Wednesday, November 16, 2016

In Defence Of Regionalism

The government of the Balearics represents the autonomous community of the Balearics, a legal entity - as with all other such communities - under Spain's constitution, which has its statues of autonomy that determine the scope of powers and responsibilities that have been devolved.

The system of regional government has existed for more than thirty years: the Balearics was one of the last regions to be granted autonomy in 1983. It is a system that is not without its critics, some of them from outside Spain: the EU identified regional profligacy as a contributory factor to Spain's economic crisis.

That there was profligacy is beyond doubt. And at least some of it was linked to corruption, as was the case in the Balearics. Demands made by Brussels and by the national government through its legal framework for managing deficits have largely addressed this. There will continue to be critics of the system, who challenge its efficiency, but generally there are not the howls demanding fundamental reform that there were some five years ago.

Those previous demands hinted at diminishing regional powers. The demands are now the reverse. The sore point of regional financing - in essence, how the state divvies up money to the regions - has existed for several years. There are regions which are now seeking to ease the pain, and the Balearics is heading the campaign for a fairer system.

Regional financing goes to the heart of the Catalonia independence drive. It was a refusal by Mariano Rajoy to countenance an adjustment to Catalonia's financial arrangements which pushed Artur Mas in the direction of independence. Catalonia, with Carles Puigdemont now its president, may join with the Balearics and other regions in a drive towards what Francina Armengol calls fiscal federalism. Whatever may lie ahead with Catalonia's desire for independence, regions that have been agitating for improved financing deals can now see a window of opportunity. The Rajoy administration, with a minority government, will find it less easy to deny demands for reform than it has previously.

Financing and devolved powers are one side of the regional coin. They are the practical elements. The other side is occupied by what might be termed the psychological, the abstract desire for greater regional authority and identity. Deep-rooted in Catalonia, the Basque Country, to a lesser extent in Navarre or Galicia, it has its manifestations elsewhere, such as in the Balearics. What is a region unless it advocates regionalism?

This regionalism was officially approved by the creation of autonomous communities. From what was initially an institutional mechanism for decentralised government - the practical - has come the psychological, the hankering after a regional identity, however elusive that might in fact be.

In the Balearics, regionalism as a philosophy has characterised governments since 1983. Or had done until José Ramón Bauzá became president. While Bauzá was to talk of defending regional interests, he was only to make a point of this after he had fallen out of favour with Rajoy. At one time he had been a type of protégé, who created the prototype administration for the years of austerity. Regionalism, its name darkened by profligacy, was to be lessened. The regions were to come under stricter central command. Bauzá's defence of regional interests had been such a sham that he had even declined to take up investments that the state should have been obliged to make. He was the champion of Rajoy's austerity, a policy combined with one of insidious regional enfeeblement.

To what extent regional identity exists in the Balearics is a moot point. But if this is taken as common needs shared by the four islands, then there is at least one common cause. Insularity creates specific issues, and not solely ones of financing. Madrid has never appeared to understand insularity and has therefore failed to appreciate legitimate demands for better and fairer financial treatment. In ignoring these demands, it has helped to foster grievance and thus a siege mentality that takes regionalism as its shield.

All political parties in the Balearics have embraced regionalism. It has, over three plus decades, shifted in the policies of some and embraced a quasi-nationalism, fuelled as much by a psychological desire as by practicalities. The only major disruption to this thinking was the Bauzá-era Partido Popular. The party wants to revert to its previous regionalist agenda. It also wants a single figure to be presented as its new permanent leader when it comes to election in spring next year. But it is finding this difficult. Jaime Martínez, the one-time sidekick to Carlos Delgado, who had pretty much pre-determined the Bauzá agenda, sees himself as possible leader. He says that coming to an accord with the regionalists is not proving to be easy.

His line seems totally illogical. What possible reason can there be for regional government if it isn't regionalist and if it does not prioritise the defence of regional interests?

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