Constitutional erosion in Spain: the Catalan pro-independence disaster

Constitutional erosion in Spain: the Catalan pro-independence disaster

Catalonia collection

Constitutional erosion in Spain: the Catalan pro-independence disaster [1]

Creator: Núria González Campañá, member of GEDECO [2] College of Barcelona, 

This weblog is a part of a chain at the home political implications and world echoes of the independence bid in Catalonia. The collection is a collaboration between the Centre on Constitutional Exchange and the Institute for Comparative Federalism at EURAC Analysis in Bolzano/Bozen, Italy.

Spain isn’t alien to the phenomenon of populist narratives and constitutional erosion. Even though almost certainly ignored via world audiences, one of the related examples of constitutional erosions that has taken position in Spain is the Catalan secessionist bid. On this weblog, I center of attention on two populists characteristics of the pro-independence motion from a constitutional legislation standpoint: i.e., the intolerant interpretation of democracy and the disdain for the guideline of legislation.

Intolerant interpretation of democracy

Over the last decade, a pro-independence majority within the Catalan parliament has tried to prepare a referendum on independence. Polls have persistently urged {that a} majority of Catalans are in favour of being requested about independence. However surveys and electoral effects were similarly constant in appearing that Catalonia is divided in two halves in relation to secession. There is not any majority of electorate (let on my own a transparent majority) in favour of independence.[3]

Catalan pro-independence leaders have made nice efforts to construct the case that organizing a referendum on secession is a query of democratic high quality. “Vote casting is commonplace in a typical nation” or “that is about democracy” have been one of the vital maximum repeated slogans. On the other hand, just a few democracies (e.g. Canada and the United Kingdom) have authorised a vote at the secession of part of the rustic. Different constitutional democracies (e.g. US, Italy, Germany) have rejected the concept that one a part of the rustic can arrange a referendum on secession. Catalan pro-independence leaders have been arguably disingenuous in suggesting {that a} referendum on secession is “commonplace”. What’s extra worrisome, they assumed that democracy, understood as majority rule, will have to trump some other prison theory, like the guideline of legislation, appreciate for minorities, or federalism.

Democracy is not just about balloting or in regards to the needs of the bulk. Constitutional democracy manner folks deciding, however doing so consistent with regulations that may most effective be modified following their very own modification process. On the other hand, within the populist narrative of the Catalan pro-independence motion, a majoritarian thought of democratic legitimacy took occurrence over the guideline of legislation, and the preferred will used to be conceived as the one supply of energy. The implication used to be that ‘the folks’ can’t be fallacious and due to this fact, leaders and parliaments will have to have the ability to hold out folks’s aspirations, irrespective of the letter of the legislation.

The referendum changed into an ethical purpose, the one software to permit for the political expression of the folks’s will. Oriol Junqueras, former Vice-President of the Catalan authorities, had insisted a number of occasions that “balloting is a proper that prevails over any legislation” and that “we [Catalan government] will disobey the Spanish regulations, however we will be able to obey the mandate that we’ve got within the Catalan Parliament.”[4]. Catalan establishments additionally tried to discredit the Spanish constitutional framework. For example, the Answer of Catalan Parliament 1/XI, of 9 November 2015 established that the Catalan Parliament will now not be topic to selections followed via the “Spanish State”, particularly the ones coming from the Constitutional Courtroom that consistent with the Answer “lacks legitimacy and competence”.

This opposition between purported well-liked legitimacy and legality implies an intolerant model of democracy. The speculation of the federal government of the folks is taken actually and assessments and balances on the preferred will are rejected.

Additionally, the triggering motivation in the back of a referendum on secession isn’t democracy, however nationalism. In different phrases, as Carlos Closa argues, there is not any explanation why the democratic proper of 1 staff to secede (Catalans) will have to succeed over the similarly democratic rejection of this proper expressed via a majority of a much broader demos (Spaniards). In different phrases, why is it extra “democratic” that most effective Catalans, moderately than all Spaniards, make a decision the future of Catalonia and Spain?

