Spain's top court approves modified Catalonia statute

29th June 2010, Comments 0 comments

Spain's highest court Monday approved most of Catalonia's "statute of autonomy" but changed some of the most controversial points, drawing the ire of the government of the nationalist-minded region.

The decision by the Constitutional Court came after four years of deliberations on a legal challenge to the charter -- which expanded the already significant powers of the Catalan government four years ago -- by Spain's conservative opposition Popular Party.

The statute has the support of the vast majority of political parties in Catalonia in the country's northeast, where a sizeable minority would like to see the wealthy region, which has its own language and distinct culture, break away from Spain.

They had threatened mass protests if any changes are made to it.

The Constitutional Court approved the vast majority of the statute's 233 articles, a court source said. But it declared unconstitutional 14 of them and changed 23 others.

Most significantly, it ruled that the use of the word "nation" to describe the region had "no legal value" although the court said the article concerned did not violate the constitution, the source said.

It accepted one article that makes knowledge of the Catalan language compulsory, but said that a reference to Catalan as the "preferred language" was unconstitutional.

Another article that refers to the "national symbols" of the Catalonia, such as flags, anthems and public holidays, was subject to reinterpretation, although it was not immediately clear how, the source said.

The court notified the various parties involved of the outline of its decision late on Monday but the details and the reasoning behind it was not expected to be released for several days.

Still the head of the regional government, Jose Montilla, immediately voiced his "outrage" at the decision and urged all citizens to join a mass demonstration to be called by the Catalan parties "to defend our self-government."

The leadership of the Catalan nationalist CiU party was meeting late on Monday to discuss its reaction, but referred in a short statement to a "very serious situation."

The statute was one of the first initiatives of the Socialist government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, which took office in 2004. It was approved by the parliament in Madrid in 2006 and endorsed by Catalan voters in a referendum.

The PP filed a challenge over about half of the articles in the charter before the Constitutional Court in July 2006, arguing that it could lead to the eventual break-up of Spain as a nation.

But deep divisions between the liberal and conservative members of the court had previously left it unable to rule definitively on the issue.

The version approved on Monday was the seventh presented to the judges.

Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega Monday welcomed the fact that the court had "accepted the Catalan statute" with "full independence."

Catalonia, like other Spanish regions, already controlled most aspects of government, including health and education, before the statute.

The charter gave the regional parliament enhanced powers in taxation and judicial matters as well as more control over airports, ports and immigration.

Many in Catalonia, home to around seven million of Spain's population of some 47 million and which accounts for 25 percent of its gross domestic product, complain that it contributes far more to the Spanish economy than it gets in return.

© 2010 AFP

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