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The Spanish Constitution turns 40: a work in progress or no longer fit for purpose? | View

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The Spanish Constitution turns 40: a work in progress or no longer fit for purpose? | View

People sing the national anthem at a rally for national unity in Madrid.
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Intended to cement the transition from the fascist dictatorship of General Franco to a vibrant functioning democracy, the Spanish Constitution was ratified by an overwhelming majority of the Spanish people in a referendum that took place 40 years ago today. What has been its legacy over the last four decades and does it continue to reflect the hopes and aspirations of Spaniards today? Euronews asked five Spanish Members of the European Parliament for their thoughts.

Ramón Luis Valcárcel Siso is Vice-President of the European Parliament

Euronews: Do you think that the Spanish Constitution has met the expectations of those who created it and of the Spanish people who validated it in a referendum held 40 years ago?

Ramón Luis Valcárcel Siso: Without a doubt. The Spanish Constitution was drafted in a moment when Spaniards were called to reconciliation. The Constitution is a reflection and the norm that gathers all the expectations of Spaniards in that crucial moment of Spanish history.

Euronews:And now, 40 years later, is the Constitution still relevant to the current situation in your country; the tensions over the Catalan independence movement as well as Spain's place in the European Union?

RLVS: More than in any other moment in Spanish democracy. It is the Constitution - the one and only text - that guarantees the unity of Spain and the rule of law that, like in any other democracy, constitutes the basis of the State. Without the 1978 Constitution, secessionist movements would have a clear path - due to the lack of superior norms - to reach its illegal goals.

Euronews: Do you think that changes should be made to the Spanish Constitution, and if so, what should they be?

RLVS: The Spanish Constitution is a live document and therefore susceptible to changes. It so happens, however, that our superior norm does not require significant modifications because it has been assumed by a majority of Spanish Congress, which set up an ad hoc commission to study possible constitutional changes, that no new provisions are necessary. The final conclusion, then, was that the Spanish Constitution is in good health so it should continue to be applied like it is nowadays, given the reality of current Spanish society.

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Paloma López Bermejo is a United Left Member of the European Parliament

Euronews:Do you think that the Spanish Constitution has met the expectations of those who created it and of the Spanish people who validated it in a referendum held 40 years ago?

Paloma López Bermejo: The Spanish Constitution cannot be understood in a different context other than the one we had in our country 40 years ago. The country was trying to walk in the direction of democracy, which cost many workers and citizens their own lives. The sentence "Franco died in bed, but democracy was conquered on the streets" is accurate given the reality back then. Against this background, the Constitution of 1978 was maybe the only possible consensus due to the balance of forces.

Over the past 40 years, the problem has been the perception of the Constitution as something untouchable and immovable, and it hasn't changed even after calls from the social majority. On the contrary, the modification of Article 135 has given in to strict limits on government debt which, together with restrictions on freedoms and the evidence that institutions like the judicial system have not been reformed since the dictatorship, has led to questioning of the Constitution itself.

Euronews:And now, 40 years later, is the Constitution still relevant to the current situation in your country; the tensions over the Catalan independence movement as well as Spain's place in the European Union? Do you think that changes should be made to the Spanish Constitution, and if so, what should they be?

PLB: I have asked myself if a Constitution text with answers to the social necessities of the citizenship could reach a consensus today and if, as the result of the cooperation of political forces, this new one would be better that the one we have.

Changes should be made, that's for sure. But, in my opinion, the main change has to be the enactment of a federal state, in opposition of the unilateralism proposed by secessionists and the recentralisation proposed by the right. Both trends feed each other, and while discussing territorial elements, we forget to defend the equality of citizenship in the Constitution which is related to class elements.

Federalism in Spain should be the aim for the future, as well as building a federal Europe.

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Ana Miranda is a Galician Nationalist Bloc Member of the European Parliament

Euronews: Do you think that the Spanish Constitution has met the expectations of those who created it and of the Spanish people who validated it in a referendum held 40 years ago?

Ana Miranda: The constitutional text is the result of a reform that was born from within the Franco regime. It does not constitute a real transition, but rather it maintains the political and economic power structures that supported the dictatorship. Even though it was sold to us as the core of an exemplary transition to democracy, we see today what we suspected 40 years ago and realise it was not such a success.

Euronews: And now, 40 years later, is the Constitution still relevant to the current situation in your country; the tensions over the Catalan independence movement as well as Spain's place in the European Union?

AM: This Constitution responds to an obsolete model and is unable to give an answer to the political situation the Spanish state is currently going through. Not only does this constitutional framework offer no solution to the Catalan question - since it denies any right to self-determination to other peoples like the Galician people - but it also prevents any progress in the area of social rights and armour-plates the monarchy, on which nobody can express their opinion.

Euronews: Do you think that changes should be made to the Spanish Constitution, and if so, what should they be?

AM: It is difficult to answer this question, since if we must bear in mind that the Spanish state is founded on an outdated model. The reforms must go beyond a simple rewording of the articles in the Constitution. However, we do emphasise the need for the Constitution to allow referenda, such as the one many ask for Catalonia, and to open the door to question the monarchy and the agreements between the Church and the State.

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Enrique Calvet Chambon is an Independent Member of the European Parliament

Euronews: Do you think that the Spanish Constitution has met the expectations of those who created it and of the Spanish people who validated it in a referendum held 40 years ago?

Enrique Calvet Chambon: The Spanish Constitution was created 40 years ago. During the first 30 years, the objective of stability for the country was achieved and all Spanish citizens have benefited because of that, especially knowing we came out of a dictatorship. Nowadays, 40 years after its approval, due to the bad evolution of society that Spanish governments have allowed, many things must be changed.

