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Federations Magazine Article
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Spain’s socialist government expected to pursue decentralization

JUNE | JULY 2008 Federations
inancin g for Spain ’s autono –
mous regions is the biggest
hurdle that Spanish Prime
Minister José Luis Rodriguez
Zapatero will have to clear
this year.
Zapatero is under pressure from his
allies in Catalonia, one of Spain’s 17
regions. The prime minister’s friends in
the Catalan government want the
national parliament in Madrid to pass a
new financing arrangement – one more
favourable to Catalonia – before a deadline
of Aug. 9, 2008. This promise for
financing of the autonomous regions,
agreed to before the current economic
downturn, might not be kept because of
insufficient government revenue brought
about by the current recession. Others
are pressing for a delay in any new funding
deals. Zapatero is caught in the
middle between Catalonia and some of
the poorer regions – and in the national
parliament, the vote of every member,
including his own Catalonian MPs, is
crucial to Zapatero.
His Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party
does not have a majority on its own and
Zapatero needs the votes of every one of
his party’s MPs and those of at least one
minority party as well.
Other regions have conflicting
demands, but one thing is certain:
Zapatero’s socialists have been proponents
of decentralization and want that
process to continue.
During the socialists’ 2004-08 term in
office, the conservative People’s Party
was practically the lone voice opposing
decentralization. The conservatives
claimed the government was going too
far and would weaken “national unity
and equality among the Spaniards.”
In the campaign leading up to the
election in March 2008, the socialists
campaigned on the slogan: “If you don’t
turn up, they will come back.” In other
words, unless you turn out to vote, and
vote for the socialists, the conservatives
will be elected, and that will hurt the
country. It aimed to persuade reluctant
left-wingers and nationalist voters into
casting strategic votes for the socialists,
the lesser of two evils.
Zapatero wins more seats
And it worked. The socialists won the
election, increasing by five their number
of seats, to 169 from 164 in the 350-seat
parliament. The conservatives lost the
election, but won six more seats than in
2004, climbing to 154 from 148. The political
scenario became more polarized than
ever: the socialists and the conservatives,
with 84 per cent of the vote, control 92 per
cent of the seats in parliament.
The remaining 27 seats, eight per cent
of the total of 350 seats, are scattered
among nine parties, mostly regional
Spain’s socialist government expected to
pursue decentralization
Regional reforms to be consolidated in second term in office
Spain’s Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero won more seats in March 2008 but still not a majority.
REUTERS/Andrea Comas
Mireia Grau Creus is a researcher at the Institut d’Estudis Autonomics in Barcelona.
JUNE | JULY 2008 Federations
groups. But despite their loss of
seats, the smaller parties are
essential for Zapatero’s program
– their seven seats provide
the balance of power he needs
for his legislation to pass.
The smaller parties are crucial
in policy areas that require
more than a simple majority in
parliament, especially with
regard to the continued development
and implementation of
regional reforms. The revised
statutes of autonomy of seven
of Spain’s 17 regions, known in
Spain as autonomous communi
t i e s – t h e i r r e g i ona l
constitutions – were approved
during Zapatero’s first term.
The next task is for both the
national parliament and the
legislatures of the autonomous
communities to pass legislation
to implement these revisions. In
some cases, the procedures to
reform the statute of autonomy explicitly
require a regional referendum which is
called at the very end of the process, once
the reform of the statute is approved by
the national parliament.
Reforms pose problems
Regional reforms pose one of the biggest
problems for the new socialist government.
These reforms have to be handled
in a special way. According to the constitution,
they must be reflected in laws
passed by the Spanish parliament. In the
political arena, however, most of the
negotiating and decision-making takes
place in talks between the regions and
the central government.
There are five major issues facing the
new government:
• reforming the financing system of
the regions.
• implementing the transfer of new
powers to the regions set out in the
new statutes.
• changing country-wide legislation
to adapt it to the institutional framework
established by the new statutes
of the regions.
• proposing changes to the Senate, for
it to be more of a territorial forum.
• setting out processes to reform the
statutes of the other 10 regions.
The first three of these issues are closely
linked to the approval of revised statutes
of autonomy. They are major issues for
the governments of the regions – and in
some cases for local public opinion. In
November 2007, the president of the
Catalan government, José Montilla,
warned about the increasing disaffection
of some of the Catalan people toward
Montilla linked this, among other factor
s , to unc e r t a int y about the
implementation of the Catalan Statute,
because of the lack of commitment
shown by Spanish national institutions.
As Montilla said several days later, in
an interview with the influential El País
newspaper: “Talking about disaffection
describes the reality between Catalonia
and Spain.”
Powers to the regions
The transfer of powers to the regions from
the central government is something that
can be tackled bilaterally between each
autonomous community and Spain’s
central institutions. However, reforming
the judicial system to make the implementation
of the new statutes possible is
a country-wide issue, as is the system of
regional financing.
Resolving these matters requires
complex negotiations with different casts
of actors.
For Zapatero’s government, pressure
is coming from different directions on
these issues:
• from governments of the regions at
the intergovernmental level, and
• from regional parties and the opposition
at the national level, as well as
• from the regions.
There is pressure from within his own
party in the regions ruled by the socialists,
such as Andalusia, Aragon and the
Balearic Islands. The expectations are
especially high in Catalonia, where the
socialists govern in coalition with the leftgreens
and the pro-independence party.
The election results gave the Catalan
government the potential to exert pressure
on Zapatero’s government through
his own party, as his victory owes a lot to
the Catalan socialists. Indeed, 25 socialist
MPs were elected in Catalonia – one of
the best results ever achieved – despite
increasing disaffection toward Madrid.
