(La transcripció d’aquesta conferència no és literal)

Conferència del president de la Generalitat, Pasqual Maragall, a la New York University

Nova York, 22 de febrer de 2006

“The catalan reform in democratic Spain: towards a new devolution”

Perhaps few peoples are better positioned than North Americans to understand what it is going on today in Catalonia and in Spain, The entire conception of the State and of the Nation in the United States is founded on the principle “E pluribus unum” a motto first proposed for the Great Seal of the United States by Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin. “One from Many” : the phrase declares the determination to form a single nation from a collection of states and, by extension, a whole political body from a nation of immigrants.

Intrinsic to this is the dialogue between citizens and their governments about the limits of governmental power, about the protection of individual rights and the requirements for the common good –often translated into problems of taxation and representation-, and about where power can best be exercised: at the level of the federal government, the state governments, the municipalities, or the town hall.

These are familiar topics in the context of the United States. WE are less accustomed to thinking about them in terms of Spain. But they are intrinsic to the distribution of power in Spain, as well. For centuries, ever since the consolidation in the 16th century of a Spanish State identified with the Spanish language, the Catholic Church and a strong centralized public administration located first in Valladolid and ultimately in Madrid, this has also been the hidden issue that underlay conflict after conflict, from the War of Succession in 1714 to the Civil War from 1936 – 1939.

Catalonia has always been at the forefront of this discussion. The will for self-determination of the Catalan people dates at least from the 13th Century, when the Consell de Cent (Council of the Hundred, or Senate) was established by Jaume I, James the First. As my dear friend Robert Hughes writes in his beautiful love letter to Catalonia, titled “Barcelona”, [“The Catalans’] sense of exception ran back to the ideal of the ancient Roman republic, of the head of state as primus inter pares, first among equals. To them, the count-king ruled by contract and not by divine right”. Robert goes on to quote the fiercely self-sufficient Catalan oath of allegiance to the king, to wit:

“We who are as good as you, swear to you, who are no better than we, to accept you as our king and sovereign lord, provided you observe all our liberties and laws…” And now comes the clincher:“but if not, not”.

It is this shared spirit of political liberties and governmental complexity that the Catalan people have sought to rethink our Statute of Autonomy, after a period of twenty-five years of unparalleled democratic stability and freedom. There are many misunderstandings with regard to this process, some of which I hope to lay to rest today by answering your questions about the process of political reform we have undertaken with passionate loyalty both to Catalonia and to Spain, an idea of Spain in which all these questions can finally be resolved in the Parliament and not on the battle field.


If you have been following the political news in the Spanish press in recent months and weeks, you will have noticed that things are a bit “shaken up”.

There is a considerable stand-off between President Zapatero and the main opposition party, the Popular Party, which has generated a degree of political tension not commonly found in Western politics.

You may have heard about economic stakeholders, intellectuals, the Catholic church… and even an occasional military officer, all coming forth to state political opinions against the government!

Catalonia and the Catalan political parties as well as its President at centre stage of policy and politics in Spain.

You may have asked:  What’s happening in Spain?  What’s up with Catalonia?

Let us take a brief glance into the past.

Spain has been one of the most interesting political success stories in the Western world over the last thirty years. 

Four basic political "cleavages" marked its internal conflicts: the type of state in history (monarchy versus republic); the relation between the state and the Catholic church; the degree of modernization and liberalization of the Spanish economy; and finally, the territorial organization of political power (centralism versus autonomism).

After Franco’s death that unstable, conflict-ridden Spain came up with the democratic formula that solve these problems. The 1978 carta magna established a constitutional monarchy with a social market economy and a notably decentralized state. Our democracy was built up on a strong devolution process, very close to what people use to call a federal system.

Since then, Spain has become a socially cohesive and economically developed country. Since it joined the EU in 1986, Spain has become once again a significant player on the European scene. We are growing now at 3.5%, three times the European average.

Even if it may seem paradoxical the foundations are being laid in Spain for a new stage in our democracy, in which our federal system will be strengthened, our economic development will be sustained, and, according to many sources, ETA’s terrorism may well end forever.

I am certain of one thing: thanks to the reforms that are currently underway beginning with the new Catalan Statute, Spain faces a future which will follow the history of social, economic, and political progress of the last thirty years.

To explain this I would like to outline the following:

1.- The current political reform in Spain consists of a new “devolution” process which will complete and expand the one already undertaken at the advent of democracy in 1978.

2.- This “new devolution” chiefly consists of, first, the recognition of the historic identity in some autonomous communities –Catalonia, Basque Country and Galicia-, and, second, of an improvement in the financing of these administrations. 

3.- The political origins of this reform lie in Catalonia’s requests in recent years. 

We cannot view the Catalan reform outside the context of a consolidation of the State of the Autonomous Communities. Let’s talk about these two items.


