Rajoy Walks Back Promise of Constitutional Reform

The conservative’s intransigence gives credence to separatists who argue Spain will never respect Catalonia.

Carles Puigdemont Mariano Rajoy
Catalan president Carles Puigdemont listens to Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy giving a speech in Barcelona, August 18 (La Moncloa)

Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy has walked back his promise of constitutional reform, saying in a radio interview, “I have never been a supporter of reforming the Constitution. I’m prepared to listen, but not to go against unity or sovereignty.”

His only concession was to agree the current model of autonomous communities needs to be “evaluated” — but that could mean different things:

  • Left-wing parties argue for something close to federation, perhaps even with a right to self-determination for the Basques and Catalans.
  • Nationalists on the right, who felt Rajoy didn’t intervene strongly enough to disrupt the October 1 independence referendum in Catalonia, argue for centralization.

“Insoluble unity”

The current Constitution, which dates back to 1978, describes Spain’s unity as “insoluble”.

The Constitutional Court has interpreted this to mean that no individual region can organize an independence referendum and that Catalonia, unlike the Basque Country, cannot have fiscal autonomy.

Middle way

Polls show that giving the Catalans more autonomy, specifically in terms of spending and taxes, and recognizing them as a “nation” within Spain would satisfy most.

But if they are forced to choose between the status quo and seceding from Spain, the Catalans split evenly.

Constitutional reform is the sensible, and possibly the only, way out.

Rajoy’s intransigence on this point gives credence to Catalan separatists who argue that Spain will never respect the region’s sense of nationhood — and makes it more likely they will prevail in the election next month.