fiscal pacts or equivalent financing per inhabitant. It also explains why some Autonomous Communities, as for example, Catalonia and the Valencian Community, despite their greater relative economic ability to compensate the inherited structural deficit, are still among the communities which spend the least amount per inhabitant on basic services such as education (Romero; Garcés, 2001). Although the process of transfers agreed between the two majority parties in 1992 has just been recently completed, the financing per inhabitant in the Autonomous Communities still remains appreciably different.
Undeniable advances have indeed come about as well as an acceptable functioning of basic aspects such as solidarity. Contrary to what is occasionally argued or used as political argument, the system has not operated in favour of the richest communities. However, twenty years after the beginning of the first transfers, the system, applied with a greater or lesser degree of consensus, has shown up elements which highlight shortcomings and grey areas. Among them, the following stand out: a) the total dependency which the Autonomous Communities have had on central government to cover the financing of the transferred functions; b) the system has not incorporated financing autonomy or fiscal co-responsibility, a circumstance which distances us from other European experiences of a federal nature; c) the Autonomous Communities have only enjoyed autonomy in spending (which has on occasion meant a lack of control of the level of debt), without being held responsible for the raising of income through taxation or facing up to the advantages and the costs of their own political decisions before their respective electorate; d) the different administrations of central government have shown a notable mistrust and resistance to making the process of fiscal decentralisation a reality; e) a somewhat restrictive and, on certain occasions, unclear attitude on the part of the central administration when calculating the real value of the effective cost of the services transferred to the Autonomous Communities; f) various legislative or regulation initiatives of basic legislation, which correspond to central administration, have not always been accompanied by the finance necessary for the Autonomous Communities to correctly develop and apply them correctly; g) excessive use of the mechanism of bilateral political agreements and compromises which, either by means of pacts or by including territorial investment settlements in the respective annexes of the General Budget Laws, has meant additional distribution of resources without the necessary transparency, irrespective of the real needs of the territories and almost always derived from the need to form parliamentary majorities; h) the absence of coordination mechanisms as well as efficient, reliable and complete information for the different administrations, capable of facing up to such fundamental questions as the deficit and falling into debt; finally, local administration, the third pillar of the State, has until now remained outside the entire process.
Many of these questions, repeatedly brought to our attention over recent years, have served to reclaim the need to establish a system of financing which, based on consensus, will deal with many of the shortcomings felt but in an atmosphere of greater institutional trust and loyalty between the different administrations of the State. The recent agreement on autonomous financing, passed by consensus between central government and all the Autonomous Communities under the common financing system, is an attempt to provide greater stability despite having already been relativized by one or other of the historical nationalities.
This agreement, the result
of the new distribution of recourses between central government and the
Autonomous Communities, incorporates a number of politically important advances
in matters widely protested by the representatives of autonomous governments
and other experts. Two features in particular stand out: on the one hand, the
degree of financial responsibility and autonomy has been increased, and on the
other, general health care has been incorporated into the financing system.
Nevertheless, despite the level of political consensus reached, a circumstance
which must be positively valued as it confers more stability on the
policy and institutional coordination mechanisms. The
This organisational weakness, a consequence of the extraordinary fragmentation of the institutional make up, is particularly noticeable in the area of territorial policy, the only related aspect included in this paper, although it is also evident in many other areas (agriculture, education, universities, research, social services, immigration...). Many of the inexplicable duplicities (ministries which have had all their functions transferred continue to increase the number of civil servants they employ), the even more inexplicable shortcomings (such as the question of the protection and promotion on behalf of central government of all the languages and cultures of Spain) and the all too frequently regenerated political tensions have for some time now been demanding an adequate adaptation of the institutional make up, of the distribution of political power in its totality, based on a new form of pact and constitutional loyalty as well as on the new reality of the Autonomic State which has practically finished the process of transfers laid out in the political agreements reached between the PP and the PSOE in 1992.
