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In this article I will try to argue and specify some tentative elements for a reform proposal to face the political conflict in Catalonia. From the specific vision of plurinational federalism that we hold here - the one that tries to articulate self-government and shared government, with national unity and diversity - we are interested in highlighting, due to their relevance to the case at hand, two lines of argument: 1) The constructivist theory of nations and nationalisms, and its democratic normative demands. 2) The multilevel or multicentric approach to self-government, and its translation into a complex system of shared sovereignties.

Ramón Máiz. 9/12/2020

Image of the “fathers of the Constitution”, the seven speakers who wrote the current Spanish Constitution of 1978: Gabriel Cisneros, Manuel Fraga Iribarne, Miguel Herrero and Rodríguez de Miñón, Gregorio Peces-Barba, José Pedro Pérez-Llorca, Miquel Roca i Junyent and Jordi Solé Tura. Illustration: César Cromit

“Learn the true name of your evil: in the face of the idol you have beheld yourself” Salvador Espriu, La pell de Brau

In this article I will try to argue and specify some tentative elements for a reform proposal to face the political conflict in Catalonia. I will do it from one of the three possible perspectives proposed by the coordinators of this dossier, César Colino and Ignacio Molina; specifically: “the vision of the so-called plurinational federalism” [1]. To do this, I will rely on the research program that we have been developing for years in the Political Research team of the University of Santiago de Compostela [2]. I will try to be as concise, clear and non-repetitive as possible, and always, of course, open to the better argument test.

The perspective from which the argumentation will be developed will be that of a contextualist normative theory, articulating the normative principles (political theory) with the contributions of empirical research (political science), in such a way that this allows to outline or review those theoretical assumptions with the study of institutional contexts, practices and designs [3] We will see, first, the theoretical assumptions from which we started; second, we will focus on the empirical analysis of the possibility that these assumptions can be applied in our case; and, thirdly, we will point out some reform ideas in coherence with what has been previously argued.

Taking the procés seriously: normative and theoretical-analytical assumptions

From the specific vision of plurinational federalism that we hold here – the one that tries to articulate self-government and shared government, with national unity and diversity – we are interested in highlighting, due to their relevance to the case at hand, two lines of argument:

• The constructivist theory of nations and nationalisms, and its democratic normative demands.

• The multilevel or multicentric approach to self-government, and its translation into a complex system of shared sovereignties.

A constructivist approach to nations

Plurinational federalism not only postulates a vision of the State as an asymmetric federation, but also a conception of the nation understood as a political process of national construction. From this constructivist perspective, the Spanish or Catalan nations do not constitute a previous data, an identity crystallized in time, but the contingent result of an always unfinished, plural and contested relational political process. From this assumption, the Catalan “procés” cannot be considered as a political phenomenon expressing the demands for recognition of a previously given Catalan identity, but rather as a productive political mobilization of a new national identity in Catalonia. What the procés has shown, as we will later verify, is that national identity is dynamic, evolutionary, dependent on previous trajectories, incorporating new actors and new arguments that often alter the foundations and linearity of its own construction, which call into question the historical preconditions of identity, and even, at the limit, the very need for immutable ethno-cultural elements on which to settle. Therefore, the interpretation and analysis of this dynamism, affected by factors strategically linked to the institutional structure and political competition, requires abandoning the static and pre-political conceptions of the nation. In short, to understand nationalisms as a decisive factor, not the only one, in the very production of nations.

It is not the nation that generates nationalism, it is nationalism that produces the nation. In general, it is not the nation that precedes the State, but the State that creates nations. The nation does not originate nationalism, as its externalization and exogenous expression, it is nationalisms which, only in certain institutional contexts and always in competition with other forces and ideologies, configure a specific version of the national, through an endogenous, open and interactive (from the State or against the State). Even analyzes subscribing to a logic of demand, that is, that consider the emergence of nationalist parties as a political response to a pre-existing historical fracture (linguistic, cultural, political or economic), are forced to admit an inevitable logic of offer. Indeed, that “objective” national identity has been the product, in turn, of previous political mobilization in the past by intellectuals, movements and nationalist parties in specific institutional contexts. Therefore, in this perspective, it is not denied that Catalan national identity constitutes a fundamental dimension of the individual identity of many citizens of Catalonia, transmitted inter-generationally. Rather, we affirm that this shared identity becomes susceptible to very different political articulations, both in what affects the nature of the opposition we / them, own / others, etc. as well as regarding the specific demands of self-government that are defended in each given conjuncture. None of this is inscribed in a “natural” or “historical” way in the national identity substrate, but is the result of a complex, conflictive and contingent process of filtering, selection and strategic options, conditioned by the incentive structure provided by the evolution of the State of Autonomies [4].

It is the nationalist discourse, and its organizational articulation, which (re) constructs the specific idea of ​​the nation, which forges the identity shared by citizens, which formulates “national interests” and generalizes them through political action. In this way, explanations of policies related to ethnicity, as a constitutive element of the nation, are fully introduced into the field of competition and strategies, particularly in that of electoral strategy. The nationalist discourse constitutes an effective combination of various elements – as we will see shortly, not only of interests, but of emotions – that has the potentiality and sufficient flexibility to include, at a given moment, essentialist components of the nation (historical grievances, economic mistreatment, historical loss of self-government, etc.) and, at another juncture, to postulate radically strategic elements (for example, converting the 2015 elections to the Parliament of Catalonia into a national plebiscite, placing independence as a central issue in political competition). It is that plasticity, that flexibility that enables the effectiveness of the nationalist movement, and feeds back the interpretive framework in which the idea of ​​the Catalan nation is built as a product of cultural and political coordination, as well as the demand for independence or greater autonomy for the demos, which does not constitute an event prior to democracy, but is created precisely through that democratic coordination.

Nationalist discourse has enough flexibility to include essentialist components of the nation, such as historical grievances, and radically strategic elements. This plasticity enables the effectiveness of the nationalist movement and provides feedback to the interpretive framework in which the idea of ​​the Catalan nation is built as a product of cultural and political coordination.