Four of the five new socialist MPs in
the Spanish parliament were elected
from Catalonia. When Antoni Castells,
one of the leaders of the Catalan socialists
and minister of the Treasury for the
Catalan government, was asked whether
the Catalan socialist MPs in the Spanish
parliament would vote according to party
discipline or the interests of Catalonia,
his answer was unambiguous:
“Between the party and Catalonia,
the Catalan socialists would choose
Basque regional premier Juan Jose Ibarretxe holds ballot for an autonomy referendum that could lead to
independence from Spain.
REUTERS/Vincent West
JUNE | JULY 2008 Federations
There will also be the umpteenth
attempt to add reform of the Senate to
the decision-making agenda. The other
major regional issue is the attempt to
reform the statutes of the 10 regions that
have not yet been amended.
The first wave of legislation is likely to
bring two types of revisions to other
regions’ statutes of autonomy: a rather
ambitious one or a modest one. In
regional referendums, Catalonia already
approved an ambitious revision while
Valencia approved a modest one. These
reforms will probably set the pace for the
reforms to follow. Of the 10 possible
reforms, three of them could easily generate
conflicts and disagreements: the
statutes of the Canary Islands, Galicia
and the Basque Country.
Reforms to the regions of the Canary
Islands and of Galicia could generate
conflict because of ordinary party politics,
but the Basque case is quite
In a challenge to the central government,
the president of the Basque
government, the nationalist José
Ibarretxe, has said his government
intends to call for a referendum for
Basque independence in October 2008.
Whether or not it is constitutionally possible
and politically feasible, the Basque
parliamentary elections will be held in
2009 at the latest. Any of the possible scenarios
– whether the referendum is
forbidden, whether it is held and won or
whether it is held and lost – will have profound
effects. They will certainly affect
the outcome of the Basque parliamentary
elections and probably will also
affect the direction taken in the future
process to reform the Basque statute.
Challenging Catalonia
The new statutes of other regions will be
heavily dependent on the coming ruling
of the Spanish Constitutional Court
about the constitutionality of several
aspects of the Catalan statute. The court’s
ruling will also affect the approach and
schedule for the creation and implementation
of the new statutes.
The conservative People’s Party
expressed its fundamental disagreement
with the political approach taken by the
Catalan statute by challenging large parts
of it before the Constitutional Court.
Several aspects of the implementation of
the Catalan statute, and other statutes
that followed, are on standby, waiting for
the court’s ruling.
The Court itself has been at the centre
of the political debate on territorial
reforms. Its members, appointed by the
Spanish government and parliament – de
facto by the two largest parties – have
mirrored the political tensions between
the government and the opposition
forces. These tensions between the proponents
and opponents of territorial
reform also exist among the judges of the
Constitutional Court.
Thus, the composition of the Court is
a crucial factor. Soon, the Court will have
to partially renew its composition. The
terms of four of the 12 judges will expire,
and three of these were appointed by the
conservatives. The socialists and conservatives
are expected to agree to appoint
two judges each. Under this scenario, the
conservative judges would be in the
minority, meaning that the reformed
Catalan statute is more likely to remain
At first glance, it might appear that the
Spanish general election of 2008 has
reinforced the bipartisan nature of central
politics. But minority parties, in
holding the balance of power, maintain a
key role and have already shown they can
fight back.
Zapatero is only the second prime
minister in recent history to be elected in
the second round of voting. This could
mean he will govern Spain from the centre
to achieve a broader consensus.
Nigeria [from pa ge 6]
the Business Resort can get off the
Calabar’s airport, the Margaret Ekpo
International Airport, was supposed to
be a key link in bringing Nigerians and
international visitors to Tinapa.
By March 2008, it had only one runway,
which is 2,500 metres long. Only
four airlines – all from Nigeria – were
operating out of the airport. In April 2007,
the former governor of Cross River held a
ground-breaking ceremony for a 13-kilometre
monorail link from the airport to
Tinapa. One year later, although feasibility
studies and a survey have been
completed, construction work has yet to
Governors were innovators
Although Cross River has a greater reputation
for honesty than other states in the
country, corruption elsewhere, particularly
in the Nigerian federal customs
service, has been blamed for the fact that
almost nothing is open yet in Tinapa.
Even an honest customs service could
have reasons to hesitate before opening
such a major duty-free zone.
An article by Reuters news agency in
December 2007 quoted one senior official
as saying the customs service has “a
powerful vested interest against duty free
trade.” Also, the federal government itself
may be reluctant to forego the tax revenue
it would lose from an internal
duty-free zone, in exchange for a boom
to the economy of just one state.
Investment lies dormant
Wherever the fault may lie, one fact is
incontrovertible: Tinapa remains a vast
but dormant investment. Solving this
problem is perhaps the biggest challenge
facing Governor Imoke. A year ago, his
Cross River state was highlighted by the
Economist for its “impressive transformation
over the past eight years,” brought
about by Imoke’s predecessor, Governor
Donald Duke.
Duke, the then governor of Cross
River, was genial and amiable. He did not
become involved in controversies. He
was not a crony of then president
Obasanjo. Relat ions between the federal
government and the Cross River State
were cordial then when the two men
were in office because Duke avoided
confrontation with Obasanjo. In retrospect,
Duke’s major misstep seems to
have been to take verbal undocumented
promises for a duty free zone from then
president Obasanjo.
Since his election in 2007, Nigerian
President Umaru Yar’Adua, a former
chemistry teacher, has demonstrated a
style that has won him considerable
respect. Opposition figures see him as a
breath of fresh air. He will have to summon
all of his interpersonal people skills,
and then some, to work with Governor
Imoke in breathing new life into the
Tinapa project.