A review of the Catalonia secession crisis in Spain

ZHAI Han1

(1.School of Law, Wuhan University)

【Abstract】This paper aims to provide an analysis of the institutional context (including the arrangements in norms and the reality in practice) where the latest Catalan secession movement in Spain is embedded. Entrusted with the historical task of democratization in Spain, the Spanish Constitution of 1978 provides a fundamental institutional framework that brings up the tensions in the vertical distribution of the state power between the State and the autonomous communities. Thus, it has further resulted in the competition in expanding autonomous power between the State and the autonomous communities and among different autonomous communities. In addition, the asymmetric financial arrangements have raised Catalan dissatisfaction with the State government. Against the background of the European debt crisis, the constitutionalization of the EU budgetary policy led to institutional centralization of the financial system in Spain as a whole, which further squeezed the autonomous financial scope of Catalonia. Besides, the Spanish Constitutional Court has displayed ineffective judicial control on the expanding regional secessionism through its decisions, leaving room for criticizing the Court’s strategies on the cases concerning Catalonia secession.

【Keywords】 Spain; regional secession; Spanish Constitution of 1978; autonomy; fiscal and taxation arrangement;

【DOI】

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(Translated by XU Ziyue)

    Footnote

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    [2]. (2) Raphael Minder, “A Year after Catalonia Secession Vote, New Unrest and Still No Resolution,” New York Times, 1 October 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/01/world/europe/spain-catalonia-independence.html, last accessed on 18 October 2018. [^Back]

    [3]. (3) Ríos analyzed the controversial amendments to the 2006 Catalan autonomy regulations from the perspectives of the failure of the expansion of autonomy regulations and the vertical decentralization of fiscal and taxation rights. See [Spain] Ríos, X. Journal of World Peoples Studies (世界民族), Luan, Y. (trans.) (2) (2014). [^Back]

    [4]. (4) Some scholars believed that the national system structure provided by the Spanish Constitution of 1978 was a unitary system. See Tu, K. Global Law Review (环球法律评论), (5) (2014); Tu, K. Tsinghua University Law Journal (清华法学), (4) (2015). [^Back]

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    [13]. (13) In the constitutional research with norm restatement as the mainstream approach and the political science research with nationalism and national identity as the focuses, the economic-oriented analysis is easily overlooked. For typical studies on American constitutional history from the perspectives of property and tax, see Roger H. Brown, Redeeming the Republic: Federalists, Taxation, and the Origins of the Constitution, Johns Hopkins Press, 1993. [^Back]

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    [15]. (15) This code deals with the customs of the feudal system, including some political issues such as the Count’s rights and obligations and the occurrence of war, civil affairs such as the protection of foreigners, and criminal law and procedural law aspects such as the initial unification and clarification of ways to handle cases. See [Spain] Madariaga, S. Spain: A Modern History. Zhu, L. (trans.) Beijing: China Social Sciences Press, 184 (1998). [^Back]

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    [21]. (21) That is the First Republic of Catalonia. Within a week after the announcement of the establishment of the Republic, the President announced his allegiance to King Louis XIII of France and was named the Count of Barcelona. The Republic of Catalonia became the Principality of Catalonia and was the protectorate of France. In fact, then President of the First Republic of Catalonia announced his allegiance to Louis XIII and Louis XIV successively. [^Back]

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    [24]. (24) They were Madrid, Rioja, Cantabria, Murcia, Navarre and Asturias respectively. [^Back]

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    [31]. (31) Enric Martínez-Herrera and Thomas Jeffery Miley, “The Constitution and the Politics of National Identity in Spain,” pp. 9–10. [^Back]

    [32]. (32) For the discussion on executive federalism, see Josep Ma Valles and Montserrat Cuchillo Foix, “Decentralisation in Spain: A Review,” European Journal of Political Research, Vol. 16, 1998, pp. 395–407. For devolutionary federalism, see Alberto López-Basaguren and Leire Escajedo San Epifanio, eds., The Ways of Federalism in Western Countries and the Horizons of Territorial Autonomy in Spain, Vol. 1, Springer, 2012, p. 516. [^Back]

    [33]. (33) Josep M. Colomer, “The Spanish ‘State of Autonomies’: Non-institutional Federalism,” p. 40. [^Back]

    [34]. (34) Journal of World Peoples Studies (世界民族), Zhu, L. (trans.) (1): 76 (1997). [^Back]

