Political elites in Europe are seeking to take advantage of the ongoing economic crisis to concentrate power and centralise government. This is true not only on the macro level (with Germany thus far resisting calls to further subordinate its sovereignty to the European Central Bank and the European Union) but also on the national level. Spain, which has been greatly decentralised over the last several decades, is now the scene of a fierce fight as the ruling centre-Right party attempts to roll back regional rights and re-centralise the country. Financial Times has the story:
The Spanish government, trapped in crossfire at the frontline of the battle for the euro, looks as if it is opening a second front – by using the crisis as pragmatic justification and political cover to roll back a highly devolved system of regional government that the ruling Partido Popular ideologically detests.
…The architectural design of devolution was flawed from inception. The emerging democracy faced the challenge of how to meet the historic demands of the Basques and Catalans, who governed themselves under the Second Republic defeated by Franco in the 1936-39 civil war, but whose sense of nationhood goes back centuries. For the Spanish nationalist right, pandering to the separatists Franco crushed, with their languages and culture, was anathema. For the Jacobin left, it was a parochial sideshow. The compromise, laid out in the 1978 constitution, was to offer ostensibly similar terms to everyone. Each region could become “autonomous” to disguise the restitution of rights to the “historic nationalities” – a neologistic detour around the incendiary word “nation”, of which there could only be the one and indissoluble Spain.
Basque and Catalan autonomy bedded down quickly and other regions with singular features, such as Galicia, with its own language, or Andalucia with its distinct culture, acquired the physiognomy of self-government. But many regions found themselves with governments they had never asked for, which often became fiefs for local barons and vehicles of party patronage. The financial irresponsibility of some regions, mercilessly exposed by the present crisis, has led some to conclude devolution is an expensive luxury.