At the state level, their
still remains widespread resistance on the part of central government towards
the participation of autonomous and local governments (which are also the
State) in decision-making which affects the whole, as well as a vested interest
in continuing to monopolize relations with the European Union. Concerning the
relationship between regional government and local administration, there is a
worrying lack of coordination in territorial policy at the regional and
metropolitan level, a coordination which would allow us to overcome the present
situation in which there are as many territorial strategies as there are
municipalities, but a lack of which negatively affects the sustainability of
the territories. In particular, there is a significant absence of a culture of
cooperation and a distinct lack of institutional devices fundamental in the
For example, the deficient application of European agri-environmental measures in Spain, a deficiency far beyond the social and cultural context which can in part explain it, has clearly shown that much of the budgetary resources given to Spain for the development of agri-environmental programmes contained in Regulation 2078/92 have stopped operating due to a lack of institutional devices and adequate coordination (European Commission, 1998).
The design of large
infrastructures is too often laid out without the necessary degree of
knowledge, participation and consensus. The development and final approval of
the National Hydraulic Plan is a perfect example of how having parliamentary
majorities may be a necessary but it is certainly not a sufficient condition
for making decisions of a very complex nature and of territorial impact in a
state with such a complex structure. Any initiative of such characteristics
requires and demands the existence of formal political decision-making spheres
the likes of which
Prior to taking political
decisions of such importance, there should exist, as there exists in other
federal countries such as Germany, Austria and Belgium, the formal instance for
reaching political agreements of consensus which involve the joint
responsibility of the relevant administrations of territorial policy. In the
The complete lack of
institutional mechanisms allowing us to form binding political compromises
orientated towards coordinating and rationalising territorial strategies means
that we are witnessing in
There is broad agreement on
emphasising the need for external contributions of water to the southeastern geographical region of
Similar agreement exists on emphasising that the present situation is the result of allowing the cooperation or the complicity of the relevant public administrations to passively develop over decades, a productive model the short-term effectiveness of which no one questions, but which has completely destabilized the system as a whole and makes it unsustainable in the medium-run.
Given the objective need for
these outside contributions to resolve this structural problem, to which everyone
has contributed but which no one will take political responsibility for,
guarantees (which the NHP cannot offer) and compromises should be made by the
regional governments who will receive the surpluses from the
At the other extreme, in the supply basin, the anachronistic forecasts contained in the NHP, which are in turn due to the acceptance of an agreement approved by the Aragon parliament to increase the irrigation surface area by almost half a million hectares, bear little resemblance to the post-productive framework set out in the Agenda 2000 or to what is set down in the Community Water Directives.
These central questions should not be resolved by means of bilateral negotiations as these are often a source of political antagonism and tension. In the face of the shortage of institutional decision-making mechanisms, it is foreseeable that in this case different, or at best juxtaposed, territorial strategies will develop, ultimately having a negative effect on the system as a whole.
Given the backlog accumulated by the Court, the most recent sentences refer to regulations that came into force in the eighties and early nineties, some of which had already been appealed against prior to ruling. And although in many cases it has sanctioned the basic essence of certain regulations and their congruousness with the constitutional text, it has repeatedly expressed the unconstitutional nature, either total or partial, of laws, regulations and ministerial orders, in the belief that central government was clearly incurring on the powers granted exclusively to the Autonomous Communities in their respective Statues of Autonomy.
In its role as demarcator of functions, here referring to those matters
related to territorial policy only, the
The persistence of central government throughout these years has been striking reflected in its reiteration of the same arguments and its citing the very articles of the Spanish Constitution to approve regulations which extend its functions and in serving notices of unconstitutionality against autonomous regulations. And this despite the abundance of the jurisprudence of the Constitutional Court and the fact that central government is fully aware that this organ usually reaffirms its juridical foundations by referring to the decisions of previous rulings. A brief reprisal of the themes which have occupied constitutional jurisdiction in recent years (see Tormos, 2000; Carrillo, 2000; Carrillo, Mieres, 2000) gives a clearer idea of the important role played by this constitutional body in the complex process of function demarcation.