    [35]. (35) Journal of World Peoples Studies (世界民族), Zhu, L. (trans.) (1) (1997). [^Back]

    [36]. (36) Journal of World Peoples Studies (世界民族), Zhu, L. (trans.) (1): 79 (1997). [^Back]

    [37]. (37) Journal of World Peoples Studies (世界民族), Zhu, L. (trans.) (1): 76 (1997). [^Back]

    [38]. (38) 西班牙宪法典. Pan, D. & Shan, Y. (trans.) Beijing: China University of Political Science and Law Press, 30 (2006). The organic act in the European tradition is different from that in China which stipulates the basic framework and rules for the organization and operation of state organs. The former refers to a single constitutional law explicitly authorized by the Constitution. [^Back]

    [39]. (39) Ramon Maiz et al., “The Hidden Counterpoint of Spanish Federalism: Recentralisation and Resymmetrisation in Spain (1978–2008),” p. 70. The language problem itself was a highly sensitive topic for the Catalonia autonomous community. This is not only out of social and cultural considerations but also supported by regional laws. The analysis below also discusses this issue. [^Back]

    [40]. (40) 西班牙宪法典. Pan, D. & Shan, Y. (trans.) Beijing: China University of Political Science and Law Press, 73–76 (2006). [^Back]

    [41]. (41) Paloma Biglino Campos, “A Complex Model for Distributing Competences that Requires Further Safeguard,” in Alberto López-Basaguren and Leire Escajedo San Epifanio, eds., The Ways of Federalism in Western Countries and the Horizons of Territorial Autonomy in Spain, Vol. 1, p. 441. [^Back]

    [42]. (42) Manfred Stelzer, “The Constitution of the Republic of Austria: A Contextual Analysis,” Hart Publishing, 2011, pp. 150–151. [^Back]

    [43]. (43) Manfred Stelzer, “The Constitution of the Republic of Austria: A Contextual Analysis,” Hart Publishing, 2011, pp. 150–151. [^Back]

    [44]. (44) Journal of World Peoples Studies (世界民族), Zhu, L. (trans.) (1): 79 (1997). [^Back]

    [45]. (45) Journal of World Peoples Studies (世界民族), Zhu, L. (trans.) (1): (1997). [^Back]

    [46]. (46) Similar judgments can be found in Violeta Ruiz Almendral, “The Asymmetric Distribution of Taxation Powers in the Spanish State of Autonomies: The Common System and the Foral Tax Regimes,” Regional and Federal Studies, Vol. 13, No. 4, 2003, p. 42. [^Back]

    [47]. (47) Journal of World Peoples Studies (世界民族), Zhu, L. (trans.) (1): 77–78 (1997). [^Back]

    [48]. (48) Journal of World Peoples Studies (世界民族), Zhu, L. (trans.) (1): 77 (1997). [^Back]

    [49]. (49) A typical example was the court ruling made by the Spanish Constitutional Court on possible double taxation caused by national legislation and autonomous community legislation, see Order No. 183 / 2016 of November. The plaintiff who brought the case happened to be the government of the Catalonia autonomous community. In the judgment, the court did not change the taxation division between the state and the Catalonia autonomous community, but it took a considerable amount of space for reasoning, reflecting the political prudence of the Spanish Constitutional Court. When the case was considered, the separation situation in Catalonia was intensifying. Then, in dealing directly with the separation of Catalonia, the Constitutional Court upheld its political position of safeguarding the Spanish government and the country and took a more cautious strategy. [^Back]

    [50]. (50) Ramon Maiz et al., “The Hidden Counterpoint of Spanish Federalism: Recentralisation and Resymmetrisation in Spain (1978–2008),” p. 64. [^Back]

    [51]. (51) Alejandro Barón, “Why Public Finance Matters: Evolution of Independence Movements in Catalonia and the Basque Country during the Twenty-First Century,” SAIS Review of International Affairs, Vol. 35, No. 2, 2015, p. 95. [^Back]

    [52]. (52) Luis Moreno, The Federalisation of Spain, Routledge, 2013, p. 98. [^Back]

    [53]. (53) Ramon Maiz et al., “The Hidden Counterpoint of Spanish Federalism: Recentralisation and Resymmetrisation in Spain (1978–2008),” p. 67. [^Back]

    [54]. (54) Liu, H. Heilongjiang National Series (黑龙江民族丛刊), (6): 48 (2015). [^Back]