Catalan (and Spanish) nationalism, like all nationalisms, is relationally shaped and ideologically evolves in a very different way, driven by competition, context, and external and internal tensions. As in all plurinational States, the political demands of the interior nations are the contingent result not only of the historical construction of identity from a determined hegemonic vision and the economic, political and cultural interests of the different communities formulated by the dominant elites; also the interactive process between the institutional arrangements (territorial model of the State and its deficits of plurinational accommodation), the policies (investment, fiscal, competence, linguistic, public order, etc.) of the general organs of the State, and the discursive strategies and the emotional regime of framing and belonging of the leaders and the competing parties. Nationalism (re) signifies and (re) builds the nation politically, based on two elements that are only partially inherited (ethno-cultural preconditions and economic-social preconditions), and three others that have an undoubted strategic-organizational character (favorable political opportunity structure, inclusive political mobilization, discourse and emotional regime that creates the framework in which these elements acquire political and competitive value). Thus, neither “independence” constitutes the only consistent objective for every self-respecting nation – as opposed to the alternative of multi-national accommodation agreed upon, for example – nor is it unequivocal, a demand free from ambiguity. On the contrary, it is a floating signifier under which very different projects and demands for self-government compete, as shown by comparative politics, from Scotland to Ukraine, passing through Uzbekistan or Quebec (“Independence-Lite”, “Semi-sovereignty”, “Partial Independence”, etc).

The normative consequences of this constructivist perspective of nations and nationalisms, typical but not exclusive of plurinational federalism, are of no small importance for the Catalan case, since the nation consists of an interactive production process and not a mere expression of given identities and preferences. In other words, if the nation consists in the construction of a demos and not in the mere expression of its preexisting will, the normative demands of the democratic quality of that process come to the fore and are projected in various directions; among others, and without exhaustive intention:

1. The essential requirement of cultural, political and ideological pluralism within both the State and the interior nations. This entails the empirical-normative recognition of plurinationality, the relevance of articulating a debate with undistorted information, and the need to incorporate into it the various political perspectives that may arise around the possible accommodation formulas. A task that requires, in turn, the combination not only of representative democracy (parliaments) and direct democracy (referendum), which are essential and concurrent here, but also the incorporation of the democratic dimensions of public deliberation and inclusion of minorities, instead of just recourse to referendum and negotiation. Claims that collide head-on with the supposedly indisputable assumptions of State nationalism (the forced reading of the “indissoluble unity of Spain” in art. 2 of the Spanish Constitution, understood as the only possible nation) or against the State (semiotic representation of nationalism, taking the part for the whole, speaking in the name of the “authentic” people of Catalonia). These approaches violate the assumptions of a pluralist democracy by postulating, one and the other, the homogenization of a substantial linguistic, historical or civic community.

2. The democratic significance of the rule of law and the constitutional state, as an internal and conceptual link between the principle of legality (legal system) and the principle of legitimacy (Constitution). The inviolable existence of limits of the decidable, individually and collectively, which in no way can be left to the discretion of the different conjunctural majorities, is perfectly compatible with the idea that the legitimacy of the territorial Constitution must be periodically renewed through the established procedures – constitutional reform, constituted constituent power – to avoid their inevitable erosion over time, the correction of the observed design defects and the necessary updating of the federal pact, be it original (case of federal systems, par excellence) or more gradually happened (Spanish case, through the autonomic pacts of 1979 and 1981). All of this deprives both the pathological horror of the constitutional reform of the Spanish political system and the self-evident “right to decide” unilaterally on the part of the Catalan nation of the most elementary normative foundation.

3. In the perspective held here, of unity in diversity, the democratic principle of equality, redistribution and inter-territorial solidarity is unavoidable as the inexcusable foundation of Welfare policies, without which the possibility of a social and democratic State of right or, to put it from our perspective, the federal welfare state, is irreparably damaged. A demand for equality that is opposed both to the chronic financial insufficiency of the Autonomous Communities, as well as to their eventual fiscal irresponsibility as mere transfers and public spending, to the false hyper-solidarity that translates into the lack of ordinality in the financing system , of course, to the neoliberal and unsupportive claims of the “nationalism of the rich.” Here, too, the republican maxim governs: those affected by a decision must participate in its genesis.

4. Finally, the stability of the State does not constitute a minor problem for democracy, an unacceptable prejudice in favor of the status quo; it constitutes an essential component of democratic sustainability. In situations of economic, ecological and pandemic crisis, the continuity of the democratic legitimacy of the decisions that affect the entire territory and future generations requires the maintenance of borders or the reinforcement of their multilevel integration, except in extreme cases of force majeure and proven absence of alternatives. In these contexts of crisis, to the exorbitant costs of the option to “exit” a part of the State, a problem of distributive justice is added, essential for any democracy, since the nation with the highest income benefits to the same extent as the rest of the country suffers, and inequality increases in the same proportion as inter-territorial redistribution erodes. In addition, the questioning of territorial integrity always translates into a feedback from the nationalism of the State, which entrenches itself in the closure of the system in the face of the necessary reforms of self-government and shared government, and exacerbates the antagonism, making it non-negotiable.

A multicenter approach to self-government

But we must go one step further: a democratic vision at the height of the times must necessarily incorporate an institutional and civic framework of multicenter or multilevel government. From this point of view, proper but not in any way exclusive to plurinational federalism, in which there has been a coincidence, through different routes  [5] , the political relationship between the State and the interior nations cannot be reduced to a game of interaction between two players and their respective scenarios (“Catalonia and Madrid”). On the contrary, a multilevel perspective requires the insertion of these two spaces in a relational structure of the four decision areas involved: the State, the Autonomous Communities, the European Union and the Local Governments; This does not imply that, in any way, an attempt is made to equate the four levels, and the national question is diluted in them, but rather that, together with their inexcusable interdependence, the political specificity of each one of them is addressed. Its label should not deceive us: multinational federalism is pro-European and municipalist.