Euronews: And now, 40 years later, is the Constitution still relevant to the current situation in your country; the tensions over the Catalan independence movement as well as Spain's place in the European Union?

ECC: Of course the Spanish Constitution is relevant to the current situation of my country. One of the biggest mistakes of our Constitution is the division of Spain into 17 small 'Taifa kingdoms' and the abuse of self-government in the regions. Separatism has a lot to do with this issue and also, the awful management of the socialist and conservative governments over the last 25 years. I also insist that we speak about secessionism of very diverse and old Spanish regions, not of independence.

Euronews:Do you think that changes should be made to the Spanish Constitution, and if so, what should they be?

ECC: Actually, I do think the Spanish Constitution must be modified. Changes should be made to Section 8 in order to radically change the system of the autonomous regions due to the waste of money and resources. All in all, the autonomous regions are presiding over growing inequality and a lack of solidarity among Spanish citizens, creating hate and the lack of a common project amongst citizens. The Constitution should dispel any doubts that Spain is, above all, a union of citizens not territories; united, free, equal and cohesive.

A second change urgently needed is the possibility of princesses to became queens and Head of State.

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Izaskun Bilbao Barandica is a Basque Nationalist Party Member of the European Parliament

Euronews: Do you think that the Spanish Constitution has met the expectations of those who created it and of the Spanish people who validated it in a referendum held 40 years ago?

Izaskun Bilbao Barandica: The Spanish Constitution was a step to give back freedom and dignity to the Spanish people who lived in a hard, repressive regime under the Francoist dictatorship. It was the result of a successful concertation of non-extremists members of left and right forces. But it was adopted when were not debating some of the most important topics that today are at the top of citizens’ list of worries; including climatic change, the circular economy, migration or globalisation. Also, it did not give a modern answer to the national diversity that Spain has. That's why we are now promoting a renewal of this agreement in the same moderate vein that made possible a controlled demolition of Francoism.

Euronews: And now, 40 years later, is the Constitution still relevant to the current situation in your country; the tensions over the Catalan independence movement as well as Spain's place in the European Union?

IBB: The major political parties in Spain are responsible for the current development model of Spain. It is not sustainable. The weight of industry on the Spanish GDP is not enough to warrant an efficient labour market, and more and more citizens have seen how their jobs (many linked to construction or tourism) and lifestyle are - and will continue to be - unstable. The inequality between rich and poor has grown.

The biggest parties - the People’s Party (PP) and the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) - have not given a credible answer to this challenge and in fact sparked public arguments several years ago that seem to draw focus away from these problems. In this situation, topics like the policy against domestic terrorism or the crisis in Catalonia were useful to delay this key debate. The feeling of more and more citizens is that politicians do not have their problems at the centre of their agenda. Because of this, the soul of Constitutional agreement is broken.

This strategy has produced a fertile field for populism and nationalism. Ultimately, they offer simple answers to resolve complex matters. It seems safe and comfortable. In addition, it boosts distrust between policymakers and pushes them to the extremes on the left and right.

Finally, some institutions like the Crown and the Supreme Court of Justice, and more generally the power balance system, must became more efficient. At the moment, they do not contribute to improving Spanish Democracy.

Euronews: Do you think that changes should be made to the Spanish Constitution, and if so, what should they be?

IBB: The President of the Basque Country - our ‘Lehendakari’ as we call it - says that the whole system needs a reset. To boost it, we need to recover trust, we must use other language and we have to try to update the Spanish constitution. The most important thing is to recover the soul - the spirit of agreement - the respect of one another and diversity, as well as the will to open a dialogue about key matters.

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Clara Aguilera García is a Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) Member of the European Parliament.

Euronews: Do you think that the Spanish Constitution has met the expectations of those who created it and of the Spanish people who validated it in a referendum held 40 years ago?

Clara Aguilera García: In my opinion, it has exceeded these expectations. The Constitution achieved something that had never been possible in the history of our country; to convert, in an orderly manner, Spain into a democracy comparable to those of the rest of Europe. The consequence of this Constitution has been a democratic system that protects freedom, equality and political pluralism, in addition to fitting the territorial diversity of our country, without which it would not be possible to understand Spain. Now, unfortunately, some movements are emerging putting this plurality at risk, proclaiming an intolerant and ignorant vision of the reality of our country.

Euronews: And now, 40 years later, is the Constitution still relevant to the current situation in your country; the tensions over the Catalan independence movement, as well as the place of Spain in the European Union?

CAG: The Constitution of ‘78 is the framework for co-existence. It marks the rules for developing the political game. However, we must not fall into the error of sacralising it and taking it as immovable. In my opinion, it is a good framework that allows us to approach the issues of the Spain of 2018 and where we can remake the broken consensus. With the seriousness and responsibility that it requires, there is a margin of improvement that must be reviewed. This, of course, includes the refinement of our territorial model.

Euronews: Do you think that changes should be made to the Spanish Constitution, and if so, what should they be?

CAG: When we face possible constitutional reforms, we have to understand very clearly that this is not something that can be done in a simplistic way and without the necessary support. One of the greatest virtues of the text is that it enjoyed a very broad consensus. Old enemies agreed. If you were to ask me about the possible changes needed, I would say: a move towards a federal Spain as an improvement of our territorial model, the recognition of social rights, highlighting the European dimension and the membership of the Union as a key element of Spanish democracy, advances in gender equality, eliminating the male prevalence over women in the succession to the Crown and marking a clear delimitation of competencies between Autonomous Communities and the Central Administration. They are just some ideas. I am not trying to make a numerus clausus list.

To read the next two articles in the series, click here to read what MEPs of all political stripes think of the Constitution and Spain's ongoing problems.

Opinions expressed in View articles are solely those of the author