The disdain for the Rule of Legislation and the judiciary because of the unrestricted interpretation of the preferred will

Spanish constitutional prison order does no longer acknowledge the precise of the population of an Self reliant Neighborhood to make a decision at the dismemberment of the rustic. The Spanish Constitutional Courtroom (SCC) (Judgments 42/2014 and 259/2015) has mentioned that making an allowance for the Catalan folks as sovereign is towards Spanish nationwide sovereignty, which can’t be divided. But even so, the Charter is in response to the indissoluble solidarity of the Spanish Country. Moreover, the central State holds unique competence over authorization for well-liked consultations in the course of the maintaining of referendums (Artwork. 149.1 Spanish Charter). Thus, an Self reliant Neighborhood that enjoys self-government can’t unilaterally name a referendum on self-determination, as a result of sovereignty is most effective reserved to the Spanish folks as a complete. The SCC accepts that the so-called “proper to make a decision” is a valid political aspiration. On the other hand, since this aspiration is precluded via the present constitutional framework, the Courtroom argued that such aspiration will have to be channelled thru a constitutional modification.

In spite of the readability of the Courtroom’s place, in September 2017 the pro-independence majority within the Catalan Parliament handed two regulations: 19/2017, on a referendum on self-determination, and 20/2017, at the basis of the Republic. Each regulations established that they prevailed over the Spanish Charter and the Catalan Statute of Autonomy, even if they failed to achieve the certified majorities required to amend the exact same Catalan Statute of Autonomy (i.e. 2/3). But even so, the pressing parliamentary process that were prompted to undertake those regulations decreased the dialogue duration to not up to an afternoon for each and every invoice, leaving no time for scrutiny. Each regulations have been instantly challenged sooner than the SCC, which suspended the regulations and their results. The referendum nonetheless came about on 1 October 2017, even though with out procedural promises.

The disdain for the guideline of legislation is also observed in the way in which the referendum used to be applied. The 2017 referendum did not agree to lots of the Venice Fee pointers at the maintaining of referendums, as set out in a Code of Excellent Apply on Referendums from 2007, and now the Revised Tips from 2020. For example, the Venice Fee stipulates that referenda will have to no longer be held if the Charter or a statute in conformity with the Charter does no longer supply for them. Neither the Spanish Charter nor the Catalan Statute of Autonomy supplies for a referendum on secession. Venice Fee pointers additionally underline the significance of an independent frame being accountable for setting up the referendum. On the other hand, the electoral fee that the Catalan Parliament had appointed to oversee the referendum (with out participants of the opposition) used to be dissolved after the Constitutional Courtroom imposed coercive fines on its participants (Decrees 123 and 124/2017, of nineteen and 20 September 2017) and used to be no longer changed.

The populist narrative of the Catalan government on the time of the 2017 referendum thus suits throughout the fresh wave of populism. It assumed that democracy is at its maximum authentic when the desire of the folks is limitless, emerges immediately from a referendum, and that majority personal tastes will have to no longer be topic to judicial evaluate. The sort of populist method dangers eroding the legitimacy of one of the vital central pillars of the submit WWII prison order: counter-majoritarian establishments, specifically the courts and constitutional justice.


  1. For an extended model, see González Campañá, Núria, “Constitutional erosion in Spain: From the Catalan Professional-Independence Disaster to the (Meant) Judiciary Reforms”, in Castellà Andreu, J.M. and Simonelli, M.A. (eds), Populism and Recent Democracy in Europe (Springer, 2022).
  2. This paintings used to be supported via the Ecu Union’s Horizon 2020 analysis and innovation programme beneath grant settlement No 822590 (Democratic Efficacy and the types of populism in Europe).
  3. The adaptation between the proportion of seats (greater than 50%) and the proportion of well-liked vote (not up to 50%) is an consequence of the Catalan electoral regime, during which rural districts the place independentism is more potent are over-represented in comparison to the metropolitan house of Barcelona.
  4. Interview to be had right here: accessed 20 July 2022.


Núria González Campañá is Assistant Professor of Constitutional Legislation, member of GEDECO, College of Barcelona. This weblog is a part of a brand new collection at the home political implications and world echoes of the independence bid in Catalonia. The collection is a collaboration between the Centre on Constitutional Exchange and the Institute for Comparative Federalism at EURAC Analysis in Bolzano/Bozen, Italy.

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Photograph via Emily Morter on Unsplash

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