In the official opening ceremony of the legislature, King Juan Carlos of Spain has referred to one of the debates which has deeply divided Spanish political parties over the past couple of years – constitutional reform.
One of the features of the Popular Party government, especially during their second mandate when they had an absolute majority in parliament and didn’t need the support of regional parties to pass their policies, was the impact their very centralised approach to government had on the electoral results of regional political parties. Paradoxically, the more the Popular Party refused to seek consensus on regional issues, and insisted on the necessity for the existence of a strong central Government to combat regional aspirations, the more successful the results of regional parties at local elections, notably in the Basque Region and Catalunya. In the last regional elections, the PNV (Nationalist Basque Party) won its greatest ever majority as its separatist demands grew more ambitious and relations with the PP Government in Madrid reached an all time low.
Furthermore, just last year, the Socialists took control of the Catalonian Regional Government thanks to the excellent results of the left wing regionalist party ERC who more than doubled their seats from 11 to 23 and, together with another minority party, formed a coalition government with the Socialists. It is not the first time regional parties have shared power with national parties in Spain. Different PSOE and PP governments have depended on the support of the Catalan CIU party and/or the Basque PNV party to govern in the past.
However this time, the PP party (who obtained one of their worst ever results in Catalonia) criticised the pact between PSOE and ERC, because it was made on the understanding that the new Catalonian Government would push for constitutional reform to gain greater autonomic powers.
Zapatero attended an electoral meeting during the campaign in Catalonia, and promised that if he won the general elections this year, he would address the question of constitutional reform. This provided the Popular Party with one of their main lines of attack during this year’s election campaign. They said that the constitution should not be modified to allow some regions to have greater federal powers, and claimed that the Spanish nation would be under threat if the Socialists won the elections.
So, it is very significative that King Juan Carlos mentioned possible constitutional reform during his speech this morning and the headlines of the digital versions of Spanish newspapers and news radio all echo his comments. In quite a courageous speech, the King of Spain touched on all the issues dominating Spanish politics at the moment.
He said that any constitutional reform should be made with the same kind of consensus achieved when the present Spanish Constitution was drawn up during Spain’s transition to democracy. He also said that Spain’s national security depends increasingly on Spanish foreign policy ande stressed the importance of Spain’s relationship with Latin America and Europe. He also mentioned the importance of maintaining “transatlantic links”.