Transforming Politics in Spain: Local, Regional and State-wide Perspectives

University of Liverpool, 7 June 2016

Workshop photo

This one-day workshop, sponsored by UACES, Liverpool University’s Europe and the World Centre, and Aberystwyth University’s Department of International Politics, brought together scholars and practitioners from the UK and Spain to examine the transformation of politics in Spain in recent years. This has seen many established political parties lose electoral support and government office, and the growth of new and previously marginal political actors advocating a radically different way of doing and talking about politics.

A series of roundtable discussions focused on the role of three key drivers of political change: the economic crisis, a territorial crisis as a result of the Catalan challenge to the integrity of the Spanish state, and a political crisis characterised by widespread disillusionment with existing political institutions and actors. Contributors to the first roundtable, Economic Crisis and Political Transformation, outlined the particular features of the economic crisis in Spain (influenced by the specificities of the country’s economic model), and the nature of political responses to it. The discussion reflected on the extent to which European intervention in the Spanish economy has affected the fiscal autonomy of local, regional and central governments, and influenced popular attitudes towards the European project.

The second roundtable, Old and New Party Politics in Spain, examined the drivers and consequences of shifting patterns of party competition in Spain. An analysis of public opinion data provided insights into the demographic, generational, social and territorial trends in voter behaviour that have led to a shift from two-party to increasingly multi-party politics. This provided the context for focusing in more detail on the electoral fortunes and political prospects of old and new political parties. Contributors presented new research on the Spanish Socialists, the anti-austerity Podemos, and Barcelona en Comú which is transforming politics in this Catalan city.

Challenging Spain’s Territorial Model was the theme of the third roundtable. The Catalan secessionist process was a key theme here, and an analysis of state-wide party responses to this challenge to the central state highlighted the lack of a serious or consensus alternative to independence demands. But it was also argued that the issue of Catalan independence is only the most recent symptom of a much more profound and long-standing crisis of Spain’s model for managing territorial relations. The new research presented pointed to the growing disparity between territorial interests and behaviours within Spain, with the implication that solutions for reforming the current territorial model are unlikely to satisfy all, or even most, territorial actors.

The workshop concluded with a session on Academics, Political Engagement and the Future Research Agenda. A new study of the role of academics in the 2015 Spanish general election highlighted the opportunities and risks for scholars keen to engage with popular political debate. The discussion led to a broader reflection on the key research challenges for scholars of Spanish politics, and the identification of possible areas for future research collaboration. A priority is to understand the complex inter-relationship between economic, social, territorial and political drivers of Spain’s current transformation. This requires an ambitious multi-disciplinary and multi-scalar approach, and the workshop provided an excellent starting point for mapping out such a new project.

Second Workshop on the Dynamics of Nationalist Evolution

‘Sovereignty Formulas between Autonomy and Independence: Towards a Reconfiguration of Europe?’

Foresight Centre, University of Liverpool, 14-15 May 2015

IMG_1590This second ESRC-funded workshop on the ‘Dynamics of Nationalist Evolution’ went beyond the original Catalan and Basque focus of the project to include and compare other European experiences. Held at the University of Liverpool, it brought together some 20 academic experts and practitioners. Several of the papers examined or compared the proposals presented by nationalist parties aimed at attaining degrees of political sovereignty or fiscal decentralization for the territories in which their national communities are based. They analysed the drivers behind such proposals and/or considered whether there was scope for accommodating further enhancements of autonomy and home rule within member state and EU contexts.

The programme looked predominantly at the Scottish, Basque, Catalan and Italian cases but also included focuses on Belgium, constitutional changes and policy adjustments within EU member-states and the global and European contexts in which sovereignty formulas have been put forward (paper titles below).

The key points made in the workshop papers are being summarised in our new series of Evolving Nationalism Research Briefs, soon to be launched and made available through this site. Watch this space!

