In keeping with the process of dismantling Catalonia’s home rule —which began with its ruling against the 2006 Statute—, the Constitutional Court has taken yet another step towards degrading Spain’s regional parliaments. From now on, any judge in Spain may suspend regional legislation if it conflicts with a higher-ranking Spanish law, and he may do so without notifying anybody. Up until now, only the Constitutional Court itself had the power to effectively rule that a law was unconstitutional.
This twist in the Court’s doctrine stems from a ruling handed down last December against a Basque law concerning the civil service. The ruling includes a particularly revealing separate opinion by Basque judge Adela Asúa, who stepped down a few months ago. Judge Asúa states that the Constitutional Court’s new doctrine “undermines the dignity of regional lawmakers, which are as democratic as their Spanish counterpart, allowing their legislation to be pushed aside by the authority of any judicial organ that finds it incompatible with a co-occurring Spain-wide law”.
The consequences of this decision are disastrous for Spain’s autonomous regions, who have been dealt a deadly blow by means of one simple court ruling, with no prior debate in parliament or a democratic vote. From now on, regional governments are left totally defenceless and cannot even hope to appeal before the Constitutional Court because judges are under no obligation to inform them that a law has been suspended.
Perhaps we should recall that one of the objectives of Catalonia’s 2006 Statute was to shield the Catalan government’s powers from Madrid’s constant meddling through the passing of higher-ranking legislation. And it was the Constitutional Court, with its notorious ruling against the Statute, who shattered that shield and reinstated the preeminence of Spanish law. From then onwards, it has been one step back after another for Spain’s regions and their self-rule has been eroded left, right and centre. Judge Asúa herself —who was always critical of any recentralisation efforts— voiced her utmost disagreement with the ruling in her separate opinion, and went on to remark that “this doctrine will undoubtedly lead to conflict, unjustified instances of unfair treatment, legal insecurity and defencelessness and, what’s more, it weakens the position of regional legislators”.