The head of the Catalan government and the leader of the opposition could not hide their delight after a key vote last month. A text on a new statute of autonomy was approved overwhelmingly by the regional parliament.120 deputies were in favour, and 15 against.
For the third time in its recent history, Catalonia gave itself the power to self-govern. Its first statute of autonomy was obtained in 1932.Interrupted during the Franco years, autonomy was reinstated in 1979, after the restoration of democracy two years earlier. The statute was the backdrop for political life in Catalonia for the next 25 years, notably during the nationalist government led by Jordi Pujol.
After the adoption of a new constitution in 1978, Spain was divided up into 17 autonomous regions, each with its own parliament and government. Catalonia, which is one of the three richest autonomous regions alongside the Basque Country and Madrid, is keen to expand its political powers.
The first article of the new text on autonomy defines Catalonia as a nation, a term which is neither in the 1979 text, nor in the constitution. The new statute defines Catalan as the preferred language in public administration. Classes in Catalan would be a right for students, except in tertiary education. Catalan and Spanish would be the official languages.
Another change would be the creation of a Catalonia Council of Justice. This would be the government’s judicial body, decentralised from the state’s top judiciary.
One of the more controversial plans would be the creation of an agency that would collect all of the region’s taxes. Part of this – never more than 50 percent – would be handed over to the central government. The regional parliament would also have the power to create new taxes and modify existing ones.