Interview with Jordi Mercader. 2 May 2021
Jordi Mercader | Photo: Àngel Guerrero
Political analyst and journalist, author, among many other books, of El tigre sobiranista, where he presented those who would be the leaders of the procés, and of Mil dies amb PM, a chronicle of his work with Pasqual Maragall in the tripartite government. He now publishes The Necker Plan (Comanegra).
What explains The Necker Plan?
I am writing a novel-essay in which I describe how a hypothetical plan was prepared, commissioned by King Philip VI to Necker, to turn Spain into a federation. It is located in the year 2030, although the meeting to prepare the plan would have been held in the summer of 2020. That is, I assume that this plan will be ten or twelve years in one of the drawers of the state, waiting for the opportunity. I think the plan really exists. Not what I have written, but one of my own creation. I would be very surprised if there was no plan to resolve, once and for all, the territorial conflict in Spain. I intended to do an essay on federalism, but when I thought about it, it seemed absurd to me that as a journalist I wanted to do this when there must be thousands of essays on federalism in the world, and in Spain there are great theorists on the issue. I opted for the novel’s formula, which gave me a margin for improvisation, and although I worked with five constitutionalists, my characters do not respond to any of them. I used the names of the US Fathers to give it a little more literary level.
What has the plan got to do with Jacques Necker, that Geneva banker who was Louis XVI’s finance minister?
It’s a coincidence. I was looking for a palace in Switzerland to have a secret meeting, and a journalist, a friend of mine, who had been living there for many years, told me that there was a fantastic one in Coppet, near Geneva. I saw that it was the residence of Madame de Staël, the so-called Lady of Romanticism. This provided me with a literary connection, and with the French Revolution. Staël was the daughter of Necker, a character who tried to save the monarchy and failed. Something that tied in with my Necker, who also works on behalf of the King. It may seem ominous, but it must be borne in mind that Necker was the protagonist of the first act of transparency in politics when he published the accounts of the French state.
Doesn’t the current state of the Autonomous Communities already have enough of the federalism proposed by The Necker Plan?
I am one of those who believe that the autonomous state was a monumental improvisation, and that it will not help the creation of a federal Spain. I do not agree with the idea that the autonomous state has a federalizing tendency. The federation demands the self-government of the parts (something that more or less complies with the autonomous model) and that the parts participate in the government as a whole, which does not happen. The autonomous state, as we have seen now with the pandemic, does not work, because Spain does not have the appropriate instruments for the autonomies to participate in the government of the state. Autonomies are not present in large state bodies, such as the Constitutional Court, nor does the Senate play the role it would play in the federal state. If you want to make a federal state, you have to name things by their name and reform the Constitution, starting with the first article, which should say that Spain is a federation composed of whatever it is, which probably cannot be the current 17 autonomies. Because another of the current problems is the map of the autonomies, an ahistorical invention that greatly complicates the understanding of the plurality of Spain.
States or perhaps their equivalents with different names?
No federal state is the same as another. Everyone accommodates it to their circumstances. There are länders, provinces… Everyone gives them the name of their political tradition, but in reality they are states within the state. The original model is the United States, which is made up of states. In the case of Spain, this denomination would suit it very well, because given the strength of independence, for example, in Catalonia, the federal proposal, as has been stated so far, is not very commercial. If it were signed that, for being a state, Catalonia only has the federal route, I think it would be much more competitive than the independent state that is preached. The terminology is not neutral. When we talk about California, we know that we are not talking about the “romantic” state. There was a time when Massachusetts looked like a model to Artur Mas.
Federalism coupled with the image of the US is the most competitive against separatism. How is the federalist legacy in Spain posed in The Necker Plan?
The failure of the First (federal) Republic, as seen by Pi i Margall, haunts us. That was a disaster, both as a Republic and as a federal model. But we’re talking about an experiment from 150 years ago. It is unheard of for a whole political culture to be a prisoner of such an old ghost, when in that time it has been shown to the whole world that federalism is the best guarantee for keeping plural states together. Federalism that even goes beyond a model of organization of states… In federal culture, institutional loyalty, tolerance and transversality prevail, let’s say. Permanent dialogue, as evidenced by the case of Belgium, which has moved from a unitary state in the 1970s to a federal state, based on consensus. With seven reforms to move forward in the federal state. We do not have a federal culture, because the great Spanish parties have never promoted federalism. If federalism had a government and a television that promoted it, in a few years there would be many more federalists.
And why in Europe, which is de facto, say, federalist, is it so hard for them to assume it straight as an arrow hair?
We still have very much alive the definition of original, unique and indivisible sovereignty. Sovereignty is one of the big issues when debating the formation of a federal state. In the US it was already a matter of discussion and always is. And there is no formula for resolving the relationship between the sovereignty of the parts and the sovereignty of the whole. In Catalonia, where we always talk about the federalism of Pi i Margall (statist, let’s say) we should talk about that of Valentí Almirall, who proposed the federation from a united state, which is much more difficult to do than out of the 13 states born of American independence. He found the formula by which Necker was inspired in part to find the solution.
How do the pro-sovereignty people see The Necker Plan? In its classical sense, or in postmodern reading, like do some populists?
It’s complicated. For better or worse, we are very Frenchified and, consequently, prisoners of the conception of sovereignty of the French Revolution, and victims of the anti-federalism that has always existed in France. It has always been believed that federalism disintegrated states. However, in the rest of the world, federalism maintains the unity of complex states. In the pro-sovereignty sector, the same. The Anglo-Saxon world has greatly relativized the concept of sovereignty, and in French political culture it remains an expression of the all-powerful state. We should become a little more cosmopolitan.
Where are the resistances to the cession of sovereignty in Spain, both on a European scale and internally?
In the cantonalist spectrum. It is an ideological, cultural, psychological and ancestral thing, let’s say. Hardly objectifiable. In the polls, federalism appears with about 20-22% support, which is not bad, considering that there is no party that discloses it. Federalism is also a way of understanding politics. The lack of loyalty, for example, greatly complicates the simple handling of things. Federalism should be taught in schools. The implantation of the autonomous Spain took place without any previous autonomous culture, only with the memory of an embryonic formula of the Second Republic, which did not even have time to develop.
Jacques Necker was, after all, an economist. Does the Necker Plan include the operation of the Fund?
This is one of the great problems of the autonomous state, which differentiates it from a federal state. One of the great rules of federal states is that powers must be enshrined in the Constitution. The competencies, of course, and how to fund them.