Institutional contexts select the actors present, favor certain opportunity structures, organizational formats, strategies, and agendas. Well, nowadays no claim of self-government is unthinkable, within the member countries, outside the European Union. The decisive distinction between the European Union and a federal State is that in that Union or “Confederation”, the Member States – although they have ceded very important parts of their sovereignty – are interpreted in a supranational or intergovernmental code, and the EU has “federalized” up to a point – they maintain their status as independent states. That is: they have the option not only of veto in the European Council but, above all and fundamentally, of the ability to leave the Union (not unilateral, but agreed, negotiated with the intervention of the European Council and the European Parliament). This is made visible both in the “withdrawal clause” of art. 50 of the Treaty on European Union, as in the “access clause” of art. 48, which would require an unlikely process of entry into the EU (unanimity of the member states) to those internal nations that have become new independent states [6]. .

However, integration into the EU has involved not only the transfer of competences from the States to multilevel governance, but also the erosion of competencies of the Autonomous Communities, which are now decided by mechanisms that include the Member States, and only very poorly the Autonomous Communities themselves. This requires a readjustment of the internal territorial model in order to guarantee self-government. On the contrary, in a federal state such as Spain, there is no such withdrawal clause, but rather a legitimate democratic presumption contrary to the right of secession. The federated entities are obliged to respect the integrity of the Federation, provided that this, in turn, does not systematically violate the purposes of the Federation, namely, shared sovereignty, the substantial integrity of the self-government of the federated States.

Integration into the European Union has not only meant the transfer of competences from the States to multilevel governance, but also the erosion of the competences of the autonomies

The Local Government system is, without a doubt, very different, but no less politically essential in the territorial reorganization of the State. At present, a democracy worthy of the name – that is, that articulates elements of representation, participation, deliberation and inclusion – is unthinkable without the incorporation of the municipal civic dimension. Although it lacks legislative power, its political relevance is indisputable: firstly, as an authentic level of self-government and political decision – and not mere “local administration” – provider of public policies, goods and services, as the first level of attention to the basic needs of citizens; and, secondly, because an inclusive civic logic prevails here, different from federations and federated states: identity, nationality or origin yield to the democratic criterion of residence, in such a way that municipal citizenship is, by definition, unrestricted.

The normative consequences of this multilevel federal perspective are key for the case at hand. Let’s point out just a few:

1. The normative option of multicenter or multilevel government allows, above all, to dispense with the exorbitant vocabulary of sovereignty, the secularized theological concept that strives for an unlimited, indivisible and non-delegable power, be it of the nation, of the people or of the State. The first consequence of a vision of shared sovereignties is that it facilitates the recognition of the plurinationality of the Spanish State. The second is the (re) distribution of powers and its guarantee, through mechanisms of self-government and shared government among the various levels. The third is the unsustainability of the specular logic of nationalist monism in its two versions: 1) “One State, one nation”, with its unhealthy obsession with “Balkanization” and “ceiling of the State of Autonomies”; and 2) “One nation, one State”, and its undisputed sequence: Self-determination – Secession. Both sovereignty perspectives imply denying the evidence of the interdependent and relational democratic imbrication of the four mentioned levels of government. Both also assume the antidemocratic delimitation of borders as a correlate of the production of homogeneous national demos and consequent oppression – both in the sphere of the State and of internal nations – of cultural and linguistic minorities, as well as a (neo) centralist vision in a state or regional key. In short, one and the other translate into the systematic restriction of citizenship through criteria of origin and nationality.

2. As, as we saw previously, nationalist mobilization creates the nation, and produces a new demos, the mechanisms of representation (Parliament) must be combined with mechanisms of direct democracy (referendum). In a relational perspective, there is no unilateral right to self-determination. The democratic mechanism is always, strictly speaking, codetermination through a reviewable pact between the State and the Autonomous Communities. Unlike the much-cited Scottish case, the normatively appropriate itinerary is the reverse: not the referendum and then the negotiation, but first the self-government pact and then the referendum. In the Spanish case [7], although initially intended for historical nationalities, the guarantee for these purposes is twofold: neither the Autonomous Community can impose a Statute on the State, nor can the State impose a Statute on it. Hence the double mechanism: first, the presentation of a project by the Assembly of regional deputies and senators, which has to be negotiated with the Constitutional Commission of Congress, whose will prevails; and secondly, whether or not there is an agreement, the text must be endorsed by the people of the Autonomous Community. For the rest, the approved Statute acquires authentic constitutional rank (“constitutionality block”) and not mere organic law.

3. It follows from the above the key role of the Constitutional Courts, as well as the emphasis on the doctrine of self-restriction, in States founded on the recognition of national plurality and the constitutionally reviewable political pact between the Federation and the federated states. . This is also the way it should be in our political system, because, first of all, it is not the Constitutional Court but the General Cortes first, and the people of Catalonia by referendum, later, who has the last word in the co-constituent process of the revision of the territorial pact; second, the Constitutional Court should guarantee in its composition and performance the absence of noticeable biases in favor of the central government. From this perspective, the seriousness of STC 31/2010 judgment lies in the fact that after the irregular anti-autonomous manipulation of its composition, it proceeded to break with the statutory pact and negotiation procedure, to impersonate the legitimate representatives of the Spanish people; and to the denial, finally, that the last word corresponds to the people of Catalonia in a referendum.

4. In this multilevel perspective, negotiated secession becomes a residual mechanism, a mere remedial right only: it is considered as a last resort and only in the event of repeated violation of the self-government of a community. The multilevel perspective also implies not only the democratic articulation of a plurality of institutional settings, but also the meeting of the diversity of actors and identities that are mobilized within each of them and their respective demands (state-level parties, nationalist parties, confluences of the new municipalism etc). For all these reasons, the normatively justified way in case of disagreement with the status quo is the one that combines the four democratic dimensions mentioned above (representation, participation, deliberation and inclusion) in a constituent perspective. And this is achieved not through the reductionism and polarization of the referendum alone, but through the process, of much higher democratic quality, of reform of the Constitution. The direct holding of a referendum would only be normatively legitimate, ultimately, in the event of a systematic violation of self-government and the definitive failure of the constitutional reform. In turn, the constitutional reform would have to be considered from a multilevel perspective, with the participation of the different centers of government and with counterbalance mechanisms that prevent the exercise of veto by some communities from blocking the process. In this way, it would be possible not only to discourage attempts to build a homogeneous nation, from the State or against the State, both processes of ablation of the heterogeneous within the demos, but also to promote a new multilateral pact of interdependence and accommodation.