WORKSHOP PAPERS

Peter Lynch (University of Stirling) ‘The Scottish National Party’s sovereignty formula for the 2014 independence referendum’

Anwen Elias (Aberystwyth University) ‘The credibility of stateless nationalist and regionalist parties in pursuit of constitutional change: Evidence from Catalonia and Scotland’

Eve Hepburn (University of Edinburgh) ‘The push for independence in the Italian regions: Comparing Veneto and Sardinia’

Matthias Scantamburlo and Günther Pallaver (University of Innsbruck) ‘Between secession and “full autonomy”: Party competition over self-determination in South Tyrol’

Jean-Benoit Pilet (Université Libre de Bruxelles) and Régis Dandoy (Université Catholique de Louvain) ‘A regionalist party in the capital of Europe: The policy and institutional agenda of the FDF’

César Colino (Spanish National Distance-Learning University, UNED) ‘Federal constitutional reforms under the threat of secession? Conditions and options for a renewed federalism in Spain’

Eduardo J. Ruiz Vieytez (University of Deusto, Bilbao) ‘Minorities seeking sovereignty: A proposal for the regulation of sovereigntist processes’

Richard Gillespie (University of Liverpool) ‘Pro-European nationalist parties and EU negativity: The place of Europe in Basque and Catalan sovereignty politics’

Caroline Gray (University of Liverpool) ‘The role of the EU in the development of substate fiscal autonomy, obstacle or opportunity? The case of the Basque region in Spain’

Alan Trench (Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law) ‘Obstacles to decentralisation: The practical problems of devolving tax and welfare policies in the United Kingdom’

Edward Hugh (independent economist), ‘European identity and the Euro crisis: The fiscal limitations facing federalist aspirations’

Fiscal Sovereignty and Nationalist Politics

photo 1On Friday 17th April Caroline Gray participated in the ESRC Final Year PhD Student Conference held at the University of Oxford and presented a poster outlining her research on the impact of the regional financing models in Spain on the evolution of the territorial agendas of the Basque and Catalan nationalist parties.

Spain offers the opportunity to compare two different models of fiscal decentralisation in relation to two different nationalist movements. While Catalonia forms part of the common financing system which gives the regions relatively limited tax-raising competences and involves financial transfers from central government, the Basque CarolineGray_poster2015_thumbregion raises almost all of its own taxes under a separate system of substantial fiscal autonomy (the Concierto Económico or Economic Agreement).

The aim is to contribute to a fuller understanding of this subject in Spain itself but also to provide lessons for the UK as it begins to devolve greater fiscal powers to Scotland. What can the UK learn from the experiences of Spain in fiscal decentralisation and its consequences for both the fiscal management of the country and the evolution of nationalist movements?

Download a copy of Caroline’s poster here.

The poster is also available via the University of Liverpool’s online poster day here. To comment on Caroline’s research topic, log in using username postersonline and password postersonline and search for poster 81. All feedback is welcome. The event is open until 9th May.

Professor Richard Gillespie speaks on the UK and Scotland at Basque Parliament committee

RG in Basque Parliament 4On April 15th, Richard Gillespie appeared before Committee on Self-Government of the Basque Parliament in Vitoria. He provided Basque MPs with an analysis of the UK experience of the Scottish referendum and then responded to questions about the significance of the event for Basque and Catalan aspirations to greater autonomy or RG in Basque Parliament 5independence. Richard was followed by former Basque prime minister Juan José Ibarretxe, who had given a keynote address at the University of Liverpool on March 26th and made reference to his visit during his own presentation. The session was streamed live through the website of the Basque Parliament (video coverage available here).

Seminar: ‘An End to the Basque Conflict?’

This one-day seminar at the University of Liverpool on Thursday, 26 March 2015 will focus on the nature of the Basque conflict and why it is still proving so difficult to resolve.

Dr Juan José Ibarretxe, former President of the Basque Autonomous Community (Agirre Center for Social and Political Studies) will provide the keynote speech. Other speakers will include Professor Xabier Irujo (Manuel Irujo Visiting Fellow, University of Liverpool 2014-15; University of Nevada, Reno); Dr Iñigo Urrutia (University of the Basque Country); Dr Kevin Bean (University of Liverpool); Professor Richard Gillespie (University of Liverpool); and Amaia Agirre (Agirre Center for Social and Political Studies).

The event is a collaborative initiative between the School of Histories, Languages and Cultures ― involving the department of Modern Languages and Cultures, the department of Politics, and the Manuel Irujo Fellowship in Basque Studies ― and two external partners which are the University of the Basque Country, and the Agirre Lehendakaria Center for Social and Political Studies.

Please click here for the full programme and event details.

All are welcome to attend. 

