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EDITORIAL

Was a different interpretation of the Constitution possible?

The Court's interpretation of the Constitution is key to understanding the current support for independence in Catalonia

One of the main reasons for the growth of independence support in Catalonia at the start of this decade was the Constitutional Court’s ruling against the 2010 Catalan Statute. A restrictive interpretation of some of the Statute’s articles on Catalan self-rule, plus an obvious regression on some issues —such as the status of the Catalan language— eventually altered the spirit of the law which had been voted favourably by the Catalan people in a referendum. Therefore, the Spanish Constitutional Court is one of the main actors in the face-off between Catalonia and Spain.

The Court's interpretation of the Constitution is key to understanding the current conflict and it is fair to ask ourselves what might have happened if a more open-minded view had prevailed, one that might have been more consistent with the spirit that inspired those who penned the Spanish Charter in the first place, particularly Miquel Roca and Jordi Solé Tura (two Catalans) as well as Miguel Herrero de Miñón. Things might be different today but, unfortunately, reflecting on that is not on Madrid’s agenda. As a matter of fact, parallel to growing Catalan demands, the Constitutional Court has shut down every avenue, closed off every path, and what used to be a largely impartial arbiter is now the PP government’s enforcer.

For instance, one only needs to examine how the Court’s doctrine has evolved over time on the matter of the right to decide and the possibility of holding regional consultations. In 2008, prompted by the Ibarretxe plan (which sought further powers for the Basque Country), the Constitutional Court ruled that consulting the people was lawful, except on the subject of sovereignty. In 2013 it struck down the Catalan parliament’s declaration of sovereignty but admitted that arguing for the right to decide was within the Constitution and advised the political leaders to use dialogue in order to resolve the conflict. However, in 2017 the Court has suspended the law on consultations approved several years earlier by Catalonia’s tripartite coalition (which required the permission of the Spanish government) thus setting a new general doctrine for Spain's regional governments: “asking is not allowed”.

So this is how the 1978 Constitution, which most Catalans were initially hopeful about, has become a shackle for Catalonia’s national aspirations thanks to the efforts of a conservative, centralist tribunal. Nowadays, Spain’s Constitutional Court has got the power to depose the president of Catalonia and put an end to Catalan home rule. Could things have turned out differently? We shall never know, but this is the reality as it stands today.

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