El espacio político del federalismo plurinacional

¿Es todo lo anterior, acaso, un sueño de la razón, una apuesta inviable? En efecto, el problema que debemos plantearnos ahora es si, tras 8 años de conflicto político, existe un espacio de competición sustantivo que, al margen de la polarización soberanista dominante entre el statu quo (el Estado de las Autonomías recentralizado) y el separatismo (secesión unilateral), aún por más heterogéneo que sea en su interior, permita su eventual coordinación en la perspectiva del federalismo plurinacional aquí propuesta. Acudiremos para ello a datos propios, elaborados a partir de encuestas diseñadas por nuestro Equipo de Investigaciones Políticas (USC) en 2015 y 2018, precisamente para afinar temas descuidados en otros sondeos al uso (CIS, CEO); especialmente: la pluralidad de las demandas de autogobierno en el seno del procés y el complejo régimen emocional en juego.

The political space of plurinational federalism Is all of the above, perhaps, a dream of reason, an unviable bet? In effect, the problem we must ask ourselves now is whether, after 8 years of political conflict, there is a substantive competition space that, apart from the dominant sovereign polarization between the status quo (the recentralized State of Autonomies) and separatism ( unilateral secession), even as heterogeneous as it may be in its interior, allow its eventual coordination in the perspective of plurinational federalism proposed here. We will use our own data, prepared from surveys designed by our Political Research Team (USC) in 2015 and 2018, precisely to refine neglected issues in other popular surveys (CIS, CEO); especially: the plurality of demands for self-government within the procés and the complex emotional regime at stake.

El procés como construcción político-discursiva, adquiere existencia a partir de 2012, no preexiste con anterioridad a su propia construcción semántica, no antecede a la competición política, sino que se origina en ella, y funciona como master frame que la enmarca y coordina. Desde la versión constructivista que hemos apuntado en la sección anterior, procedimos, en su día, a separar en nuestra investigación el procés de la demanda de independencia de Cataluña, y a explicar la política catalana desde elementos propios de la competición (Rivera et al. 2016). En el procés no predominan los elementos esencialistas sino políticos y estratégicos (movilización, liderazgo, discurso, emociones), tanto para los que están a favor como para los que están en contra del mismo. Aunque se formule como “proceso soberanista de Cataluña”, el apoyo al procés y el apoyo a la independencia de Cataluña son fenómenos diferentes, y así, mientras la mitad de los catalanes apoyan el primero, poco más de una tercera parte aspira, con todas sus consecuencias, a convertir Cataluña en un Estado independiente del Estado español.

The process as a political-discursive construction, acquires existence as of 2012, does not pre-exist prior to its own semantic construction, does not precede political competition, but originates from it, and functions as a master frame that frames and coordinates it. From the constructivist version that we have pointed out in the previous section, we proceeded, in our day, to separate in our research the process from the demand for Catalan independence, and to explain Catalan politics from elements of competition (Rivera et al. 2016 ). Essentialist elements do not predominate in the process, but rather political and strategic elements (mobilization, leadership, discourse, emotions), both for those who are in favor and for those who are against it. Although it is formulated as a “sovereign process of Catalonia”, support for the procés and support for the independence of Catalonia are different phenomena, and thus, while half of Catalans support the first, just over a third aspire, with all of them its consequences, to turn Catalonia into a State independent from the Spanish State.

Su construcción política como expresión de legitimidad democrática permitió su extraordinaria capacidad de movilización cívica, cimentada en que los motivos de apoyo al procés no fueran de naturaleza esencialista (étnico-culturales, lingüísticos, históricos etc.), sino que se formularan como posiciones estratégicas y tácticas de la competición política. Así, el maltrato del gobierno español (36%) o el deseo de que la sociedad catalana tenga derecho a decidir (23.6%) aparecen como los factores que tienen más fuerza para quienes expresan su apoyo al procés; mientras los motivos identitarios y esencialistas, como no sentirse español (4.8%), agravios históricos (5.8%), o la definición de Cataluña como nación (11.8%), quedan relegados a valores menores. Por cierto, lo mismo ocurre con la expresión de motivos de los ciudadanos que están en contra del procés: la idea de que Cataluña tendrá una mejor situación de futuro dentro de España y de la Unión Europea (31.3%), o que el conflicto con el Estado rompe el consenso y la convivencia en Cataluña (30.1%), ocupan los primeros lugares; mientras, motivos de carácter más esencialista, como no sentirse catalán (0.1%), entender que Cataluña no es una nación (4.2%) o sentirse nacionalista español (9.5%) ocupan los últimos lugares. Así, alrededor del 60% de la ciudadanía de Cataluña, tanto de los que apoyan al procés como de los que están en contra, expresan sus motivos en términos de issues o temas de la propia competición política, y todos esos issues se construyen, sobre todo, en forma de relato asociado a los propios valores de la democracia.

Its political construction as an expression of democratic legitimacy allowed its extraordinary capacity for civic mobilization, based on the fact that the reasons for supporting the procés were not essentialist in nature (ethnic-cultural, linguistic, historical, etc.), but were formulated as strategic positions and tactics of political competition. Thus, the mistreatment of the Spanish government (36%) or the desire for Catalan society to have the right to decide (23.6%) appear as the most powerful factors for those who express their support for the procés; while identity and essentialist reasons, such as not feeling Spanish (4.8%), historical grievances (5.8%), or the definition of Catalonia as a nation (11.8%), are relegated to lower values. By the way, the same happens with the expression of motives of the citizens who are against the procés: the idea that Catalonia will have a better future situation within Spain and the European Union (31.3%), or that the conflict with the State breaks the consensus and coexistence in Catalonia (30.1%), they occupy the first places; Meanwhile, reasons of a more essentialist nature, such as not feeling Catalan (0.1%), understanding that Catalonia is not a nation (4.2%) or feeling Spanish nationalist (9.5%) occupy the last places. Thus, around 60% of the citizens of Catalonia, both those who support the procés and those who are against, express their motives in terms of issues or themes of the political competition itself, and all these issues are built on all in the form of a story associated with the values ​​of democracy itself.