Pro-Sovereignty Processes Compared: Catalonia and the Basque Country

photo 1The first workshop of the Nationalisms in Spain project was held on 25th-26th September, organised by Richard Gillespie and Caroline Gray of the University of Liverpool and hosted by the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs (CIDOB).

The workshop addressed the complex dynamics affecting the nature of the Basque and Catalan nationalist movements in contemporary Spain, exploring the extent to which there has been continuity or change in these dynamics in recent decades. In this context, particular attention was paid to the behaviour of mainstream nationalist parties in relation to the wider nationalist movements. What has caused the return to prominence of national and sovereignty-based challenges to the Spanish state in recent years? What factors underlie shifts in the relationships of the Basque and Catalan nationalist parties with central government over time?

IMG_2469After a welcome address by CIDOB director Jordi Bacaria, Richard Gillespie opened the sessions with an introductory paper outlining the conceptual and analytical basis to inform the workshop. This provided a common point of departure for the series of presentations and contributions made by participants in the panels that followed over the two days. All presentations, whether they offered a case study or were comparative in nature, were designed to facilitate comparison between the Basque and Catalan cases while acknowledging significant differences in their circumstances and approaches.

Centre-periphery dynamics formed a key subject of analysis. Participants presented papers that investigated the strategic choices of nationalist parties as statewide parliamentary actors in relation to their territorial strategies in their home regions (Bonnie Field, Bentley University) and conflicts between central and regional governments over the IMG_2472evolution and conception of the regional financing models in Euskadi and Catalonia (Caroline Gray, University of Liverpool). Spanish state responses to the financial crisis in terms of recentralising dynamics perceived alternately as rationalisation were explored as part of a wider consideration of when and why decentralised countries seek to recentralise (Diego Muro, IBEI).

This focus was complemented by studies of internal dynamics within the Basque and Catalan regions themselves. Addressing party-society relations, participants explored the extent to which the choices, actions and discourse of political elites can be seen to influence societal preferences and identities in nationalist mobilisation processes (Astrid Barrio, Universidad de Valencia; Rafael Leonisio, Universidad del País Vasco; Alejandro Quiroga, Universidad de Alcalá) and examined what mobilises collective action (Meritxell Martínez, Universidad del País Vasco). The traditional reigning dichotomy in the existing literature between “top-down” and “bottom-up” dynamics was, however, also problematised to reconceive of these as processes of “co-construction” (Kathryn Crameri, University of Glasgow).

In addition to party-society relations, due consideration was given to the role and significance of party competition and relations (outbidding or reinforcing) between nationalist and pro-independence parties in determining their behavioural patterns, IMG_2473territorial strategies and degree of success (Anwen Elias, Aberystwyth University; Ludger Mees, Universidad del País Vasco; Stuart Durkin, Aberdeen University). This also involved an exploration of the relationship between the traditional left-right axis of competition and the territorial dimension in determining nationalist party strategies (Braulio Gómez, Universidad de Deusto).

A selection of papers and findings from the workshop will be published by Routledge as a special issue of the journal Nationalism and Ethnic Politics in early 2015, co-edited by Richard Gillespie and Caroline Gray.

The organisers would like to express their warm thanks to CIDOB for their collaboration to ensure the smooth running of the event and to all participants and their co-authors for providing a series of insightful studies that generated stimulating debate.

Talk on Scotland’s Referendum at the University of the Basque Country – watch it here

CGrayCaroline Gray, currently visiting researcher in Basque politics at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU), was invited to give a talk to staff and students on Scotland and its upcoming referendum. The event was held on 12th May and organised by Ludger Mees, Professor of Contemporary History at the University of the Basque Country. Caroline gave a quick tour of Scottish and British history in order to situate the rise of Scottish nationalism since the mid twentieth century within the historical context of the evolution of Unionism and Britishness. This was followed by an outline of the main debates and prospects ahead of the Scottish Independence Referendum on 18th September 2014. Caroline pointed to parallels and contrasts between Scotland and the cases of the Basque Country and Catalonia in Spain, which were then discussed further in a question and answer session. Thanks to all who attended for their contribution and to UPV/EHU for the invitation.

Watch and listen to Caroline’s presentation here:

 

Click here to download the powerpoint slides in pdf format:

Powerpoint slides