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The Spanish Constitution at 40: changes are needed to unite a divided Spain | View

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The Spanish Constitution at 40: changes are needed to unite a divided Spain | View

King Felipe at a ceremony marking the Constitution's 40th anniversary.
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In the third of our series marking the fortieth anniversary of the ratification of the Spanish Constitution, three more Spanish MEPs offer their thoughts on its legacy; both its successes and failures over the past four decades. Does it need to be updated to be brought into the 21st Century? What are the major challenges facing Spain just now and does the Constitution still offer Spaniards the tools to overcome them? Here is what they told Euronews. Be sure to hear what MEPs of all political shades had to say on the subject in the previous articles in the series.

Jordi Solé is a Republican Left of Catalonia 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?

Jordi Solé: Definitely not. It is true that the Spanish Constitution received vast support back in 1978. But this support should be understood more as a support for the emerging democracy than of the actual text. On the contrary, it is now used by the Spanish Government as an argument to justify immobility - and as an excuse to put limits on democratic demands. In recent years, the Catalans in particular have seen how a restrictive and regressive reading of the Constitution has been imposed. While when it comes to defending the Crown and unity of Spain, the Constitution is unquestionable. When it comes to fundamental rights, such as the right to housing or freedom of expression, the Constitution is full of empty words.

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

JS: It is totally relevant! In fact, it has become a cage for many Catalans who want to decide their own future in a peaceful, democratic and binding referendum on self-determination – something that the Spanish government contends the Constitution does not allow. It is because of this restrictive reading of the Constitution that today, Spain celebrates the 40th anniversary of its Constitution with nine Catalan Political prisoners; four of whom are on hunger strike with many others in exile for having organised a referendum on independence. This is tangible proof of the enormous historical failure of this Constitution, which has failed to solve the great challenges facing Spain.

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

JS: Indeed, I think most Spaniards would agree that the Spanish Constitution needs to be changed. The problem is that some of them would want to reform it in one way - to make Spain a more modern, more federal, more socially advanced and more respectful towards the internal diversity of the State - while others would like to do exactly the opposite by curtailing rights for citizens and self-government for regions, strengthening the unitary vision of the country and imposing an even more restrictive reading of the text.

The only change that would meet the demands of the majority of Catalans would be the inclusion of the right to self-determination. Nevertheless, we want a different model of society and I am convinced this will come only about when Catalonia becomes an independent republic.

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Beatriz Becerra Basterrechea 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?

Beatriz Becerra Basterrechea: Without a doubt, the Constitution has surpassed all expectations. From every point of view, Spain is today a more prosperous country; more democratic, more European and more pluralist than 40 years ago. According to a survey published this week, only 8% of Spaniards have an unfavorable opinion of the Constitution. That is its success; it has achieved consensus over its validity, on its usefulness as the basis to deal with our discrepancies and differences, by accepting a framework of common coexistence.

It is not incompatible with future reforms to update it, which would allow us to develop a more egalitarian and efficient State. But this reform should always arise from agreement between constitutionalists maintaining the primordial and never as a reaction to those who want to destroy our constitutional order.

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

BBB: The Catalan problem has nothing to do with the validity of the Constitution. The secessionist challenge is just one more example of the nationalist populism that is sweeping Europe.

To respond to the threat posed by separatism, which endangers our coexistence and democracy, a strong Constitution is necessary.

Nationalism should not divide us. Through this Constitution, Catalonia has enjoyed very high levels of decentralisation. This Constitution guarantees all the rights claimed by nationalists, such as the right to use the Catalan language. So much so that the various autonomous governments of Catalonia have imposed the language in education and administration, discriminating against Spanish speakers.

Last year, a study carried out by academics from the University of Oxford indicated that Spain ranks as the second most decentralised country in the world behind Germany. But the nationalists do not want more self-government; they want secession to craft a homogenised and monolingual Catalonia separated from Europe and the rest of Spain. Under this Constitution, we all fit - not just those who only feel Catalan but those who want to decide once and all to live in equality with all Spaniards.

Regarding Europe, the result is unquestionable. This Constitution made it possible for Spain to become part of the EU. And thanks to this Constitution and the astonishing democratic change that it bolstered, Spain is now a prominent partner of the Union: the most pro-European member state today.

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

BBB: After 40 years, we should take a serious, sectarian-free and balanced look at updating our Constitution to address the current challenges and correct the deficiencies it has demonstrated.

In my opinion, it is necessary to end the current territorial model; to make a more egalitarian State, ending the existing discrimination and inequalities between the Autonomous Communities. The Senate should be abolished or converted into a chamber truly representing these Communities.

It is also an opportunity to advance the secularisation of the State, to depoliticise the judicial system to make it more independent of political parties, and end discrimination based on sex in the line of succession to the Crown.

And of course, it is also an opportunity to incorporate a more European character, translating the European project into the Constitution.

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Iratxe García Pérez 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?

Iratxe García Pérez: Absolutely, yes. The Spanish Constitution has allowed us to live in a social and democratic State over the last 40 years; as its first article states, in a regime of liberties, political pluralism and peaceful coexistence with the darkest period of our history behind us. ‘La Magna Carta’ has also been the basis of a big social pact that has allowed the modernisation of our economy and the recognition of a series of social rights related to the welfare state. Yes, of course it has fulfilled the expectations of society as a whole.

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

IGP: At the moment, we are facing new threats - not only in Spain but throughout Europe - with nationalist, independence, populist and neo-fascist movements that question our territorial and coexistence model. That is why now, more than ever, we must defend the democratic values of Europe and our Constitution. In point of fact, we find in the Constitution the principles that have allowed the recognition of the self-determination of the different Autonomous Communities and decentralisation of the Central Administration with levels of self-government unusual in other European countries. Any response to these new challenges - including the territorial model - must be constitutional. This does not mean that the Constitution cannot be modified, but that it must be adapted to the plurality and diversity of the country, always within the framework of the rule of law and national sovereignty. This is also foreseen in the text of ‘la Magna Carta’ itself.

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

IGP: We socialists in the PSOE believe that, after 40 years of progress and understanding, the Constitution has to be updated to include the changes of the present and to look further into the future. Spain, like the rest of the world, has transformed in the last few decades. There is a ‘to do’ list that we have to undertake, and for that reason we have to reform the Constitution. We need to update the articles on autonomy to solve territorial conflicts; we have to strengthen our environmental commitments; we have to recognize the demands of women and guarantee legal equality; we have to deepen and improve our democratic institutions. These are just some of our priorities. We have to forge a new intergenerational alliance to make our Constitution ready for another 40 years.

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