The constitutional debate

Constitution Day certifies reform deadlock

PSOE and PP show the impossibility of articulating a majority to reform the Constitution

3 min
Act of celebration of the 43rd anniversary of the Constitution to Congress

MadridThe sun might have shone on the event commemorating the 43rd anniversary of the Spanish Constitution this Monday morning outside Parliament in Madrid, but the cold has been the real protagonist of an event which, once again, was held outdoors because of the pandemic. The low temperatures were reflected in attendants thick coats, but also cooled any prospects of successfully addressing constitutional reform. The rift between PSOE and PP was as evident as ever, and not even coalition partners PSOE and Unidas Podemos have a common position regarding the modification of the Magna Carta.

Unidas Podemos leader in the Spanish Parliament, Jaume Asens, made this clear. He defined the 1978 Constitution as an "old dress" that ought to be "a starting point and not a meeting point". Asens not only defended constitutional reform, but also responded to Defence Minister Margarita Robles, who distanced herself from constitutional reform. Asens warned that constitutions that "cannot be reformed are condemned to die".

Even so, Asens did not want to be "naive". "We are aware that the current correlation of forces [to reform the Constitution] is unfavourable". The fact is that while Unidas Podemos defends the need for reform, PSOE has stayed silent. Just before the institutional event, the president of the Spanish government, Pedro Sánchez, has avoided talking about reforming the Constitution and in a brief appearance before the media has limited himself to saying that the current text provided Spain with "rights, freedoms, harmony, coexistence and our membership of the EU". In fact, this Sunday Sánchez claimed from Murcia that the current text sets the government's course. "What we have to do is take care of the Constitution, and this means complying with all the articles in the Constitution, from the first to the last," Sánchez has defended in an attack on the PP, which he accuses of failing to comply with the constitutional spirit by blocking the renewal of the Judiciary.

Batet's gesture

The only gesture beyond Unidas Podemos towards constitutional reform came from PSOE's Meritxell Batet, who is also the Spanish Parliament's Speaker. "The Constitution is an agreement that has to live every day to be effective," said Batet outside parliament. Accompanied by the majority of ministers, as well as regional presidents and other political leaders, except for Catalan and Basque sovereigntists, Batet argued that it is necessary to "update and renew the spirit and the original commitment" of the Spanish constitution, as well as to "know how to prolong and develop it with new agreements" that maintain "its daily social validity".

Batet took the opportunity to warn that the Constitution "demands respect and compliance". Although she pointed out that "disagreement" with some obligations of the text and seeking to "modify" them are acceptable, non-compliance is not. In fact, she warned the political class that those who consider breaking it "intend to place themselves above it".

In any case, in the equation of a "new agreement" for a reform of the Constitution the PP is essential. yet the party has made it clear that reform is off the cards. "The Constitution is not the problem, but the solution", the PP leader, Pablo Casado, stated. He again criticised the Spanish government assuring that it is the one that "has attacked the Constitution the most" in the last 40 years and has branded PSOE and Unidas Podemos's attitude as "suicidal revisionism", both with regards to the Constitution and with the Transition to democracy after Franco's dictatorship.

The idea, however, of obtaining Casado's support in such a debate is almost inconceivable if one takes into account that at the end of September it was they who, alongside Vox, refused to reform the language of the Constitution to stop calling people with disabilities "handicapped". In fact, Batet used the opportunity to criticise Vox's "populism" and the "unnecessary judicialization of politics", in reference to the PP.

Judicial blockade

In fact, the consensus between PP and PSOE cannot even be achieved for more urgent issues such as the renewal of the General Council of the Judiciary, whose mandate expired three years ago. Despite the fact that the two parties announced forthcoming agreements in October, the deadlock continues. There are currently no contacts between the two main parties, and Spanish government sources explain that there has been no progress. "It takes two to tango," they lament. In fact, not even pressure from Brussels has managed to break the deadlock.

All in all, Constitution Day has shown reform still lies a long way off, especially when broad consensus is non-existent. The new president of the Constitutional Court, Pedro González-Trevijano, reminded attendants of this. Despite not wanting to plunge into the topic, he did point out that "a prior context of political détente is needed, the assumption of common constitutional reforms, knowing what is chosen, why it is modified and following what criteria".