The transition from a unitary state to a strongly politically decentralized state has been dominated by a number of characteristics which can be summarized as the excessive centralising vocation shown by central government in the formation of regulations, and in its desire to flood the sphere of functions that the Spanish Constitution grants the State, trying to prevent the Autonomous Communities from fully exercising their constitutional and statutory functions. The jurisprudence of the Constitutional Court, so fundamental throughout these years, has mirrored best of all the existing political tensions when having to provide an interpretation of the Constitution and the Statutes from the perspective of institutional loyalty, the development of cooperation and coordination between administrations and giving full meaning to the Autonomic State which the Constitution prefigures and the respective Statutes of Autonomy have explicitly stated.
From a study of the sentnces,
it can be deduced that the
relations, public policy and the articulation of the State. There
is wide agreement regarding some of the most important shortcomings related to
this particular group of problems: a) intergovernmental relations are not
institutionalised; b) repeated bilateral agreements between central government
and certain regional governments have been a constant source of conflict which
almost without exception end up in the Constitutional Court; c) there is
deficient regulation of cooperation agreements between central government and
regional governments; d) the precarious functioning of the Conferences between central government ministers and regional
ministers do not correspond to a “federal” model; and e) neither have the
horizontal Sectorial Conferences (made up only of
representatives of the autonomous executives) nor Conferences
of the president of central government and the regional presidents,
fundamental in the political culture of a number of federal states, been
successful (Aja, 1999; VVAA, 2000). Providing sectorial
conferences with political content, facilitating –instead of blocking-
cooperation between the Autonomous Communities, without the need for the
presence of the representatives of central government, and inaugurating the
celebration of Presidential Conferences to deal with the more important
decisions of State, are unavoidable if we are to grant full political
significance to the principles of political autonomy, coordination, cooperation
and efficiency. These are common practice in other states which have similar
levels of decentralization policy and, in the case of
A clear example of this is the connection between the inexistence of formal spheres of coordination and the difficulty shown in reaching basic consensus over questions which affect economic and social cohesion and territorial equilibrium. Definitively, to give priority to the meaning of the state over partisan electoral strategies. In the light of the numerous examples where the “federal” culture fails and institutional devices are lacking – such as the approval of the two previous models of financing to the present one, the development and approval of the National Hydraulic Plan or the route chosen to begin the latest reform of the basic legislation of education at the university and non-university levels-, it may be possible to conclude that the Spanish Autonomic State is experiencing a certain stagnation in its development, generating uncertainties, when not generating unnecessary confrontations, which on occasion originate in the display of political styles and talents impregnated with a “jacobin” vision of the State, more appropriate of an extinct unitary State than the actual Autonomic one.
The political irrelevance of the Senate in the articulation of the
Almost no one would deny the need for its reform, precisely so that it may be transformed from an anachronistic institution into the institutional site of the participation of the Autonomous Communities – the Chamber of territorial representation to quote the Constitution-, adapting its functions to the process of transference of political power which the Communities have received over recent decades. To stop its transformation would be to commit an historical error which would only contribute to further delaying an inevitable reform which sooner or later will have to be taken on if we are to comply with the constitutional mandate.
Pascual Maragall recently put forward some of the main functions which the Senate might claim to control such as the first and principle voice in matters related to the State of the Autonomies: a) to ensure the participation of the autonomous presidents; b) the election of senators by the autonomous parliaments; c) the possibility of the elected senators being mayors; d) the possibility of the autonomous governments being able to include points for debate in the proceedings of the day; e) the common institutional site for multilateral dialogue between Central Government and the Autonomous Communities; f) chamber of dialogue between the Autonomous Communities themselves in order to create horizontal cooperation; g) institutional sphere for channelling the participation of the Communities in the European Union; h) privileged setting for the recognition of the plurilinguistic reality of Spain, normalising the use of the different official languages; i) parliamentary seat of first reading for certain legislative initiatives (Autonomous Statute reform laws, laws of article 150 of the Constitution, law of the Interterritorial Compensation Fund, covenants and agreements of cooperation among the Autonomous Communities and the organic law foreseen in article 157.3 of the Constitution; j) forum of the first debate of the legislative initiatives of the autonomous Parliaments; k) seat which houses a permanent parliamentary commission charged with the debate and tracking of the financing of the territorial organisations of State; and finally, the institutional sphere in which to create a territorial-economic affairs Office allowing access to all the information on economic flows, this being elaborated from a territorial base (Maragall, 2001).