Even more important, if possible, is the fact that only a minority of both audiences express themselves in essentialist terms in reference to national identities, or in relation to what each one of them considers herself from an identity point of view. It is not “what we are” what determines the position regarding the procés, but rather “what we perceive” and it is in this space of perceptions where discourse contributes in a capital way, by providing meaning to action, to mobilization politics. This distances us from readings that equate interests with political preferences. Interests can be objectified associated with what we are (class, nation, religion), preferences are built from the predefined and elaborate hierarchy, filtered from perceptions. As the procés bursts into Catalan political competition and broadens its support, it becomes less essentialist. By incorporating more supports, these are increasingly plural and consequently it is necessary to broaden the discursive horizon, giving a growing role and pluralism to perceptions. The very growth of support for the procés erodes essentialism, which does not detract from the power of political mobilization, but rather, on the contrary, multiplies its effectiveness. Now, the issues are conjunctural and relational, linked to the political interaction itself, the institutional structure, the internal plurality of the movement and the responses of the State. In short: they are eventually subject to negotiation.

As the ‘procés‘ bursts into the Catalan political competition and incorporates increasingly pluralistic supports, it becomes less essentialist: it broadens the discursive horizon by giving a growing role to perceptions on conjunctural and relational issues, linked to the same political interaction or State responses. Now these issues are potentially negotiable

The need for the discourse to become more open also redirects the narrative of essentialist sectors and thus, while in 2015, when we first studied in our team the reasons for and against the procés, the essentialist reasons exceeded the 30%, in 2018 they fell to around 20%. This fall is nothing but the expression of the argumentative transit, of the politicization of the story itself, which strategically redirects the positions of the citizens and the groups that participate in it. Now, and this is as decisive as it is little studied: behind this motivational redirection there is an adjustment between the discourse of the actors and the emotions that citizens feel towards said actors. Indeed, compared to what could at times be deduced from the discursive perlocution of nationalist actors (“Spain steals us”, “Spain hates us”), the emotional space in which the Catalan political competition moves responds to the emotions of any democratic political competition. Contrary to what it might seem and is reported in the media, it is fundamentally linked to emotions of enthusiasm and anxiety, and with a very scarce presence of emotions linked to aversion (hatred or resentment, for example). And although it is true that anxiety is generated in situations of uncertainty and moderate conflict, it is no less true that today, as a result of the polarization derived from successive crises, anxiety is present in all democratic systems. Enthusiasm is expressed through emotions such as hope, enthusiasm and pride, in this hierarchical order towards the parties and leaders who are in favor of the procés, by the citizens who share this discourse. And this, in the face of anger and fear, emotions linked to anxiety, expressed primarily by those who are against. In the latter, anger prevails over fear, which favors mobilization, as the most recent political psychology teaches us, because anger has a greater mobilizing capacity than fear.

Years ago we detected that time was a fundamental factor for the primordial construction of the independence movement. Those citizens who felt pro-independence for longer were more primordialists than the pro-independence who emerged as a result of the construction of the procés. Thus, more than 78% of the pro-independence “since forever” aspired to secession, while this demand among those who had joined in the last year did not reach 15%. Now, when exploring the emotional regime, we find that one and the other are also emotionally different, especially regarding the deposit of hope in the actors who manage the process. The data is eloquent: while 73% of the pro-independence “since forever” show hope towards the actors who lead the procés, only 54.2 of the “new pro-independence” share this emotion. It is true that they have the same levels of enthusiasm and even similar levels of pride, but there are almost twenty points of difference in hope. And while enthusiasm facilitates mobilization, and pride is linked to identification, hope reflects the expectations and trust that each citizen places in the project, and therefore the greater or lesser rigidity and possible negotiation of the demands.

From the analysis of the emotional regime, we can formulate the plausible hypothesis that the procés did not fail politically due to lack of enthusiasm and mobilization, it stayed behind because, in addition to unfavorable changes in the structure of political opportunity, the new pro-independence activists reached a point of exhaustion in their hope, especially that directed towards the party of the president of the Generalitat, where a greater part of the new pro-independence had concentrated. And that is why, when the Catalans are now asked if they believe that Catalonia will achieve independence, more than 63% respond in the negative. The nationalist strategy, shared by the right-wing parties (Ciudadanos and PP) made the procés the central cleavage of the Catalan political competition, which produced a polarizing effect of succulent electoral returns for the nationalist parties and for Citizens within Catalonia. They were also for the PP and Citizens outside the Catalan space; even the success of VOX appears to be linked, to a great extent, to the issue of the independence of Catalonia [8]. In this sense, the procés favors the parties that benefit from polarization, both inside and outside Catalonia, and this strategic profitability establishes the impossibility of building conditions for the meeting of the actors, despite the fact that citizens emotionally and spatially are closer to each other than the distances generated by the polarized production of discourse in partisan competition.

But precisely because of its foundation on the hope of the new pro-independence, as of 2018 the procés entered a phase of emotional exhaustion difficult to recover. Here several questions arise. It could be that the relative cooling of the emotions linked to the construction of the procés in the new pro-independence sectors, on the one hand, and the limitation of the strategic options in the spaces on the right after the debacle of Ciudadanos and the appearance of VOX – especially the risk of the PP of re-structuring on the independence of Catalonia the axis of the competition that has been so favorable to VOX – they open the opportunity for a space of solutions in which the majority of the Catalan citizenship could find accommodation. But it could also be the case that the emotional strength of the traditional pro-independence sectors illuminates a model of resistance and identity withdrawal, with broad support, that blocks an alternative way out.