    [55]. (55) Liu, H. Heilongjiang National Series (黑龙江民族丛刊), (6): 56 (2015). It was not until after the financial crisis that the Spanish government established the National Commission for Local Administration to communicate with autonomous communities in order to ensure the implementation of the new fiscal arrangements. [^Back]

    [56]. (56) See Opinions 4/1981, 25/1981, 37/1981; Quoted from Violeta Ruiz Almendral, “The Asymmetric Distribution of Taxation Powers in the Spanish State of Autonomies: The Common System and the Foral Tax Regimes,” p. 43。 [^Back]

    [57]. (57) Liu, H. Heilongjiang National Series (黑龙江民族丛刊), (6): 55 (2015). [^Back]

    [58]. (58) Violeta Ruiz Almendral, “The Asymmetric Distribution of Taxation Powers in the Spanish State of Autonomies: The Common System and the Foral Tax Regimes,” p. 42. [^Back]

    [59]. (59) Michael Keating and Alex Wilson, “Renegotiating the State of Autonomies: Statute Reform and Multi-level Politics in Spain,” pp. 538–539. For the provisions of the Spanish Constitution of 1978 on foral fiscal and taxation areas, see the item 8 in Section 149 (1) (the state exercises exclusive power in matters related to foral fiscal and taxation areas), and Article 4 (1) and (2) of the part of transitional provisions (for the establishment of foral fiscal and taxation authorities in the Navarra and Basque regions, the procedure contemplated by Section 143 of this Constitution shall not apply). In the Spanish Constitution of 1978, there was no literal expression of “common fiscal and taxation area.” The expression was the result of the backward induction by scholars based on the explicit regulations of foral fiscal and taxation areas. [^Back]

    [60]. (60) Teresa Garcia-Milà and Therese J. McGuire, “Fiscal Decentralisation in Spain: An Asymmetric Transition’ to Democracy,” in Richard M. Bird and Robert D. Ebel, eds., Fiscal Fragmentation in Decentralised Countries: Subsidiarity, Solidarity and Asymmetry, Edward Elgar, 2007, p. 215. [^Back]

    [61]. (61) The transfer payment system, together with the regional taxation rights, was born in the transitional period after the death of Franco, and also left a strong transitional trace. At the intersection of the 1970s and 1980s, the entire transfer payment system was originally based on the fiscal expenditures in various regions before the reform. It was not until 1986 that the formula for transfer payment allocation was revised. In 1996, the negotiations between the national and regional governments on the 1997–2001 fiscal cycle made a major change to the tax formula in 1986: the national government authorized each autonomous community to change the tax rate for all taxes within the scope of autonomy, and autonomous communities could enjoy 15% more income tax. Before this, the mainstream voice in Spain was to reserve the power to set tax rates for each autonomous community. See Teresa Garcia-Milà and Therese J. McGuire, “Fiscal Decentralisation in Spain: An Asymmetric Transition’ to Democracy,” in Richard M. Bird and Robert D. Ebel, eds., Fiscal Fragmentation in Decentralised Countries: Subsidiarity, Solidarity and Asymmetry, Edward Elgar, 2007, p. 217–218. [^Back]

    [62]. (62) Teresa Garcia-Milà and Therese J. McGuire, “Fiscal Decentralisation in Spain: An Asymmetric Transition’ to Democracy,” in Richard M. Bird and Robert D. Ebel, eds., Fiscal Fragmentation in Decentralised Countries: Subsidiarity, Solidarity and Asymmetry, Edward Elgar, 2007, p. 215. [^Back]

    [63]. (63) Teresa Garcia-Milà and Therese J. McGuire, “Fiscal Decentralisation in Spain: An Asymmetric Transition’ to Democracy.” [^Back]

    [64]. (64) Teresa Garcia-Milà and Therese J. McGuire, “Fiscal Decentralisation in Spain: An Asymmetric Transition’ to Democracy,” in Richard M. Bird and Robert D. Ebel, eds., Fiscal Fragmentation in Decentralised Countries: Subsidiarity, Solidarity and Asymmetry, Edward Elgar, 2007, p. 216. [^Back]

    [65]. (65) Teresa Garcia-Milà and Therese J. McGuire, “Fiscal Decentralisation in Spain: An Asymmetric Transition’ to Democracy,” in Richard M. Bird and Robert D. Ebel, eds., Fiscal Fragmentation in Decentralised Countries: Subsidiarity, Solidarity and Asymmetry, Edward Elgar, 2007, p. 215. [^Back]