Entrenching oneself in the fact that the undelayable reform of the Senate would require a previous,
though precise, reform of the Constitution is not reason enough if the degree
of consensus necessary to undertake such a reform of the Senate exists. As the
European example well demonstrates, constitutional reform is not synonymous
with institutional instability. Neither is keeping it intact guarantee of the
1.6.The formation of
political will and representation in
Within the present community institutional framework, the Conference for European Affairs does not resolve the situationa satisfactorily and consequently cannot aspire to becoming the instrument of formation of State political will in its ascending phase. On the other hand, the present situation and the community tendency to favour the regional level in the development and instrumentation of future European territorial policy beg a reappraisal of the deficient mechanisms of regional representation in community decisions-making spheres, which cannot be compensated for by non-decision making forums such as the Region Committee, nor by the growing presence of the Autonomous Communities in the Commission Committees.
1.7. Political autonomy and the principle of subsidiarity.
A distinctive feature of the present Autonomic State is that its third pillar, the local sphere, has not been given the attention it deserves until now, despite its outstanding role in the area of public policy related to local development and social protection. In one or another field, it has had to assume political responsibility far beyond that which it is obliged to by the present basic legislation.
The new role of the territories within the global context and the development of the principle of subsidiarity demands growing protagonism of the local sphere. It has forced town councils or metropolitan areas to promote public policies but without them having the necessary functions and resources to do so. The prominence reached over recent years by the departments of economic promotion at the local level –town councils, local associations, county councils– is such that, in many cases, as with cities of a certain size, the volume of non-legally obliged programme management and investment and personnel funding is almost as great as that of the areas which city councils are legally obliged to serve.
On the other hand, serious social changes such as the appearance of groups living in conditions of extreme poverty or social exclusion, the growing demand for assistance by the elderly without means, the appearance of immigrant populations in agriculturally intensive areas or in the large cities, the existence of the non-benefit receiving unemployed alongside adults and youngsters who have not completed the basic compulsory education level or who are in need of vocational training have forced town councils to promote these matters, as fundamental as they are lacking in the welfare state, at the local level without their being legally obliged to do so.
Many of these programmes, which to a large extent have been improvised to cover up a historical vaccum as well as new needs, have been created by town halls by economic and social imperative but without being equipped with sufficient external public resources destined to that end. Everyday reality and the social pressure exerted by proximity, coupled with the sensitivity shown by many town halls help to explain why areas of economic promotion and social services have been developed by a public administration lacking both the sufficient power and resources to do so, but who do face the problems daily. In the majority of cases, town councils have destined their own funds raised from other areas of competence in which they are obliged to act by law. Only in some matters do they receive specific financing, either through collaboration agreements with departments within the respective regional government or through financing obtained from the European Union (Romero; Garcés, 2001).
It seems reasonable to consider the need to establish a redistribution of the functions and resources between the regional and local levels in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity. The agenda of pending questions to be resolved in this field is proportional to the poor degree of attention which it has received until now: a) firstly, a new and more just system of financing for local administration adapted to the present reality; b) to make progress in the creation of municipal cooperation formulas which, showing sufficient willingness, can improve the measure of problems by reducing the present excessive degree of institutional minifundism; c) going ahead with transferring to local administrations those autonomous functions which the local level has demonstrated itself to be more efficient in; d) to reconsider and, where necessary, modify the functions which up until now have come under the jurisdiction of county councils, avoiding excessive overlapping with areas under autonomous management and securing greater efficiency in the area of cooperation and intermunicipal services; e) to favour the voluntary creation of instances of supramunicipal cooperation and advancement; and f) the promotion from central government of a financing law for metropolitan areas which would help to solve one of the most serious problems faced by the “real cities”. In short, and definitively, to undertake the next phase of transference of political power from the central and autonomous spheres to the local area with the aim of gradually achieving a public spending distribution of approximately 40 % (central government), 30 % (autonomous communities), 30 % (local administration).
