Spain Lifts Catalan Spending Controls, Hints at Constitutional Reform

The goodwill measures of the new Socialist government are an about-face from the clampdown under Mariano Rajoy.

Pedro Sánchez addresses a conference of the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party January 30, 2016
Pedro Sánchez addresses a conference of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party January 30, 2016 (PSOE)

Spain has lifted controls on Catalonia’s public finances and called for constitutional reforms to dissuade the region from breaking away.

The goodwill measures of the new Socialist government are an about-face from the clampdown under conservative prime minister Mariano Rajoy, who was ousted in a confidence vote last week.

Socialist Party leader Pedro Sánchez, the new prime minister, backed Rajoy when he suspended Catalonia’s autonomy in the wake of the October 1 independence referendum. But he also argued for talks to convince a majority of Catalans to stay in Spain. Rajoy refused to so much as sit down with the region’s separatists.

A third way

I have long argued that Catalonia needs a third way between secession and the status quo.

The majority of Catalans don’t want to break away — provided they can get (more) autonomy in Spain.

Rajoy’s strategy of saying “no” to every demand radicalized the Catalans. Before he came to power, only a quarter wanted independence. That figure rose to nearly 50 percent in 2013. It is now 40 percent.

Laments

One of the Catalans’ laments is that the Basques get to collect their own taxes whereas the Catalan regional government must get money back from Madrid.

Another sore point is that the Constitutional Court overturned parts of Catalonia’s autonomy statute in 2010 — in a lawsuit brought by Rajoy’s conservative People’s Party.

The new Spanish minister for public administration, Meritxell Batet — herself Catalan — has called for a review of both issues.

Quid pro quo

Ever since September 2015, when the separatists won a majority in regional elections, has Spain required the Catalan government to submit all proposed financial transactions to Madrid for approval. This to prevent public money from being spent on the independence project. The Socialists have now lifted that requirement.

Rajoy’s People’s Party and the liberal Citizens, who are first in the polls, have criticized the “concession”, alleging a quid pro quo between Sánchez and the separatists.

Without the support of the Catalan parties, who have seventeen out of 350 seats in Spain’s national Congress, Sánchez would not have had a majority to oust Rajoy and take his place.