    [66]. (66) The official name of the “solidarity grants” is the Inter-territorial Compensation Fund (El Fondo de Compensación Interterritorial), which is directly stipulated by the item 2 in Section 157 (1) of the Spanish Constitution of 1978. [^Back]

    [67]. (67) The specific data is sourced from previous studies of political economy, see Elisenda Paluzie, “The Cost and Benefits of Staying Together: the Catalan Case in Spain,” in Nuria Bosch et al., eds., The Political Economy of Inter-regional Fiscal Flows: Measurement Determinants and Effects on Country Stability, Edward Elgar Publishing, 2010, pp. 366–367. [^Back]

    [68]. (68) Elisenda Paluzie, “The Cost and Benefits of Staying Together: the Catalan Case in Spain,” in Nuria Bosch et al., eds., The Political Economy of Inter-regional Fiscal Flows: Measurement Determinants and Effects on Country Stability, Edward Elgar Publishing, 2010, pp. 361. [^Back]

    [69]. (69) César Colino and Eloísa del Pino, “The Financial and Political Crisis of Spanish Federalism: Transformation or Erosion?” in Richard Eccleston and Richard Krever, eds., The Future of Federalism Intergovernmental Financial Relations in an Age of Austerity, Edward Elgar Publishing, 2017, p. 204. [^Back]

    [70]. (70) César Colino and Eloísa del Pino, “The Financial and Political Crisis of Spanish Federalism: Transformation or Erosion?” p. 199. [^Back]

    [71]. (71) Fabrizio Di Mascio and Alessandro Natalini, “Fiscal Retrenchenment in Southern Europe: Changing Patterns of Public Management in Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain,” Public Management Review, Vol. 17, No. 1, 2015, p. 142. [^Back]

    [72]. (72) Fabrizio Di Mascio and Alessandro Natalini, “Fiscal Retrenchenment in Southern Europe: Changing Patterns of Public Management in Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain,” Public Management Review, Vol. 17, No. 1, 2015, p. 143. Rajoy was impeached by the Spanish Cortes Generales on June 1, 2018, becoming the first prime minister to be impeached in the modern Spanish history. [^Back]

    [73]. (73) César Colino and Eloísa del Pino, “The Financial and Political Crisis of Spanish Federalism: Transformation or erosion?” p. 142. [^Back]

    [74]. (74) In 2017, Section 109a of the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany underwent similar amendments. The main content was that the Constitution stipulated the establishment of the Financial Stability Council, in order to achieve continuous monitoring of the federal and state budget systems. [^Back]

    [75]. (75) “Beyond the control of the State and significantly impair either the financial situation or the economic or social sustainability of the State.” At present, there is no authoritative Chinese translation of this clause, and the revised English text of the Spanish Constitution of 1978 is sourced at https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Spain_2011.pdf?lang=en, last accessed on August 23, 2018. The Spanish text is also available on the Spanish Senate’s website: http://www.senado.es/web/conocersenado/normas/constitucion/index.html?lang=en, last accessed on September 20, 2018. [^Back]

    [76]. (76) Organic Law 2/2012 of 27 April 2012 on Fiscal Stability and Financial Sustainability, http://www.spanishreforms.com/-/organic-law-on-budget-stability-and-financial-sustainability, last accessed August 20, 2019. [^Back]

    [77]. (77) Regarding this point about political practices breaking through the fundamental arrangements in the constitutional text and thus causing substantial constitutional changes, see studies on informal constitutional changes. For the latest monograph that combines theory and national experience and has a major impact in the field of comparative constitutional science, see Yaniv Roznai, Unconstitutional Constitutional Amendments: The Limits of Amendment Power, Oxford University Press, 2017. [^Back]

    [78]. (78) Jordi Pujol served as President of the Catalonia autonomous community from 1980 to 2003. In 2014, he was deprived of all official titles, party rights and pensions due to recognition of tax fraud during his tenure of office. [^Back]

    [79]. (79) The full name of the English text of this law is “Law 7/1983 of April 18 of linguistic normalisation in Catalonia,” and it was revised in 1998. [^Back]

    [80]. (80) Constitutional Court Judgment 31/2010, 28 June 2018. [^Back]

    [81]. (81) Ye, J. Academics (学术界), (1): 71 (2018). [^Back]