When we began to study the procés, we realized that one of the elements that most distorted the perception of the aspirations of the citizens of Catalonia was that the polarized independence / autonomy (recentralized) options did not exhaust the plurality of existing preferences. And that is why we constructed our question with seven categories that, for the purposes of this article, we are going to reduce to five: those who actually wanted independence (32.2%), those who aspired to a federal solution (27.2%), those who wanted a reinforced autonomy (22.1%), those who wanted autonomy under current conditions (11.3%) and those who believe that the solution for Catalonia is a centralized State (4.3%).

The 32.2% of citizens who aspire to a solution through independence, the vast majority long-term pro-independence and a good part of them essentialists in their conception of the nation, show very high percentages of emotions such as hope (71.6% ), pride (54.7%) and enthusiasm (50.6%). In reality, it is the pro-independence “since forever”, with a specific emotional regime, fundamentally sustained in hope, who respond to the specific question about the territorial solution by unequivocally demanding independence. Furthermore, it is not only the high presence of the aforementioned emotions that these sectors show, but the intensity of the emotional component is also very high in them (around 4.15 out of 5). Which suggests that the space of opportunity that the procés has opened to the traditional independence sectors has generated a very consistent emotional anchor, in terms of presence and intensity. The image of the “soufflé” could not be more misleading.

The space of opportunity that the ‘procés’ has opened to the traditional pro-independence sectors has generated a very consistent emotional anchor; the image of the “soufflé” could not be more misleading

On the other hand, if we add the options “more autonomy”, “federal state”, “plurinational federal state”, there is a possible meeting space, not yet articulated, but capable of being politically constructed, for more than 50% of Catalans; they could aspire to a shared solution. Unlike the option for independence, this is a space not only of diverse preferences, but also emotionally plural where positive and negative emotions are articulated, with less emotional diversity than the solution of independence and also with less intensity of emotions. It is a plural space much less emotional and therefore more susceptible to being negotiated. This is where the eventual possibility arises that, through a complex work of leadership, discourse and mobilization, it becomes a meeting space, open to incorporate disenchanted sectors of citizens involved in the procés, from the framework of plurinational federalism.

Territorial reform

On the basis of what has been previously argued, normatively and empirically, up to this point, we maintain that constitutional reform, as a democratic procedure of legitimation that allows complex territorial problems to be addressed in a complex way and demanding decision rules, is the most appropriate way to resolve the political conflict in Catalonia. We will focus, first of all, on the proposal of some procedural mechanisms and then point out some substantive reform issues [9].

It is affirmed that the deep structure of our Constitution is unreformable. This statement must, however, be questioned. In the first place, because, at least literally, the 1978 Constitution does not contemplate the existence of implicit limits (in fact, it recognizes the possibility of their total revision) and, secondly, because, theoretically, it would be possible to add a new reform procedure without the need to modify arts. 167 and 168 CE. In no case, the territorial organization of the State is affected neither by any clause of intangibility, nor by the aggravated procedure of art. 168.

If we admit this last option, the Constitution could be amended without changing the two pre-existing reform procedures and, taking into account that the simplified procedure of art. 167 has already been applied twice, it could be thought of adding a new paragraph to it, in which new procedural conditions are imposed to reform T. VIII of the Constitution and some other constitutional precepts, such as those concerning the Senate, which, as such, are not reserved for the aggravated procedure of art. 168 CE. This option supposes, for the sake of viability, paying the very high price, for a plurinational federal vision such as the one applied here, of renouncing any attempt to recognize in the Constitution formulas that directly or indirectly may question the unity and indivisibility of the State that recognizes art. 2, as this article can only be amended through the procedure provided for in art. 168. To avoid this pitfall, the recognition of the national nature of Catalonia or another Autonomous Community would be an issue to be addressed in the respective Statute of Autonomy which, do not forget, have constitutional status. This would give the opportunity to review the jurisprudence of STC 31/2010, in a way more in line with the Spanish plurinational reality, making possible for Catalonia what is already possible, for example, for Andalusia (considered in its Statute, do not forget , as “national reality”).

The constitutional amendment to be added to art. 167 of the Spanish Constitution should expressly indicate what constitutional precepts are those requiring compliance for its reform, in addition to the general presuppositions of art. 167, certain additional conditions or requirements, through which a “special” procedure (now non-existent) would be implemented or, if a variant is preferred within art. 167, reserved exclusively for those reform initiatives that affect the territorial constitution of the state and that are not subject to the aggravated procedure of art. 168 of the Constitution. In this sense, and in accordance with what is argued in the first section of this article, these additional conditions should include, at least, these two: first, enable a channel for participation by the Autonomous Communities and the Spanish Federation of Municipalities and Provinces in the reform procedure; and, secondly, that the reform project, once approved by the Cortes Generales, must always be submitted to the referendum of the Spanish people for ratification, without the need for a specific majority to request it.

If created, within the procedure of art. 167 CE, a specific variant for the reform of the territorial Constitution should allow the modification of the constitutional status of any of the different levels of government (local, autonomous and state) and even, for the reasons indicated above and, to incorporate the four levels involved, the much-needed reform of the so-called “European clause” of art. 93. Since, when it comes to modifying the territorial Constitution, the territorial distribution of power and the delimitation of the respective areas of competence come into play, as well as the definition of the representative and co-government bodies, participation of the Autonomous Communities and also that of the municipalities is essential. This participation can be articulated in various ways and at various times, either in the initial phase of project development or the reform proposal, or taking advantage of the bicameral structure of the Cortes Generales.

