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POLITICS

Socialists tout new regional policy but sovereignty debate persists

Catalan Socialist leader calls Granada agreement “historic” while maintaining support for “right to decide”

Socialist leaders and the party’s 17 regional chiefs on Saturday signed up to a new policy representing a major movement toward a truly federal vision of Spain.

But the unanimous approval of the document, which calls for constitutional reform to give regions greater economic independence and underline their political authority, was not sufficient to draw a line under the ongoing disagreement between the national party (PSOE) and the Catalan Socialist group (PSC), as the latter made clear that it would not give up its support for Catalonia’s “right to decide” its future status.

In fact, it was the PSC’s backing for the sovereignty referendum process led by nationalist Catalan premier Artur Mas that led to the opening of the Socialists’ internal debate on territorial issues nine months ago. The policy document that emerged from Saturday’s meeting in Granada is designed to “reform the regional system in order to save it.” But PSOE leader Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba was forced to accept that the “discrepancy” with the Catalan Socialists had not been resolved.

Instead, the opposition leader praised a new “model shared by the PSOE and PSC” to avert a situation in which the links between regions could “explode.”

“The solution Spain needs is not a return to the past or a rupture. And nor is it immobility, because there are realities that exist and cannot be ignored. Federalism is the only meeting point possible where we can reestablish the territorial consensus in Spain,” Rubalcaba said, adding that he hoped for a cross-party agreement as wide “or wider” than that achieved before the introduction of Spain’s 1978 Constitution in which the basis of today’s semi-autonomous regional system was laid down.

Money sharing

A key point of the so-called Declaration of Granada is the proposed introduction of the principle of “ordinality,” under which the amount of money wealthy regions contribute to the solidarity fund — the name for the mechanism by which resources are redistributed to poorer areas — would not have the effect of lowering their status in terms of regional GDP. The leaders of poorer regions, such as Extremadura, took some convincing on this point, which, if introduced, would undermine one of the key complaints cited by Catalan nationalists in their dealings with Spain.

The Basque Country already has an arrangement by which the amount of money that leaves the region in taxes and services it receives from the central government are balanced.

Other elements in the reform blueprint include greater power for the regions to impose their own linguistic policies, a strengthening of regional judicial systems and the conversion of Spain’s Senate into a territorial assembly.

PSC leader Pere Navarro said the deal was “historic” and satisfied some of the demands from his region. The document did not include “the right to decide” in regional referendums and the concept of a “plurinational” state that the PSC had supported in the policy debate.