Xavier Arbós – Thursday, 02/27/2020
Any possibility of constitutional reform seems blocked by political polarization, so thinking about changes in the State of autonomies seems like a futile effort. However, it is important to keep the reflection open in case the necessary consensus emerges in any of the next five years. When that happens, there will already be a good base of studies prepared by experts, whose work has been made known to the institutions and the interested public. The “’Autonomous Communities Report’, of the Public Law Institute of Barcelona” stands out among them, which has been no less than since 1989 annually following the activity of the autonomous State.
I believe, however, that along with so many solvent studies the own and specific point of view of the autonomous communities is lacking. I do not refer to the analyses that some of them have performed in a singular way, the work of their specialized observatories, on the autonomous community in which they are located or on the globally considered autonomous State. What I miss is a joint reflection of the autonomous communities about their accumulated experience of self-government. By using a conventional terminology, I mean a ‘white paper’: the type of document that, without trying to impose anything, contains the analysis of a matter. A ‘white paper’ aims to help offer guidance to decision makers, providing knowledge for problem solving. With this profile, it seems to me that a ‘White Book of the Autonomous Communities’ would be useful. Not because there is a lack of information about the negative and positive aspects of our territorial organization; we have a lot and a very good level. What is needed is that developed in the first person and in common by the same autonomous communities.
Since 1983 Spain is organized in autonomous communities. Never before has there been a generalized and stable territorial model, and in this long period self-government institutions have been created through which politicians of different parties have passed, with the support of administrative structures that have accumulated an important practical experience. Its officials have a very valuable point of view about issues that are discussed forever: possible organizational duplications, adequacy of funding, efficiency of spending or competence margin for the implementation of own policies, among others. Most likely, the balances that each of them makes separately is different, but it would be very interesting to know the coincidences that undoubtedly exist and that can emerge with a study of this type. The next conference of presidents could launch the project, forming a working group to specify its contents and establish a drafting team and a calendar.
Collaboration and mutual help
As I imagine it, that white paper of the autonomous communities should be prepared by them, with the logistical and institutional support of the Senate, which could thus affirm its role as a territorial chamber. It should be a text prepared by senior regional officials, whose experience could be complemented by that of regional politicians who were outside of active politics. It would be necessary to avoid at all costs that this white paper had the appearance of a partisan bias, because that would remove persuasive force from its conclusions. On the other hand, there is no doubt that in all the autonomous communities there is their own talent and accumulated experience to carry out this project, as well as criteria to request external opinions that they consider interesting. Apart from the noise of the dispute between parties, and the sporadic controversies between regional leaders, there is a consolidated tradition of collaboration and mutual help among the autonomous communities on which a project such as that of the white paper can be based.
The current paralysis of any reformist project, paradoxically, facilitates reflection without urgency. And it allows a quiet dialogue between people professionally dedicated to public management. Or, with a less technocratic expression that sounds better, to the public service. A true public service could give it a book like the one suggested, because it would allow listening to essential opinions. It would be incomprehensible that a reform of the State of autonomies be carried out without listening to the autonomous communities, speaking in the first person. Of the plural, as is logical.