In the same way that the right to self-determination has headlined Catalonia’s political life in recent years and it can be considered one of the fundamental cornerstones of citizen mobilization, we are now faced with a new chapter in this political transition that should have a new protagonist: the constituent process.
This term has begun to crop up, albeit timidly, in political life; and, as is well-known, it features in the electoral platform for the pro-independence and pro-sovereignty forces (from Junts pel Sí to En Comú Podem) who conceive of it in different ways and in different scenarios. But as happened with the right to self-determination, it´s been used in civil society for a while. There have been may citizens’ initiatives whose objective is to imagine and debate what could be a constituent process of high democratic quality. The majority of these proposals are gathered together in a platform called Reinicia Catalunya (Restart Catalonia).
To say that the constituent process will be a key political piece that will determine the future of this country would not be an overstatement. First, because it could possibly be the last chance to broaden support for a Catalan republic. The debate over independence is practically exhausted in its current terms. Everyone has already taken a stand and few changes are foreseeable. A new space is needed where we can meet to talk about the immediate future of the nation without the previously established positions regarding how each of us would vote today in a referendum on independence. The best way to achieve this is to focus the debate on the constituent principles (not necessarily the constitutional ones) of the Catalonia that we long for, allowing consensus to arise and identify us as a nation, as happened with the right to self-determination.
Second, everyone knows that the process Catalonia is undertaking is completely singular and —if we become independent eventually— it will be unique. Never before has a western European country become independent against the will of the state of which it is a part. Thus there is no internationally recognized method to follow. Nevertheless, we learned from the Ruling on Kosovo by the International Court of Justice that independence does not contravene any international laws, which does not imply that the nations will have to recognize the new country. That’s why we must introduce ourselves to the world with the greatest possible number of arguments. Besides underscoring Spain’s non-democratic response, it is necessary to contrast this with the highly democratic nature of the process in Catalonia. Thousands of people, mobilized civically and democratically, deliberating on what they want their new country to be like. We have already shown that we know how to host massive civic rallies. Now it is time to show the world that we are capable of holding a constituent process as has never happened before, true to the 21st century.
This is a unique opportunity. Very rarely has the possibility of holding a brainstorming session of this magnitude arisen in a country. It will be a radical redefinition that will orient the future steps of the nation. Indeed, it would be good if all countries would look at themselves in the mirror every half century and said where they wanted to go, without the restrictions of the past, actions which were surely useful for prior generations but should not be allowed to hinder the future. A process of radical review, an update. Truly, as desirable as this might be, everyone knows that in the vast majority of cases it is practically impossible. It would probably be so in Catalonia as well (and much more so in Spain), were it not for the window of opportunity that the independence process has opened (and which could, perhaps, end up creating another window of opportunity for Spain). We have to seize this opportunity to regenerate democracy with the coordinated support of the people and institutions, via a quality public debate co-directed by the people and our representatives.
The constituent process will be the cornerstone to the entire transition. Not only will it be a great chance, but it is also a necessary condition for everything to move forward. Because a new country (whether an independent republic, part of a confederation, or even a new federal state) is not possible without much broader support than just a few percentage points of difference, as important and legitimate as winning a referendum would be. The constituent process must allow for this.
Jaume López is Spokesman for Reinicia Catalunya (Restart Catalonia) and professor of Political Science (UFP)