40 years ago today, on the 6th December 1978, over 90% of Spanish people gave their assent to a new Constitution. It was a seminal moment, marking the full transition from dictatorship to a free democracy. As Spain marks the anniversary, some are wondering whether the Constitution is still serving the needs of the Spanish people. This is perhaps felt no more so than in regions like Catalonia. Is it now time to update the Constitution to make it fit to face the challenges of the 21st century? Euronews asked independent Spanish MEP Francesc Gambúsfor his thoughts.
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?
Francesc Gambús: If I had to use just one word, it would be yes. I really think that the Spanish Constitution, as a reflection of the political agreements known as "la transición" (the Transition), has ushered in the most brilliant social period in our history.
It has combined peace, prosperity, a welfare state, freedom and democracy. Never before have the Spanish people enjoyed such a long period of time with these five factors aligned.
And when you speak with that generation, you realise - and sometimes even they themselves realise - that we have had a good run since then. But you need to have some perspective to see it, as the day-by-day politics sometimes put us in a dense fog.
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?
Francesc Gambús: Even though I think that the Constitution is still relevant - because a modern democracy always needs the Constitution to be relevant - I also believe that some of those who created and voted for this Constitution think today that the spirit of reconciliation of those political agreements of the late 70s has been forgotten by some posterior constitutional developments.
Some of them see this fact as a systemic failure; others as the challenge for the current generation.
What is at stake? For our generation to be able to build a new constitutional consensus to meet our expectations and, what’s more, one that we are able to agree on in terms of our generational expectations.
One of these challenges - perhaps the most internationalised issue - is the Catalan independence movement. But it’s not the only one. And some of the solutions that could help to handle the Catalan issue may not be helpful to construct a new constitutional consensus outside Catalonia.
Spanish society has always shown a deep commitment to the European Union. And, although some decisions from the Belgian and German judicial systems about the secessionist leaders living in these countries have not been well understood, I still feel that commitment is strong. On the other hand, Catalans, who have always been very committed with the European project, are feeling during these last years that Europe is not looking at the Catalan issue as expected from the independence movement's side.
Nevertheless, although it may seem a paradox, the hope that Europe represents is not being undermined in general terms. But it can be said that if the Catalan commitment to the EU in the past was the strongest on the Iberian peninsula, it is clearly not the case today. Catalans, especially those in favour of independence, still believe in Europe - but more and more in an idealistic Europe and not in the reality. That said, there is no room for the Euroscepticism, for the moment at least.
Euronews: Do you think that changes should be made to the Spanish Constitution, and if so, what should they be?
Francesc Gambús: In fact, I don’t think big changes are needed in the Spanish Constitution - and maybe this is where the real challenge resides. Frankly speaking, it wouldn’t be difficult if that was the case. A constitutional update is not the tough part.
The tough part is, first, to realise that once upon a time there was a consensus about freedom, amnesty and autonomy. Freedom meant democracy. Amnesty meant forgiveness and reconciliation. Autonomy meant the recognition of the internal diversity inside Spain (four languages, more than four cultures, the feeling among some Spaniards of having plurinational identities).
Once upon a time, all this was a fact. Today, only freedom (in other words, democracy) is alive and beyond question. But we do have an ongoing debate about the real scope of amnesty. And we are having a real debate about the internal diversity of Spain. Both of them are sensitive debates that need a lot of political effort before we can begin to write a constitutional update.
That's why I could explain how to change this and that in the Spanish Constitution, but I really think that a constitutional debate is so serious that we cannot treat it as if it was a chat in the pub.
Before we write down any serious proposal, we need empathy. So, to understand why the other thinks his or her own way, we need education. To explain to the others why I think the way I think. We also need a political vision for the future of Spain. A vision that we must built together, acknowledging our diversity. A vision that we cannot built against the others.
And this is the real challenge, much more than penning a constitutional update.
Francesc Gambús_ i__s an Independent Member of the European Parliament for Spain._
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