2.1. What reasons have led Catalonia to propose the reform of its self-government? 

One reason: To clarify and define the recognition of Catalonia’s identity. The first article of the proposed statute declares 

"Catalonia is a nation". The Spanish Parliament will probably prefer to place this in the preambul or introduction of the law. Big question left to the end of the debate.

Second: -- To define the rights and duties of citizens in the 21st century. Many of the accepted concepts that we take for granted today -- such as equal opportunities for women, or giving youth a voice -- simply didn’t even exist 25 years ago, were not deemed necessary in the Statute.

Third: -- The statute tries to strengthen the principle of subsidiarity, the idea that decisions should be taken as close to the citizenry as possible. 

Fourth Goal:-- Achieving a satisfactory and effective coordination of the three levels of government and administration (state, autonomous community and city or local authority). 

Fifth Goal:-- A partial reform of the way the autonomous communities are financed. Some of the communities that contribute most, as is the case with Catalonia, lose competitiveness and suffer under this system, as it happens in the European Union with Germany. A revision of this point in no way implies the disappearance of the principle of financial solidarity with other parts of Spain. [There is a tendency towards making collection of taxes devolved to the authorities.]

2.2. Constitutionality and consensus

The draft for a new statute was approved by the parliament of Catalonia on Sept. 30th after 18 months of debate. It was supported by four of the five political factions represented in Catalonia’s parliament: the Partit dels Socialistes de Catalunya, the Catalan socialist party; Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, a party striving for independence; the Iniciativa per Catalunya Els Verds, an alliance of greens and post-communists and CiU, the conservative nationalist federation that governed Catalonia between 1980 and 2003. Only the Popular Party, which is a small party in Catalonia –the fourth in votes-, voted against it. Of the 135 members of the Parliament of Catalonia, 120 voted in favor of the new statute. 

On Nov. 3rd, the Spanish parliament agreed to consider the Catalonian proposal. The vote on whether or not to accept the proposal for consideration produced a result similar to the one in Catalonia: All the political forces except for the Popular Party voted in favor. 

Do not forget that the PP participated in the entire process within Catalonia, with a constructive attitude.

Some people have turned Catalonia’s proposal into a projectile weapon to spark open combat between the opposition and the government.

However, Catalonia did not frame its proposal against anyone. In no way is it against Spain.  Nor is it against any of the autonomous communities. Catalonia would never approve any proposal that would jeopardize the interests of Spain as a whole. The Catalan reform has already passed the most difficult part of its journey.


The Catalan reform does not end up in an improvement of Catalonia’s self-governance.  As mentioned before, Catalonia opened a true new devolution process all around Spain.  The ultimate goal is the realization of the plural Spain, the federal Spain.

1.- I am confident, more than ever, that the plural Spain is a project adding political realism to collective ambition.

a/ Realistic in its development: We must work with a constitution and charters that are untouchable and within the limited scenario of the European Union’s institutions.

b/ Ambitious in its objectives: it must satisfactorily fulfill the aspirations of the peoples of Spain for this century.

2.- A general operating principle: the autonomous communities are part of the State, they are the State – the Spanish state – and as such they must be treated with reciprocal loyalty.

At one point, there were attempts to distort this statement by implying that a different State was being demanded. It is not true.

The goal is to put an end to the all too common and misleading impression distinguishing the State from the autonomous governments.

For three decades, and as defined by the constitution, the state of Spain has meant three different administrations: general, autonomous and local.

And not a single article nor provision establishes a vertical or moral hierarchy among them.

3.- One criterion: Recognition of difference

Difference does not mean inequality.  Nor, obviously, privilege.

The desire to uphold a balance between equality (of rights) and plurality (of identities) must lead us to defend – without complexes, from a historical and cultural nation such as Catalonia:

- equality of competences

- and difference on a symbolic level.

Understanding that the core of the renewed constitutional agreement must consist of the historical nationalities’ accepting the spread of autonomous governments, equality of competences, and the balance of the model, while at the same time the other communities recognize the plurinational, pluricultural and plurilinguistic diversity of Spain and, as a result, the practical and symbolic expressions of these differences.

Consequently, we assume that no community has the right to determine the others’ ceiling of competences.

- A constitutional formulation: Te-establishing the distinction between nationalities and regions that defines the Constitution.

- A political culture: This reality, more complex, more compound, must be built upon the foundation of loyalty.

Without reciprocal loyalty, without federal trust, no progress can be made in the new scenario.

We share common problems that must be dealt with and analyzed jointly.  Only in this way will we find effective solutions.

We knew from the very start it would not be easy. But it seems that the reform is gaining momentum. Today it’s Catalonia, and I hope the Land of Valencia, too. Tomorrow Andalusia and Galicia will join, too.  And in time other autonomies.

This is the major stake for the Spain of the 21st century to continue its advancement, with all the guarantees, along a democratic pathway based on the values of equality, diversity and freedom.

Thank you very much.