Can you imagine a group of doctors having a shouting quarrel or openly ignoring each other, while their undiagnosed patient bleeds out in front of them? It is not an unimaginable scene, but solid medical protocols, the technical prowess of a meritocratic profession, the principle of hierarchy and fear of the professional and personal consequences all limit irrational, reckless behaviour when dealing with a dying patient. Just like doctors, architects pay a high price when their buildings collapse, as do engineers with their bridges and bus drivers when they cause an accident. The exact opposite is true of Spanish politics: the lack of accountability is pervasive and all progress is thwarted by the inability to make a diagnostic that is consistent with the facts and leads to policies that might allow us to escape the swamp which the country’s public affairs have been sinking into. Spending time describing the process of degradation that Spanish politics has undergone could seem somewhat futile, but coming up with a diagnostic that can be discussed and debated with those who are keen to overcome the paralysis and try to save the dying patient would be a useful endeavour.
Earlier this week, the chairman of Spain’s Real Academia [Royal Academy], jurist Santiago Muñoz Machado, admitted in a debate hosted by ICIP and Cidob that the Spanish Constitution is “largely null and void” and “very faulty”. Unfortunately, endorsing the diagnostic of such a prestigious scholar is anathema to Madrid’s ultra-conservative press and few Spanish voices of his standing are willing to admit that the Constitution has become sclerotic after forty years without significant amendments and the regressive spirit imposed by the Partido Popular. There is insufficient critical mass for a reform that would bring the Constitution in line with reality, unless the aim is an even greater re-centralisation of power.
The judicialisation of politics has eroded Spain’s third pillar and you do not need to be in Catalonia to become aware of this and realise that Spanish justice has lost credibility in Europe. In a survey published this week, the Spanish judges themselves complain that politicians shirk their responsibilities and, rather than compromise, they choose to pass the buck to a court of law when it comes to dealing with complex matters. 88 per cent of Spanish judges feel that way.
Catalonia eyes the Spanish justice system with profound distrust. Three years ago two social activists, Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez, were jailed and sentenced to penalties that are not merely unjust but pose a major threat to any social cause, regardless of its nature. The acceptance by Spain’s intellectual elite of the abuse of power in the case against the Catalan independence movement is one of the most disturbing symptoms of the malaise that haunts Spanish democracy.
Hurdles and counter-reformation
The sort of supermajority needed to push through a reform, as well as make key appointments, is incompatible with Spain’s no-holds-barred opposition style. Polarisation stands in the way of renewing important institutions, like the General Council of the Judiciary [CGPJ in Spanish]. The political and media right have laid a ruthless siege on Pedro Sánchez’s coalition government and the poker player is now threatening to change the law, much to the delight of Hungary and Poland.
Many public institutions in Catalonia are bogged down, too. A case in point is the Catalan Broadcasting Corporation [CCMA in Catalan], where the chairperson and all the members of the board but one were due to step down in March 2018.
The inability for shared decision-making has an impact on the continuity of policies beyond this term on critically important issues for our progress, such as education, curbing youth unemployment and the survival of the welfare state.
Madrid: the back hole
Catalonia’s historic grievances over the Spanish capital draining her resources, as if Madrid were a back hole of sorts, is beginning to be understood in Valencia, the Balearic Islands and other regions where earlier PP governments were more focused on lining their own pockets than on collective progress. Perhaps one day president Ayuso’s shameless way of running the Madrid region’s affairs will trigger a movement for federal reform. Will it be too late for Catalonia? As it stands today, the Catalan independence process is over, but the last few years have deeply transformed Catalan society and now there is a majority who will not buy into false promises and demands recognition, respect and a fair deal, not a colonial one. Emotionally, most Catalans are miles away from a renewed infatuation with a shared project for Spain, as the chairman of the Real Academia insisted on in the debate I mentioned earlier.
Still, any future will require negotiation and the sooner the ground is laid for a diagnostic and mutual recognition, the sooner we will emerge from the swamp. Negotiation, yes. Infatuation, no.