If we opt for this last solution, the text approved by the Congress of Deputies (majority of three fifths art. 167.1 CE) could be sent to the territorial entities, having a deadline for taking the initiative into consideration and the eventual presentation of amendments, reporting all this to the Congress of Deputies. Once this procedure has been completed, the initiative and its amendments would be sent to the Senate, so that, in the Autonomous Communities Commission and with the participation of all the actors involved (Autonomies and municipalities-FEMP), it could be elaborated an Opinion of the Commission on the text of Congress and the amendments presented, which would be submitted to the vote of the Plenary of the Senate. In all the others (Congress-Senate discrepancy) the procedures provided for in art. 167 1 and 2 CE would be applied. After approval by the Cortes Generales, the referendum would be, as has been said, mandatory.

For democratic consistency, in this variant of the reform procedure of art. 167 CE, the minimum number of intervening territorial entities (Autonomies and municipalities-FEMP) that must have to be taken into account for the initiative from the Congress of Deputies, before being transferred to the Senate, must also be determined. It does not seem reasonable that a few Autonomous Communities or the FEMP can, by themselves, block the reform process, nor that it can be carried out without the support of a qualified majority (suppose two thirds).

If a specific variant were created for the reform of the territorial Constitution, it would be possible to modify the constitutional status of any of the different levels of government: local, autonomous and state.

Through this design it is sought to combine the constitutional limits already established in art. 167 CE, with a reinforcement of the participation and the legitimacy of the reform. In this way, the changes in the territorial Constitution no longer concern only the citizenship individually considered (ratification referendum), but also the institutional representation of the municipalities and communities that will have expressed their opinion – as public powers endowed with autonomy for the defense of their “respective interests (art. 137 CE) – to the point that they can make the reform initiative fail, if they mostly disagree with its contents. The reform that is approved would be, at this point, a reform of everyone: the citizens and the territories. A characteristic effect of federal states. Only if the reform definitively failed, would the path of the agreed and legally regulated referendum be opened for Catalonia, which would act, perhaps, as a negative incentive for the reform to prosper.

Once the reform channel has been enabled, it remains to be pointed out which modifications have to be introduced to overcome the blockade of the state of Autonomies in which we live. Well, in general, the reform proposals in relation to this matter, to date, revolve around three common elements:

• Converting, it is said, the Senate “into a true Chamber of territorial representation like the German Bundesrat”.

• Clarify the powers of the State and the Autonomous Communities (“closure of the State of the Autonomous Communities”).

• Constitutionalize mechanisms of “cooperative federalism” (sector conferences, conference of presidents, etc).

Of all these premises, both the first and the second suffer from a notorious inconsistency. On the one hand, the Busdesrat is not a parliamentary chamber, but a Council of Governments. On the other, it is enough to examine the last forty years of democracy in Spain to verify that the true Chamber of territorial representation in our system is, and continues to be, the Congress of Deputies. Furthermore, as everyone knows, neither the North American Senate, nor any parliamentary Chamber representing interests other than political ones (Canada, Australia, France) currently operates on the fringes of politics and the way in which the various political parties align and organize themselves in parliament. Every senator has an ideological-party affiliation and that variable is, when examining the processes of formation of the will of the Chamber, much more relevant than that of her evanescent territorial origin. If the second Chambers are an institution in frank decline, why persist in error? Regarding the Bundesrat model, it is evident that it obeys to a political culture and a federal tradition (the so-called federalism of execution) completely alien to that existing in our country. Does anyone imagine that a council made up of representatives appointed directly by the presidents of the Autonomous Communities and subject to their will could block the legislative initiatives already approved by the Congress of Deputies?

The same can be said in relation to the third of the reform claims, the strengthening of collaboration mechanisms. Undoubtedly, it is a necessary concept that must be implemented in any politically decentralized government system, but the “federal loyalty” characteristic of Anglo-Saxon federalism seems more realistic for Spain than the highly centralist Germanic federal loyalty on which its particular model of cooperative federalism of execution is based. The latter has not been able to avoid successive reforms of the Constitution to introduce competitive elements that allow Germany to get out of the “consensus trap”.

Therefore, from our perspective, the best reform of the Senate involves its suppression and creating, where appropriate, a Federal Council of Autonomous Governments, with regulatory capacity and even legislative initiative, but without being able to block the legislation drawn up by the Cortes Generales in the exercise of their powers, as a general organ of the State. In any case, that body of collaboration and coordination between executives would never be a parliamentary chamber. –

Nor do we consider that German-style federalism of execution is the only possible solution and that, on the contrary, some elements closer to competitive federalism can be incorporated – yes, as competitive welfare federalism, not the neoliberal one of fiscal dumping and “I vote with my feet” – and that better reflect before the citizens the responsibility assigned to each of the different levels of State government and allow autonomous experimentation, with due accountability, in public policies. That is why a good delimitation of competencies is so important; in our opinion, this should revolve around the establishment of the essential ones for the State, letting the Statutes to regulate their own competency structure.

But it is not enough to clarify competencies. It is imperative to review the entire system of sources of law with regard to the territorial distribution of power. Let us remember that “framework laws” have never been used; that there was only one “harmonization law”, by the way declared unconstitutional (LOAPA); that, following the latest statutory reforms, the “transfer laws” and “delegation” have been ostracized; and that, as a consequence of all this, the ordinary delimitation of competences is carried out by means of a type of laws, formally non-existent in the Constitution (the so-called “basic legislation”), which are the product of a jurisprudence of the Constitutional Court, which is unclear and very changing over time. In fact, what the Constitution calls “bases” that will be developed by the regional legislator, is currently that part of a matter (whether legislative or purely enforced) that the state legislator considers (always) of interest, leaving the regional legislator the mere development of the “fringes and surpluses”. If there is a lack of constitutional clarity in the enumeration of competences, much bigger is, if possible, the lack of definition in which that ethereal notion of the “basic” moves. Both reforms must go hand in hand.

The best reform of the Senate passes through its suppression to create a Federal Council of Autonomous Governments, with regulatory capacity and even legislative initiative, but without blocking the legislation drawn up by the Cortes Generales. A possible reform of the Constitution should also pay attention to legislative formulas present in some federal democracies, such as the ‘opting in’ / ’opting out’ clauses.

