Thursday, January 19, 2006

Hostage to Catalonia

Hostage to Catalonia
Published: January 10 2006 02:00 Last updated: January 10 2006 02:00
Most future historians will note with satisfaction that when Spain, three decades after the death of Franco and the supplanting of his dictatorship by democracy, was told by the commander of the Spanish army that the military might intervene if Catalonia was to get more self-governing powers, Spain was mildly shaken but far from stirred. General Jose Mena Aguado will go down in history as an anachronism.
The days of the military pronunciamiento are over. Spain is a confident and prosperous democracy inside the European Union, a cultural and economic powerhouse and an international citizen of standing. Its federal political system - despite tensions with the Basques and Catalans - must be accounted a success.
Yet in a speech last Friday Gen Mena referred to the Catalan regional government's plans to expand its powers as a repetition of pre-civil war history (he referred to the May 1932 debates on the Catalan autonomy statute). This is reactionary blackmail. Unhappily, the general is not entirely wrong when he claims Article 8 of the constitution empowers the army with defending the "territorial integrity" of Spain. Spain's democratic charter, passed in December 1978, contains flaws, recognised by many at the time. Article 8 was used by Francoist officers to justify their failed putsch of February 1981.
That era is over. But perhaps Spain's government(s) and people could usefully remind themselves of this. The government in Madrid, currently under Socialist management, is right to arrest Gen Mena. It intends to fire him, with the full support of the army chief of staff, and should make clear the same fate awaits any of his emulators.
The Catalan government - also currently led by Socialists - should tread with caution. It is within its rights to demand, for instance, tax-raising powers the Basques already have. Its demand that Catalonia be considered a "nation" reflects a cultural desire supported democratically by its people. This is not, per se, separatism; Article 2 of the constitution already recognises "nationalities" within Spain. Nor should its demand for greater judicial autonomy cause alarm so long as the supremacy of Spain's higher courts remains paramount.
But the Catalans, who pride themselves on being more European than the rest of Spain, should remember the principles of European Union solidarity. These include fiscal transfers from richer to less well-off regions. Why should that be right within Europe but wrong within Spain?
Spain's constitution should also be amended to spell out the supremacy of civil over military power. Unfortunately, the opposition Popular Party, still unreconciled to its ejection from power after the Madrid bombings of March 2004, seems to think Gen Mena has a point. That could represent a greater threat to Spanish unity than Catalonia's autonomy ambitions.
The newspaper information is in adress:

No comments: