Analysis: Does Spain need to reform its constitution?

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Alex MacBeth - [email protected]
Analysis: Does Spain need to reform its constitution?
Should Spain embark on constitutional reform? Photo: AFP

Would constitutional reform help solve the Catalan crisis? And how likely is it? Political scientist Edu Bayón analyses the current state of play.


Key figures from Spain’s political class, including the Socialist Party, are calling for constitutional reform in Spain. What type of reform could be enacted? How? And for what purpose?

Spain is at a key moment where a constitutional reform is needed to update the magna carta and renew the basic rules of coexistence. Spain has experienced a crisis – a crisis that has been socio-economic as well as political-institutional and territorial - and has seen consensus eroded.

The reform is needed to perfect a constitutional text that is showing signs of fatigue. One of the key functions of a constitution must be to adapt to the needs of the political community that it orders.

We must bear in mind that times have changed; decisions taken 39-years ago may have been right and correct then but may not remain so today

We need a deep reform of the parliament, and especially of the Senate, so that it can finally become a truly representative body for all of Spain.

Likewise, it is necessary to establish a popular legislative initiative. At the moment a petition can be presented to Congress if it collects at least 500,000 signatures ( but with no guarantee that it will be accepted) a figure that seems excessive when compared to systems in Switzerland or Italy, or with the European Commission itself.  We need to introduce referendum mechanisms that will involve the citizen even more in political participation.

In addition, we must do more to ring-fence the Welfare State, especially to ensure that rights related to education and health are not cut by the governments of the day. That we enshrine them as true fundamental rights, and not just principles to be interpreted by the legislator. I’m taking about principles contained in the articles related to social rights such as the right to protection of unemployment (article 41), the right to public health (article 43), decent housing (article 47) and pensions (article 50).

And of course, we need to tackle the autonomous system (that governs the regions), its financing and its division of powers, given that the Catalan situation has left it in question. This issue becomes essential in forming a federal State that is acceptable to all.

Constitutional reform can only happen by going through the difficult process established in article 168 of the 1978 Constitution. It would need very strong majority support, the dissolution of the Cortes and then a referendum to approve it. It’s a complex process but one that forces consensus to be reached between the different political actors. The role of society, on the other hand, must be as protagonist.

Several key figures of Catalan politics remain in prison as campaigning starts for the regional elections on December 21st. Do you think any of the imprisoned leaders could be released before the elections?

Since the release of the six ousted politicans after they made bail, and with Junqueras, the "jordis" and Forn continuing behind bars, it seems unlikely that we will see more changes to the situation before December 21st.

Is the Catalan independence movement likely to grow weaker after the regional elections or grow even stronger?

The force of the Catalan independence movement will depend on the parliamentary majority in the Catalan Parliament after December 21st and the make-up of the government formed after the election. If from the outset, we see a majority of separatists,  then clearly the movement will be strengthened and that it will demonstrate a triumph over the application of Article 155 and what happened in these last weeks. On the other hand, if the independence parties lose its parliamentary majority, the movement will likely take a backward step.

The electoral polls published so far show both blocs neck-and-neck and also reveal an important rise in support for Junts per Catalunya, the party led by Carles Puigdemont, whose strategy and tactics from Brussels seems to be reporting electoral benefits.

In any case, I stress that the evolution of the independence movement will depend on the result that comes out of the polls on December 21st.

Photo: AFP

To what extent does Rajoy's Popular Party use the Catalan crisis to divert attention from other national issues, such as corruption and constitutional reform?

In dealing with the Catalan issue the Popular Party government has at times been gripped by paralysis and at others acted simultaneously with conflicting and polarized positions.

The question of Catalonia has not only served to see issues such as corruption and constitutional reform swept aside, but more pressing issues such as unemployment and other social issues that dominated the political agenda a few years ago have disappeared from the headlines of the press and the daily political agenda.

It seems clear that the Popular Party is more comfortable when the political discussion and frame of reference focuses on Catalonia and the territorial issue, rather than on social issues that favour the left.

In the future, what do you see as the great challenges for Spain and Catalonia, especially in the economic sphere?

The territorial crisis gripping Spain is one of the main challenges facing the Spanish State after the Catalan independence process.

In terms of the economy, improving the prospects for growth that have fallen in recent months will be another issue. On the other hand, the problem of high unemployment, especially among young people, as well as low wages and precarious state of the jobs created will be the major challenges to face.

Lets not forget the pensions, whose financing system needs to be reviewed, and whose funds the governments of the PP have squandered since 2011.

Catalonia should seek to recover certain normalcy, provide political stability and offer tranquility and confidence to certain sectors, not only the financial sector, but also tourism, whose role in the economy is fundamental and which has been affected in recent months by the independence drive and its consequences.

On the other hand, it seems unlikely that the companies that changed their headquarters will return to Catalonia in the short term.


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