Voters in Catalonia Approve a Plan for Greater Autonomy

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Thu Jun 22 16:27:15 UTC 2006

>>From the NYTimes, June 19, 2006

Voters in Catalonia Approve a Plan for Greater Autonomy


MADRID, June 18 Voters in Catalonia, Spain's northeastern region, approved
a sweeping overhaul of its constitutional relationship with the central
government on Sunday, endorsing a plan to grant broad new powers of
self-government. Members of the center-right Popular Party and other
critics have complained that the plan could open the way to an eventual
declaration of independence by Catalonia, one of Spain's richest regions.
They also contended that the plan threatened Spain's unity because it was
likely to encourage all of Spain's regions to make increasingly ambitious
demands for greater autonomy.

Prime Minister Jos Luis Rodrguez Zapatero of the center-left Socialist
Party, who campaigned actively for the autonomy plan, argued it was the
only effective way to keep the restive region content within Spanish
borders. He has expressed a willingness to discuss similar plans for other
regions.  "With this new statute, the identity of Catalonia will be better
recognized," he said at a news conference in Madrid after the vote. "It
will have better instruments for administering self-government, and it
will preserve the rich pluralism that is inherent to Catalan society."
With 99 percent of the votes counted, the Catalan regional government said
Sunday night that 74 percent had approved the plan, while 21 percent had
rejected it. The remaining votes were blank or void.

It said that turnout was about 50 percent. The plan, which has already
been approved by the national Parliament in Madrid, is scheduled to take
effect on July 1. The measure grants Catalonia more control over a variety
of issues, including tax collection, immigration policy and judicial
affairs. It acknowledges that Catalonia considers itself a nation,
requires that residents learn the Catalan language and declares that the
region's powers of self-government emanate from the people of Catalonia
rather than from the Spanish Constitution.

Mariano Rajoy, the president of the Popular Party, the main opposition
group in Parliament, said many of these provisions were unconstitutional
and posed a direct challenge to the authority of the central government.
"We must stop this project to liquidate constitutional Spain," he said at
a news conference here after the vote. "We are going to use all of the
political and judicial arguments that we have so that this does not go
into effect." He said his party would file an appeal with Spain's
constitutional court in hopes of blocking the plan. Constitutional experts
said the appeal had little chance of succeeding.

A potent separatist movement has persisted for more than 100 years in
Catalonia, a region of seven million inhabitants whose capital is
Barcelona. Most of the region's prominent politicians advocate either
separating from Spain or eliminating the region's subordinate status to
the central government. But before Mr. Zapatero took office in April 2004,
the region's push for more autonomy generally met resistance from Madrid.
His decision to endorse many of Catalonia's autonomy demands led to the
most significant drop in his approval ratings since he became prime
minister. His decision drew criticism not only from political opponents
but from members of his own party.

Jos Bono, the former defense minister, resigned in April after repeatedly
denouncing the autonomy plan. Alfonso Guerra, one of the Socialist Party's
most prominent elder statesmen, said the plan had helped create a
political climate that was so polarized along regional lines that it
reminded him of the Soviet Union at the end of the cold war. The most
dramatic reaction came from two military leaders who conjured up memories
of Spain's history of military intervention in politics by suggesting in
January that the armed forces were ready to act unilaterally to quell
Catalan demands for more autonomy. Both were removed from their posts.

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