Madrid’s disloyalty

If Spain wishes to make Catalonia an offer, the only acceptable one is recognising of our right to self-determination

The principle of institutional loyalty is enshrined in Catalonia’s current Statute of Autonomy, which means that the financial impact —be it positive or negative— of the Spanish authorities’ decisions on the Catalan government must be taken into account (and vice versa) with a view to applying any necessary balances. This very principle can also be found in Spain’s Lofca, the law which establishes how regional governments are to be financed, as well as in the 2009 bill that regulates funding for Spain’s regions as a whole.

Now, when it comes to Catalonia’s Generalitat, Madrid has repeatedly ignored this principle. In other words, the Spanish government has failed to provide compensatory funding following decisions which have meant either further expenses or less income for the Catalan government. Even though on many occasions the Catalan authorities have worked out the size of Madrid’s disloyalty in millions of euros, the principle of institutional loyalty must not be limited to a single, quantitative dimension —whether expenses are greater or income is lower— but it must also encompass the notion that collaboration and mutual respect between administrations are to be encouraged.

The tax on sugary beverages is but the latest example of Madrid’s disloyalty. It is a new tax featured in the draft budget of the Catalan government for 2017. Madrid has responded by announcing a Spain-wide tax on sugary drinks, hence the conflict. Spain’s Lofca establishes that regional governments may not levy taxes on items already taxed by the Spanish government. If Madrid approves this new tax before the Catalan government does, the latter will have to drop it, which will result in loss of revenue. However, if the Catalan authorities approve their new budget before Madrid brings in the new tax, the latter will be expected to offer Catalonia some compensation. That is precisely what happened with Catalonia’s new banking tax: Madrid’s legislative efforts deprived Catalonia of any revenue that the tax might have levied.

One could argue that Madrid is entitled to bring in such taxes, but the crux of the matter is showing respect for those who take the initiative in the first place, rather than rushing to be first past the post. There are also other taxes which Catalonia has not been able to implement because Madrid lodged a complaint with the Constitutional Court (TC, in Spanish) and the judges issued a cautionary suspension, namely the one euro tax on medical prescriptions and the electricity generation tax.

Likewise, Madrid’s disloyalty can be found in many other areas, such as culture, education and language. Spain has shown its disloyalty by refusing to allow Catalan MPs to speak their language in the Spanish parliament and international institutions, such as the European Parliament, and when it passed new legislation on education. Madrid is disloyal when it ignores TC rulings and it fails to keep promises of further devolved powers, public spending or reforming the regional finance system when due. The Spanish government shows its disloyalty when it infringes upon Catalonia’s powers in its attempt to recentralise the country, and when it keeps the lion’s share of the public deficit cap that all administrations must abide by.

Now the Spanish authorities claim that they are willing to start talks with the Catalan government but, make no mistake, they do not wish to come to us so as to get to know our reality, but to impose their narrative. They do not wish to discuss the demand of most Catalans —that our right to self-determination be recognised— but to offer us a watered-down substitute: a reformed regional funding system, plus some degree of cultural or folkloric recognition. None of it is acceptable.

Deep down, the fact that Madrid ignores the political demands of the Catalan people to have a referendum on independence stems from the aforementioned disloyalty. Therefore, would anyone believe that Spain is about to change and become loyal, all of a sudden? How can they bring in a new regional finance system that recognises Catalonia’s economic potential and affords it the resources merited by that potential, without the other regions complaining of bias and privilege? You only need to recall the words of several regional presidents and how they understand federalism and the principle of equality, which they confuse with uniformity.

Madrid has offered Catalonia more devolved powers and better financing many times before and, so far, Catalonia has always failed to obtain full recognition of its national ambitions. Madrid cannot offer the same once again, and that is precisely what it intends to do for the umpteenth time. People in Catalonia are tired of agreements that Madrid fails to keep owing to its lack of loyalty. If Spain wishes to make Catalonia an offer, the only acceptable one is recognising of our right to self-determination and, therefore, allowing an independence referendum in Catalonia. That is the only way.

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