Obviously, however clear the constitutional distribution of powers may be, there will always be necessary spaces for non-hierarchical coordination and co-governance and, within it, for sharing legislative power over the same matter. A possible reform of the Constitution should pay special attention to certain legislative formulas that have timidly already been incorporated in some federal democracies such as Germany or Canada, and that have also proven very useful as transit solutions within the EU. We refer to the ‘opting in’ / ‘opting out’ clauses that, with respect to certain competences, would allow an Autonomous Community to participate with the central bodies in the drafting and shared financing of a certain law or, on the contrary, to remain on the sidelines by not participating and exercising by itself and with its own resources a certain public policy. Experience shows that when you can choose freely, adherence is encouraged, since it allows you to manage your own jointly with others, but also to co-manage and decide at the federal level, so that the “power” that is lost with respect to exclusivity in one’s own politics is compensated by the “power” of co-government that is acquired.

Finally, and for the reasons mentioned above, it is essential to review and incorporate into the Constitution, with all the democratic centrality it deserves, the local government system, today made up of municipalities and provinces, as well as its institutional representation. In view of the final autonomic map, it does not seem that the province should be a territorial entity of compulsory constitutional existence and, as in other federal or quasi-federal states, it seems much more reasonable that, once constitutionally guaranteed local autonomy and the financial sufficiency of the local entities, the planning of the territory is an exclusive competence of each Autonomous Community.


In conclusion, in this article I have tried to contribute three series of arguments to the discussion on the political conflict in Catalonia:

1. That plurinational federalism offers a normative theory alien to nationalism (from the State, or against the State), which nevertheless recognizes the profound moral and political significance of national identities for many citizens. This conception is based on an idea of ​​the nation as an open and plural process of political construction, as well as on a multilevel government perspective of shared sovereignties. Both make thinkable a horizon of multilateral agreements of interdependence and self-government.

2. That there exists in Catalonia, in an empirically verifiable way, a shared and very plural space of demands and emotions, in a large part of the citizenship, which allows its eventual political articulation from the assumptions of plurinational federalism, competing with solvency both with the defense of the autonomist status quo, as with secessionism.

3. That the most suitable way to try to get out of the current blockade consists of a reform by adding the territorial Constitution of the State that allows a profound change both in the institutions (Council of Autonomous Governments, local Government), as well as in the competence structure and the sources of law, as well as the inclusion of ‘opting in’ / ‘opting out’ mechanisms in our system. The framework of plurinational federalism mentioned here does not constitute a panacea, but shows an undeniable strategic potential as a space for political deliberation and coordination, open to various positions of democratic socialism, new municipalism, republicanism and pluralist nationalisms. Time is short and, as the classic said, “Hic Rhodus, hic salta” [This is your Rhodes; ¡jump here!]


1 —

Colino, C. y Molina, I. (2020). “Introducción: la reflexión en España sobre el conflicto catalán: presupuestos, dimensiones y enfoques”, Revista IDEES, número especial “Catalunya – España: ¿del conflicto al diálogo político?”. Available on line.

2 —

  • Rivera Otero, J.M, Lagares, N. y Montabes, J. (eds.) (2016). Cataluña en Proceso. Valencia; Tirant, 2016.
  • Caamaño, F. (2015). Democracia federal. Madrid: Turpial.
  • Máiz, R. (2018). Federalismo y Nacionalismo. Madrid: S. XXI.
  • Jaráiz, E. Pereira, M. Lagares, N. y Baleato, S. (2018). “The Emotional Factors in the Catalan Crisis: A Structural Equations Approach”, presentation in the APSA Conference, Boston, 2018.

3 —

Máiz, R. (2015). “La teoría política hoy: entre bios theoretikos y bios politikos” en Wences, I. (ed) Tomando en serio la Teoría Política. Madrid: CEPCO pp. 97-142.

4 —

  • Beramendi, P. y Máiz, R. (2004): “Spain: unfulfilled federalism” in U. Amoretti & N. Bermeo (eds.) Federalism, Unitarism, and Territorial Cleavages. Baltimore: John Hopkins U. Press, 122-155.
  • Máiz, R. Caamaño, F. y Azpitarte, M. (2010) “The Hidden counterpoint of Spanish federalism: recentralization and resymmetrization in Spain (1978-2008)”. Regional and Federal Studies vol. 20, 1, 63-82.

5 —

See, among others:

  • Keating, M. (2013). Rescaling the European State. Oxford: Oxford U. Press.
  • Bauböck, R. (2017). Democratic Inclusion. Manchester: Manchester U. Press.
  • Josep M Colomer y Ashley L Beale (2020). Democracy and Globalization: Anger, Fear, and Hope. New York: Routledge.

6 —

See Closa, C. (ed.) (2017). Secession from a member state and Withdrawal from the European Union. Cambridge: CUP.

7 —

Pérez Royo, J. (2018). “¿Reforma Constitucional o período constituyente?” in Losada, A. Pérez Royo, J., Constitución: La reforma inevitable. Barcelona: Roca.

8 —

  • Jaráiz, E., Pereira, y M. Cazorla, A (2020). El auge de la extrema derecha en España. Valencia: Tirant.
  • Castro, P. y Jaráiz, E. (2020). La construcción emocional de Vox. Article published in a newspaper.

9 —

 In this section we have been inspired by the works of Francisco Caamaño, previously mentioned, and by Federación y Reforma. Valencia: Tirant, 2020.

Ramón Máiz

Ramón Máiz Suárez is a political scientist and Professor of Political Science and Administration at the University of Santiago de Compostela. He is a specialist in the fields of study of comparative nationalism and federalism, political theory, and the history of political thought. Graduated in Law and PhD from the University of Santiago de Compostela, he is coordinator of the Political Research Team of the same university and member of the board of directors of the Ethnicity and Political Committee of the International Association of Political Sciences. Máiz is the author of more than a dozen works in Galician and Spanish, including A Idea de nacion (1997), La frontera Interior (2008) and Teorías Políticas Contemporáneas (2009).

Una proposta des del federalisme plurinacional


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