Félix Riera, 12 September 2023
Álvaro Cabrera / Efe
If in the last legislature politics, driven by the coalition government of PSOE and Unidas Podemos, focused on implementing an ambitious social agenda, now everything indicates that it will be the territorial agenda that will dominate Spanish politics. Consequently, the new progressive government led by Pedro Sánchez, as long as it manages to harmonise all the interests, demands and priorities of the various parties that must vote for him in order to win his investiture, will be forced to adopt this shift from the social to the territorial axis.
On 27 July, Andoni Ortuzar, president of the PNV, declared: “He will have to give us a global approach to what he wants for the next four years, especially in the territorial sphere and in the way the national realities of Euskadi and Catalonia fit in”. A statement that was further elaborated by the lehendakari Iñigo Urkullu in an article published in ‘El País’. In it, he proposed the promotion of the figure of the “constitutional convention” with the aim of defining aspects such as “the self-government of the communities with foral roots or, even, of the historical nationalities”. On 18 August, EH Bildu MP Merxe Aizpurua declared in the Congress of Deputies that “there is a structural issue in the Spanish state, which dates back to 1978, where, in some way, this state of autonomies was drawn up as a ‘coffee for all’ and does not respond to the needs of the Basque Country, nor does it solve the problems of the rest”.
Both Junts per Catalunya and ERC propose that the state should give legal cover to a referendum on self-determination. The request by both parties for the PSOE to promote an amnesty for the crimes derived from the pro-Catalonia process must be read in a territorial perspective, as the crimes of which they are accused are a consequence of trying to change the territorial relationship between Catalonia and Spain, by promoting and carrying out the illegal referendum on 1 October 2017. All nationalist and pro-independence parties, without exception, are making territorial demands that go far beyond those put forward by María Jesús Montero, acting finance minister, when she declared on 1 August that it was “urgent” to review the regional funding model and seek formulas to make the current territorial model more efficient.
Nationalist and pro-independence parties have been promoting initiatives for decades with the intention of making political pedagogy or generating scenarios of rupture with the Spanish state. In the political proposal of the Barcelona Declaration in 1998, promoted by the BNG, PNV and CiU, one could read: “After twenty years of democracy, the articulation of the Spanish state as plurinational remains unresolved. During this period we have suffered a lack of legal-political recognition and even of social and cultural assumption of our respective national realities within the state”.
Sánchez must impose limits on himself so as not to fall into the spiral of demands from the pro-independence movement.
In January 2005, Ibarretxe’s plan, which called for “the exercise of the Basque people’s right to decide their own future”, sought to transform the Basque Country from an autonomous community into a free associated state, implying that Spain would assume the territorial reality of a confederal state. In 2017, pro-independence parties shaped the illegal 1-O referendum, which asked citizens: Do you want Catalonia to be an independent state in the form of a republic? In a way, these three political initiatives are now converging to warn that the time has come to lay the political foundations for a fundamental territorial change in Spain.
The situation in which the PSOE and Sumar find themselves in order to be able to re-edit their coalition government is paradoxical: both are in favour of moving towards a new territorial organisation and are inclined to seek the best legal formula for Catalan independence to be integrated into Spanish political life, but, nevertheless, they now find themselves sharing pro-independence illusions centred on creating the political bases to be able to separate from Spain. The key question in the negotiations now underway to invest Pedro Sánchez is whether he and his party are able to impose political limits on themselves so as not to fall into the spiral of Basque and Catalan independence demands, and to convince Catalan independence that the territorial question must be tackled gradually and beyond one legislature.