2. Recognition of plurinationality.
The limits of the
Even if all the questions
related to the full development of the Autonomic State were resolved,
satisfactorily culminating the process of political decentralisation derived of
the Autonomous Agreements of 1992, and resolving the serious inequalities in
the functioning of the egalitarian process of decentralisation as well as
overcoming the jealousies, inertia, moods and styles more appropriate of the
old unitary State than the Autonomic State, the constitutional and political
challenge of the recognition of plurinationality
would still remain. Meaning that, far beyond mere concessions and recognition
of determinate “differential facts”, the plural and incomplete
It serves no purpose to
ignore or try to combat from reactive positions this fundamental question which
affects coexistence and future common politics. Contrary to what has been
believed to be true for more than a century by those (from liberals to marxists) who have decreed the end
of nationalisms, the historical fact is that these have resisted, not only in
This level of problems is,
by far, the most difficult and complex and it will not be an easy task finding
common ground between the different positions. Moreover, the difficulty is probably
greater now than it was at the beginning of the process. In an excellent work,
Torres Vela synthesises the present difficulty in finding a stable setting for
the national reality of
We have gone from implicit asymmetry to homogenising decentralisation. And although one might think that the autonomous model has limitations and frustrated expectations in terms of the political recognition of plurinationality, it is from the present scenario, and not from the scenario which could have been but never was, that we need to begin. That is to say, and here lies the main difficulty of the present political situation, that the process of decentralisation having been almost completed and political autonomy consolidated, any attempt whatsoever to recognise the “special statute” of the historical nationalities would spark off feelings of offence, political tension and immediate demands for comparative treatment by the regions. And as has been made known by diverse sensibilities, today it would be “morally unjustifiable” to deny some territories the degree of self-determination which others can have (Torres Vela, 1997:11). The reason is that also in the regions “...today there is a deep rooted feeling of identity which they do not want to give up. And it was never considered an essential prerequisite that identities were consolidated at a given date in the distant past. Definitively, what I would like for myself, I have to accept that others will also want. This begs, however, the counterargument that the fact that everyone wants it, is not reason enough for not giving it to me...”(Roca, 1999: 39)
The proposals leading from
the recognition of diversity, this being understood to mean the right to the
recognition of the differences related to language, culture and civil rights
only, is not recognition enough for the peripheral democratic nationalisms.
Neither is the federalist symmetric model a satisfactory model for their
aspirations. They demand the need to look for a clear improvement in
self-government and the recognition of the plurinational,
pluricultural and plurilingual
reality of the State (vid. Sessions Diary of the Spanish Parliament,
The problem is, as it always
was, of an exclusively political nature and it is in this sphere that, as on
previous occasions, compromises and basic consensus must be found. It is of
little help in this case to study the experiences of other countries as each
has its own history, political culture and context making experiences difficult
to export. The uniqueness of the
Definitively, we are dealing
with the old dilemma between equality and
asymmetry at the heart of plurinational states.
And on this point, it does not appear likely that in
Although comparisons are not
of any great use, the Canadian example may help us to understand the
insurmountable difficulties which arise when trying to acknowledge the “special
statute” of a differentiated community while respecting the principle of
equality, without deconstructing the basic structure and it being accepted by
all. Some of the elements which form part of the long political debate in this
country and which have been emphasised by specialists ought to be remembered, despite
the distances: a) “...The history of Canada, notes Milne, shows the struggle
and gradual triumph of the principle of equality in the face of the distinct
forms of asymmetry in Canadian life. If this is so, all future constitutional
designers will have to think very carefully before toying with this option...”
(Milne, 1999:71); b) during the ratification process of the Lake Meech Agreement, which included the acknowledgement of
Quebec as a “distinct society”, the political tensions surrounding equality and
asymmetry ended up blocking the political process (Milne, op.cit.:
86); c) “...the special statute, claims this author, always occupies an
ambiguous constitutional zone, constantly pushed towards the ultimate political
objective of independence. Thus, the defenders of the special statute cannot
promise the stability of a country with this option (Milne, op.cit.:
71, 86, 87); d) Stéphane Dion
goes even further: strongly asymmetric federalism is possible, he points out,
but is not a road which countries frequently go down. With regards
Some final considerations.