    [82]. (82) “PROGRAMA 2000–Strategy for Re-Catalanisation,” https://www.tabarnia.today/englishversion/programa2000-strategy-for-recatalanisation, last accessed on July 14, 2018. [^Back]

    [83]. (83) Tabarnia refers to a reverse secession movement emerged in Catalonia in recent years. It was the combination of Catalonia’s two important cities, Barcelona and Tarragona. It claimed that if Catalonia was separated from Spain, Barcelona and Tarragona would merge into a new autonomous community and stay in Spain. This movement was a tit-for-tat response to the Catalonia secession movement by advocates of Spanish unity. Most of the participants were educators, local artists and scientific researchers. At first, the movement appeared as a satire of politics, but with the deep development of the secession of Catalonia, the Tabarnia Movement also once became an important cultural front against national division. [^Back]

    [84]. (84) [Germany] Bernecker, W. Spanische Geschichte: Vom 15 Jahrhundert bis zur Gegenwart. Chen, X. (trans.) Shanghai: Shanghai Culture Publishing House, 88 (2018). “Bases de Manresa” literally meant “based on Manresa.” Manresa was the place where this political document was published, a small Catalan city 66 kilometers away from Barcelona. [^Back]

    [85]. (85) “Las Bases de Manresa, 1892,” http://www.historiacontemporanea.com/pages/bloque5/el-sistema-canovista-y-los-borbones-18751902/documentos_historicos/las-bases-de-manresa-1892 theme=pdf, last accessed on June 8, 2019. [^Back]

    [86]. (86) [Spain] Fusi, J. Journal of World Peoples Studies (民族译丛), Zhu, L. (trans.) (2): 9 (1993). [^Back]

    [87]. (87) For Catalonia’s 2006 amendment to the autonomy regulations and the constitutional controversy it triggered, see Ye, J. Academics (学术界), (1): 71–72 (2018). [^Back]

    [88]. (88) Resolution on the Declaration of Sovereignty and the Right to Decide of the People of Catalonia (Resolution 5/X of the Parliament of Catalonia). [^Back]

    [89]. (89) Constitutional Judgement 42/2014, 25 March 2014. The “pluralism” here means that even if a Catalonia referendum was bound to take place, it should be the Spanish people across the country to decide on the future of the Catalan region because Catalonia was part of Spain. [^Back]

    [90]. (90) “Catalan Government Keeps November 9’s Participatory Process On-going Despite Constitutional Court’s Suspension,” Catalan News Agency, 4 November 2014, http://www.catalannewsagency.com/politics/item/catalan-government-keeps-november-9-s-participatory-process-on-going-despite-constitutional-court-s-suspension, last accessed on 10 January 2017. [^Back]

    [91]. (91) Associated Press in Barcelona, “Thousands of Catalan Separatists Protest against Government’s Legal Challenges,” The Guardian, 13 November 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/13/thousands-catalan-separatists-protest-against-governments-legal-challenges, last accessed on 26 January 2017. [^Back]

    [92]. (92) The official English expression of this item in Spain was “authorisation of popular consultations through the holding of referendums.” The Chinese translation bu Zhu Lun was “通过公民投票方式进行民意测验的授权.”And another Chinese version directedly from Spanish was “通过举行公民投票进行民众咨询的授权,” see 西班牙宪法典. Pan, D. & Shan, Y. (trans.) Beijing: China University of Political Science and Law Press, 55 (2006). The Chinese expression in this article was translated by the author based on the Spanish text and the official English text. [^Back]

    [93]. (93) The absence of Catalans in the Constitutional Court was also part of the Catalan government’s unconstitutional independent propaganda. [^Back]

    [94]. (94) An opinion contrary to this article believed that political compromise and policy swings caused by the exchange of party interests were a manifestation of domestic political flexibility in Spain. See Wang, J. Journal of Northwest Normal University (Social Sciences) (西北师大学报(社会科学版)), (1): 24 (2017). [^Back]

This Article

ISSN:1004-9789

CN: 11-4899/C

Vol 37, No. 05, Pages 126-149+8

October 2019

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Article Outline

Abstract

  • Introduction: realities and research topics
  • 1 Historical background: Catalonia of Spain and its autonomous status
  • 2 Modern design: vertical decentralization and practical consequences
  • 3 Unbalanced fiscal and taxation system and reform of stress
  • 4 Secession crossroads
  • 5 Conclusion
  • Footnote