Spain Moves on Law to Give Broad Powers to Catalonia

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Fri Mar 31 15:46:41 UTC 2006

>>From the NYTimes, March 31, 2006

Spain Moves on Law to Give Broad Powers to Catalonia

MADRID, March 30 After hours of occasionally bitter debate, the lower
house of Parliament agreed Thursday to grant broad new powers of
self-government to the wealthy northeastern region of Catalonia.
Supporters said the law would keep the restive region content within
Spanish borders for a generation, but critics said it threatened to
fracture the country. The measure, approved by a vote of 189 to 154, would
allow Catalonia to keep more of its tax money, to require residents to
learn the Catalan language and to exercise greater control over issues
like immigration policy. Passage of the measure is at least a short-term
victory for Prime Minister Jos Luis Rodrguez Zapatero, who invested his
personal standing in winning the vote.

But the victory will test his conviction that negotiations and compromise
are the best way to settle the most volatile issue in Spanish politics the
regional demands for autonomy or independence that in the past have led to
potent separatist movements, terrorism and civil war. The bill now will go
to the Senate for a series of nonbinding votes and then return to the
lower house of Parliament for final approval, which is considered all but
a formality. It also must be approved by Catalan voters in a referendum
that is tentatively scheduled for the summer. Before the vote, Mara Teresa
Fernndez de la Vega, the deputy prime minister, said the measure
represented a new path for mending Spain's regional divisions. "The only
way to build a better, more tolerant, unified and stronger Spain is to
integrate our diversity," she said.

But Mariano Rajoy, leader of the center-right Popular Party, the main
opposition group in Parliament, said the initiative was "the beginning of
the end of the state as it was designed by the Spanish people in 1978,"
when the post-Franco Constitution was approved. He demanded that the
legislation be submitted to Spain's constitutional court. Some legal
scholars said the measure might have trouble gaining approval by the
court. "The spirit of the statute describes a quasi-sovereign nation,"
said Pedro Gonzlez-Trevijano, rector of King Juan Carlos University in
Madrid and a professor of Spanish constitutional law. A central issue, he
said, was the measure's declaration that Catalonia's powers of
self-government emanate solely from the Catalan people. That, he said,
could allow Catalonia to claim that "it has the authority to operate
outside the framework of the Constitution, and that it is entitled to

In Catalonia, critics of the bill said it gave too little autonomy to the
region, not too much, and they took issue with government claims that the
law would quell Catalan demands for more self-government for decades.
"This is not an agreement that will resolve the issue for long," said
Ferrn Requejo, a professor of political science at Pompeu Fabra University
in Barcelona. He said politicians in Catalonia had already begun
discussing strategies for obtaining further autonomy.

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