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In Spain, divided parties find common ground in defense of the Constitution

On 41st anniversary of the landmark document, the main political groups have agreed to put off reforms in order to protect it from Catalan separatists and the far-right Vox

Vox lawmakers in Congress.
Vox lawmakers in Congress.

As Spain observes the 41st anniversary of its Constitution, the surge of a far-right party that is seeking to recentralize the country has effectively neutralized all political talk about constitutional reform.

The 1978 document that ratified Spain’s transition to democracy following the death of dictator Francisco Franco is being honored inside Spanish Congress today.

In light of the current makeup of parliament, the main thing is to defend the Constitution

PP source

But the plans for reform that had been mostly pushed by the Socialist Party (PSOE) have been relegated to the back burner, as Spain’s main parties seek to defend the country’s current structure, known as the estado de las autonomías and which is based on significant devolved powers to the regions.

On Friday the caretaker prime minister, Pedro Sánchez of the PSOE, said that Spain’s current constitutional framework has enough tools to resolve “social and political conflicts,” and to address “the political and territorial crisis in Catalonia.”

With a scenario of political fragmentation, the country fresh off a repeat election that gave additional power to the ultranationalist Vox, Catalan independence parties pressing for the right to decide, and no new government in sight, both the PSOE and its traditional rival, the conservative Popular Party (PP), seem to agree that the time is not right to push for ambitious structural change.

Congressional Speaker Meritxell Batet and Senate Speaker Pilar Llop presided an event in Madrid's Plaza de Colón to observe the 41st anniversary of the Spanish Constitution.
Congressional Speaker Meritxell Batet and Senate Speaker Pilar Llop presided an event in Madrid's Plaza de Colón to observe the 41st anniversary of the Spanish Constitution. EFE

Vox, which first entered the national parliament in April with 24 lawmakers and more than doubled this figure in November, has clearly stated its desire to change the basic structures of government, eliminating regional parliaments and police forces, and returning powers over healthcare, education and security to Madrid.

Meanwhile, the Catalan independence movement has repeatedly expressed its rejection of the Spanish Constitution, and even separatist parties that might support Sánchez’s latest bid to form a government, such as the Catalan Republican Left (ERC), defend the right to decide in an official referendum that would also require constitutional change.

For years, the PSOE had been the most active party in terms of suggesting changes to a text that has remained largely unchanged since its ratification in a referendum on December 6, 1978. Pedro Earlier this year, Pedro Sánchez proposed a change to prevent the kind of stalemate seen in 2016, and again this year.

But after securing no more than 120 seats in the 350-strong house at the November 10 election, there is no way that Sánchez would assemble the necessary support to push this change through. Speaking to the media ahead of Friday’s celebratory events, Sánchez said that the day was a good one to defend “agreements between different political actors” in order to guarantee a functioning government. He said he hopes the congressional session to appoint the new PM will take place as soon as possible, but did not rule out the possibility of it happening in January.

The notion of changing the Constitution has never met with much support in Spain. And now that Catalan separatists are rejecting the charter outright, while Vox wants to eliminate regional powers in response to the independence drive, leaders from the PSOE, PP, the center-right Ciudadanos (Citizens) and the anti-austerity Unidas Podemos are expected to take a clear stand today in favor of Spain’s own modern “Magna Carta.” This represents a change for Podemos, which once also defended a referendum for Catalonia that other parties reject as unconstitutional.

“In light of the current makeup of parliament, the main thing is to defend the Constitution, because it could sustain serious attacks,” said a PP source. And PSOE sources said that while they have well-defined ideas for constitutional change in the medium term, “in the short run [we need to] defend it from radical and partisan actors who want to appropriate it and use it as a weapon.”

English version by Susana Urra.

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