The need to undertake a new reading of the so-called constitutional bloc on the basis of a new generation of Political Agreements of State is being demanded from diverse spheres. This seems to be the most adequate road to take to overcome the present situation. It does not seem reasonable to close or block any possibility of dialogue sheltering oneself in the parliamentary majorities of the General Courts or to try to overcome the situation by legislative initiatives which do not enjoy the necessary degree of consensus. Any agreed proposal to move forward in the construction of the State should be carried out with integrating vocation, steering clear of reasoning based on political indifference or excluding attitudes.
What is needed, in my opinion, is a new pact of State which will not repeat the mistakes of the past. By pact of State one should not understand yet another new agreement between the two parties with majority representation in the Spanish Parliament given that probably part of the institutional breakdowns which have plagued the State model over the last twenty years have been the result of what many consider to be an important political error: the exclusion of peripheral nationalisms from important political decisions which have resulted in the development of only one of the possible paths of title VIII of the Constitution. By pact of State one should understand an agreement, necessarily of an embracing nature, which incorporates the political voice of democratic nationalisms and which tackles the discussion of the model of the State with its eyes set on the future rather than the past, whether this be near or far, and bearing in mind the new European framework. An agreement which uses as a means of search for basic consensus, pragmatism, institutional and constitutional loyalty and the will to gradually move forward in solving the problems we face and based on at least the same degree of institutional consensus as that reached at the beginning of the process. Not going down this road would mean contemplating other possible scenarios which are not considered desirable from the point of view of this text.
What might the elements be around which a new Pact of State could be built which would better fulfil autonomy? If the political will existed, it would not be an impossible task to incorporate substantial improvements at the three levels of problems referred to throughout this work. With the exception of the reform of the Senate, almost none of the possible solutions would require reform of the current constitutional framework, which is also considered to be a difficult task by the nationalist parties themselves (CiU, 1999), but simply a more flexible and pro autonomous reading of it. The vast majority of the constituent elements of a new political agreement would require the maximum exploration of the possibilities which are offered by the Constitution and the Statutes of Autonomy and, were it the case, an alternative development of the constitutional precepts. The following does not pretend to be an exhaustive only a possible list of suggestions which could be included in a future political agenda: 1) reform of the Senate transforming it into that which article 69.1 of the Constitution establishes: a territorial chamber; 2) improvement of the financing model in order to guarantee the principle of equity; 3) revision of the distribution of functions among the three public administrations, increasing the present level of functions of the local level and consequently guaranteeing a redistribution of public spending; 4) the creation of Presidential Conferences and Sectorial Conferences with the same degree of institutional relevance and political decision-making as they enjoy in other countries of the European Union; 5) reflect the plural nature of the State in all institutions, national and international, which represent it, especially in the cultural and educational spheres; 6) regulate the presence of the Autonomous Communities in the decision-making organs of the European Union in connection with those questions which come under their jurisdiction; 7) regulate the formulation of Agreements as well as other forms of horizontal cooperation among European regions; 8) deepen the acknowledgement of the principle of diversity by exploring new possibilities based on article 2, articles 149.1 and 150.1 and 150.2, those which refer to cultural differential dimensions; 9) culminating the process of transference provided by the respective Statutes of Autonomy should also be considered an undelayable task; 10) beginning a new phase of reform of the Statutes of Autonomy with the aim of increasing the autonomy of the Autonomous Communities, exploring new possibilities (without excluding a priori differential developments) and creating new figures such as those which have been recently suggested (the use of the regional languages by the State administration and the Judiciary; the introduction of symbolic elements; deconcentration of the General Council of the Judiciary; creating functions related to justice administration, judicial, registrar and notary demarcations; the taking up of tax management; activating the functions inherent in the ordinary representation of the State by the President of the Autonomous Community; the introduction of a historical rights clause...) (CiU, 1999).
The historical dimension of the track beaten to the present is unquestionable, as commented in the opening pages of this paper, but the suggestions proposed here equally give an indication of the measure of the work still to be done in continuing the construction of a state composed such as the Spanish one in a political process which by necessity must be and remain open.
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(*) Juan Romero is Professor
in Human Geography at the