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Post Madrid Pardons Catalonian Separatists: Will This Cost Sanchez?
Created by John Eipper on 06/25/21 8:12 AM

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Madrid Pardons Catalonian Separatists: Will This Cost Sanchez? (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela, 06/25/21 8:12 am)

A couple of years ago, after Pedro Sánchez, the current president of Spain, won the elections, I made some reflections on the possible and dire economic and political consequences of a socialist government if it should form coalitions with far-left, nationalist and pro-independence parties. Two years later, my fears have been more than fulfilled.

Indeed, these consequences are very serious, particularly the economic measures, further aggravated by the pandemic. This despite the economic aid the EU has agreed to distribute to its members, in order to reduce the negative impacts in the short term.

However, this is not what I wanted to refer to in particular, but rather to the worrying concessions that the government has been forced to make to the nationalist and Catalan independence parties.

Especially regarding the latter, the president has failed to fulfill an explicit electoral promise that he would never pardon the Catalan politicians convicted of sedition and embezzlement. Instead, two days ago the government announced this pardon effective immediately. On this point there are several interesting aspects that I will discuss further.

In the first place, consider the blatant breach of a public commitment to the electorate. Had the voters suspected his intentions, possibly they would never have accepted or voted for him.

Second, the current opposition to the Sánchez government, including a large sector of socialists from his own party, which according to polls, is around 70%. In addition, there is the explicit and declared opposed opinion of the Supreme Court of Justice to the pardons.

Absurdly the argument used to justify these pardons has been to promote reconciliation and remove a political problem from the judicial system. This, however, has been discredited by the pardoned individuals themselves upon leaving prison, who stated that they are not repentant and that they would commit the same acts and crimes again if needed. It should be obvious that exonerating someone of a crime should require repentance and a firm promise not to repeat the same acts again. It does not have much sense or reason.

In addition to the dubious political and legal justification, there is the fact that this concession is a prelude to other more risky ones, derived from the government's commitment to these pro-independence groups in order to stay in power. I referred to them on one occasion, and now I reaffirm my opinion. For example, reformulating the crime of sedition and its penalties, or granting a referendum for independence, which is absolutely illegal according to the constitution.

This endless Spanish political drama is not over yet. Public opinion in general is very upset and it will possibly have a very high political cost for the ruling party, which they have immediately rushed to try to reduce through short-term demagogic and populist measures.

JE comments:  Sánchez is faced with the age-old quandary of whether to take a hard line against separatists or reconcile with them.  Damned if you do, damned if you don't.  One political advantage of the path taken:  the nine "pardonees" are no longer martyrs for the Catalonian independentists.  I hope our in-house Catalonian nationalist, Jordi Molins, will weigh in here.

Nacho, are you in Spain presently?  Please fill us in on the state of the economy as Spain emerges from the pandemic.

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  • A Federal Government for Spain? (Carmen Negrin, -France 06/26/21 3:42 AM)
    According to the Catalan newspaper La Vanguardia, 51.3% of Catalans are now in favor of remaining in Spain versus 41.8% who prefer independence. This was the goal and is the main objective to achieve. And this is what the Partido Popular would never be able to achieve.

    I am sorry for Jordi Molins, and sorry for José Ignacio Soler.

    But personally I am very pleased.

    As for the economy, a country that is largely dependent on tourism--mainly thanks to Franco--will indeed have a hard time recovering from the pandemic, but at least many people will not be left behind.

    I have to add that from the very beginning I heard that Sánchez was aiming at a possible federal government. If this arrangement brings peace, stability and equality among Spaniards, why not?

    JE comments:  Carmen, can you walk us through the type of federal arrangement Sánchez is proposing?  Something along the lines of Switzerland?

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    • A Federal System for Spain? It Already Has One in Practice (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 06/26/21 10:10 AM)
      Today's post from Carmen Negrín inspires some comments. 

      First of all, I really doubt that the pardons issued to the Catalonian politicians had such an immediate effect on their independence preferences as she points out, and that she seems to attribute to that single event. This trend had already been noticed for months and not precisely because of the pardons.  It is most likely that this change has resulted from the economic crisis in Catalonia, precisely because the regional independence policies have reduced confidence in its economy and have caused a decreased GDP and more unemployment in Catalonia, higher than in other regions of Spain. In fact, the importance of the GDP of Catalonia in the overall GDP of Spain has gone in recent years from being one of the first two to third or fourth place. By the way Carmen, I am also happy with the findings of the poll, and there is no need to feel sorry for me.  

      The second point is related to the importance of tourism in Spain as a contributor to GDP. Let's see, this sector represented in recent years between 11% to 12.5% of GDP, except in 2020 when it barely contributed 5.5%.  It remains to be determined what its contribution will be this year, although some economists estimate it to reach no more than 7% or 8%. This is far from representing the sector that contributes most to the GDP, as Carmen affirms.  And, please, enough of blaming Franco for all the evils and problems that Spain currently has!  This is the favorite mantra of all Spanish socialists. It would be almost the same thing as blaming the Bourbons, since Felipe V in 1700, for the Catalan separatist movement. 

