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Thanks for changing the Spanish constitution without telling me

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Default profile picture Sarah Marshall


The country’s limit of a 0.4% GDP deficit by 2020 has found its home in the 1978 Spanish constitution, in a reform passed on 7 September. However, Spain’s second ever constitutional reform, on budget stability, was done in a record two weeks with the two biggest parties consent and without asking the people’s opinion, who subsequently protested in major cities.

Elections take place on 20 November

On 7 September the Spanish senate gave the green light to modifying article 135 of the Spanish constitution, the Magna Carta, otherwise called the ‘untouchable’ text. Ask anyone from Spain and they would freeze in shock should you mention 'constitution' in a sentence with the word ‘modify’. Some people have seen this act as renouncing to market pressure. Others slam it as a secretly arranged plan. Before even questioning whether limiting the deficit is necessary for a state in crisis – at the end of June Spain saw an unemployment rate of just over 20% - many agree that that the decision should first have been subject to public consultation by way of a referendum.

Vox-pop: six Spaniards aged between 20-40 speak

‘Some of us like to swim against the current. If the proposal to modify the Spanish constitution is exclusively related to the level of debt, it doesn’t seem terribly interesting. What I do regret is that our politicians seem incapable of changing other ‘more important’ aspects and which would require a referendum. Of course, these topics don’t affect the markets… or perhaps they do and that’s exactly why nothing is being changed?’ Luis, director and playwright from the theatre group Movimiento Arte contra la Barbarie de Barcelona (‘art movement against Barcelona’s barbarities’)

‘I don’t agree with this change to the Spanish constitution. It’s partly because the constitution is not the right place to limit the deficit. The European union has already legislated in this area in order to force countries to control their spending (the EU-enforced limit of debt is60% of GDPfor member states - ed). In addition, limiting the deficit leaves the government with very little room for manoeuvre to avoid future recessions. It’s often said that what is good for the economic management of individual households applies generally to the national economy and vice versa. Would it occur to anyone to limit the debt levels for individuals or, in particular, for companies? The problem is that people want to spend more than they have, both in the boom period and in the recession. It appears that no-one seems to have heard of the fable of the ant and the grasshopperPablo, university student

‘It is only a superficial change. No-one is talking about the question of what will happen if the deficit is exceeded. Nothing has been said about this eventuality, but the idea that the deficit is a natural limit is logical and generally accepted. Putting it in the Spanish constitution doesn’t make it more real. However, the details about what will happen if it is exceeded are missing. Will politicians be punished? Will companies be nationalised? Will they leave the euro (which was adopted in Spain in 2002 - ed) and bring back a devalued peseta? Having a referendum on this topic won’t make any difference because such a complex economic topic such as this requires substantial individual consideration and information, which is not easily available on everyone's doorstep’ Sebastian, businessman

‘With respect to the recent constitutional reform process instigated by the opposition conservative ‘popular party’ (PP) and the ruling socialists (PSOE), we join with others in condemning the rapid action methodology with which this process is being undertaken. Such an approach restricts both the participation of minority groups and the possibility of widening the debate across related subjects, demonstrating the deficiencies in our democratic system. Furthermore, we consider such important changes as constitutional reforms should always be subject to direct approval by the citizens. For this reason, we are calling for a referendum to decide on this reform’ Anonymous, member of the'inter-electoral' 15M'indignados' movement group

‘During all our lives and throughout our entire education, the Spanish constitution has been presented as the most sacred feature of our country, something untouchable, a symbol of the democracy which cost our forefathers so much to attain (it was signed in 1978 after dictator Francisco Franco died - ed). The fact that we didn’t complain meant that everything was ok as it was. Now, all of a sudden, when it is convenient for those in power, and without asking the permission of the citizens, they have abused and manipulated it. Well, honestly speaking, and even more so in these times of revolution and discontentment in which we are living, it’s an absolute joke’ Guillermo, university student

‘There has been an attack on democracy at a time in which the Spanish people are mobilised, or at least politics is discussed in terms of nothing other than loss of legitimacy and of representation. Political indifference is rife. This is simply going to compound the situation, and the sense that they are moving into another area and are alien to the demands of the people even if it concerns an act of a purely procedural nature like the celebration of a referendum. The idea of a spending cap seems very serious to me from an ideological perspective, but the action and the methods employed seem much worse’ Mariluz, university student

Images: main (cc) AiramSelegna/ Flickr; video (cc) euronews/ Youtube

Translated from Cambio constitucional en España: ¿Sí o... sí?