Thursday, September 1, 2011


The accord between the ruling socialist party in Spain and the centre-right Partido Popular on changing the country’s constitution to limit government debt has met with stiff opposition from the far left Izquierda Unida and pro democracy groups such as the 15-M.

There are two main objections to the sudden move by the outgoing PSOE Prime Minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who has the support of the leader of the PP, Mariano Rajoy, who hopes to lead his party to government in November’s elections. The first is if Spain’s constitution is to be amended it should go before the people for their approval in a referendum. The second is the drastic effects the move could have on services such as health and education.

It would take just ten per cent of the MPs or senators in the Spanish Parliament to demand a binding referendum be called on the issue of reforming the Constitution to limit the public debt. The end effects could limit the access to health or education amongst other services for society’s most vulnerable – the rich won’t suffer as they can afford to pay for private care or teaching. By limiting debt the government is limiting its investment in society.

The Constitution does not demand that the people should be consulted for such a change to be made. However the pressure is on for ten per cent of the members of Congress and the Senate to demand a referendum on this key issue, which will have a profound effect on the future standard of Spaniards lives. This the Constitution does allow for – and the result will be binding.

Those activists who are agitating for the referendum say that Spain is the least participatory democracy in the EU. As the debt limitation measure would have a profound effect on the welfare state they argue it is scarcely democratic that it should be passed without the people having their say. Ironically Spain holds a general election on November 20 but as both the two main parties – PSOE and the PP – backed the introduction of the debt limit it will not be an issue.

When it comes to the Spanish welfare state it has one of the lowest levels of social public spending per capita in the EU. In addition whilst the debt limit applies to all government spending the areas that are being targeted are pensions as well as health, education, home care, social services, social housing plus the other components of the welfare state.

The change to the Constitution is being driven through Spain’s parliament with indecent haste. It remains to be seen whether the far left and democratic groups can halt this assault on those who depend on the welfare system in its tracks. It is tragic that the driving force should be a socialist government selling out the very people it was elected to support – and of course Spain heirs to Franco are right behind them.

(A version of the above article appeared in The Morning Star on Friday September 2 2011)

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