      Finally, I want to make some observations about the apparent magic solution proposed by the PSOE, of a federal regime to solve the regionalist and independence problems. I affirm that the autonomy regime in Spain is already very close to a federal regime, and there are few differences that would contribute to solving the pro-independence problems. 

      To begin with, the autonomous entities in Spain have their own regional statutes, as do federal regimes. The autonomies control matters of education, health, administrative management, and have their own executive, legislative and judicial institutions. In many fiscal and tax aspects they also have autonomy. In fact, in federal regimes it is the federal government that decides what the powers of the federated states will be, while in the Spanish Autonomías regime, they are the ones that decide their own powers. As I understand it, article 149 of the Spanish constitution guarantees that the autonomies decide these powers.   

      The only substantive difference between one regime and another is that, in a federal regime, changes to regional statutes are discussed and approved in a national territorial chamber of representatives, be it the senate or similar, and in the current regime in Spain, these changes are approved by a national legislative chamber where the territorial representatives are present, although they do not have the majority right to approve their own statutes.   

      To conclude, there is little, or very little, that a federal regime would contribute to solving the territorial problems of Spain, which have deeper and different roots, historical and mainly racist and supremacist.

      JE comments:  I don't believe Carmen Negrín was implying that the La Vanguardia poll was from after the pardons issued by Sánchez.  Regarding Spain's political system, it is already classified as "devolved," which means that the national (central) authority grants powers to the regions.  A federation in theory works the other way around:  the regions surrender power to the central authority.  In practice there is probably little difference, if any.

      The best-known federal systems in Europe are Germany and Belgium, although Austria is also included in the list.  Nacho, you know both Spain and Germany very well.  In your view, in which of the two nations is there more regional autonomy?

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      • Regional Autonomy in Germany and Spain (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 06/28/21 3:31 AM)

        In his comments on my last post (June 26th), John E asked me to give a comparative opinion on the differences between the territorial-political regimes of Spain and Germany.

        I can add little more to what I already wrote in my reply to Carmen Negrín, but I will elaborate on some details so as not to leave the curiosity of our esteemed editor-in-chief completely unsatisfied.

        In Germany, the political and geographical distribution more or less corresponds to regions, the Laenders, with their own traditional identities, as has been tried in Spain with the Comunidades Autónomas. Essentially, there are few differences between the two regional institutions, with more or less similar competencies, powers, administrative and political structures.

        According to its constitution, Germany is a federal state where the individual states, the Laender, assume the competences and powers delegated by the central government or Bundes Regierung, in various administrative, legal, economic, tax, and educational aspects. (There are too many to describe all of them here). Spain, according to its constitution, is an Estado de Autonomías (State of Autonomies), although in this case they are the ones who decide which powers they assume, as guaranteed by articles 148 and 148 of its constitutional legislation. In relation to that, I remember when the current constitution was approved, it was colloquially called Café para todos (coffee for all), in the sense that it sought to satisfy all the regions in terms of their political claims and aspirations. And precisely in that sense, the Spanish political regime is more decentralized than the German one.

        The German federal state has upper and lower chambers of representatives, the Bundesrat and the Bundestag, where the first is equivalent to a senate of other political systems, which is made up of representatives from each Laender, and where issues that compete to the regional administration of any kind are debated and legislated; the lower house or Bundestag, legislates and controls at the national level everything related to the federated state, the central government and its administrators.

        Spain also has two chambers that make up the Cortes Generales, the Senado and the Congreso de los Diputados; the former is not made up entirely of regional representatives of the communities, and in this respect differs from the German Bundesrat. In addition to the fact that the functions of both chambers are complementary, in the case of Spain the Senate also shares responsibilities with the Cámara de Representantes in the legislative and control over the central government.

        Regarding the functions related to the territorial management of the Autonomous Communities, the Senate has almost the same prerogatives as the Congress; however, it does not have sufficient functions to guarantee efficient territorial representation, nor to guarantee sufficient cooperation and integration of its Communities.

        Technically the Spanish regime is the closest thing to a federal regime, and its differences are more superficial than substantial. Changing the names of their institutions would be nothing more than window dressing with little practical effectiveness, and more likely won't resolve any territorial problem as I already stated.

        JE comments:  Café para todos is a splendid thing if you can achieve it!  Too often, one group gets its coffee only by taking it away from another group.

        If Madrid can strike a Grand Bargain and preserve the nation as a federation, it should be worth a try.  The unknown is whether additional autonomy will quell separatist sentiment, or open the door to full dissolution.

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