The Spanish Parliament recently voted to reform the constitution to impose a deficit cap on public budgets and so adopt the “golden rule” that Germany and France called for across the euro zone in August.
While this reform, entailing the redrafting of Article 135, marks the first change to Spain’s constitution since it was enacted in 1978, it has been criticised as being undemocratic, rash and reactive.
There are no plans for a referendum on the reform, and there has been next to no analysis—in the form of reports or commissions—of the proposed change and how it might affect Article 134 (on public budgets) and the rest of the constitution. The main motivation behind the change appears to be to appease outside forces—namely, the financial markets and France and Germany.
The government has been quick to point out that this “debt brake” was already in place in the Law on Budget Stability and insists that all the reform does is guarantee this measure constitutionally. To which some have asked, ‘Why is it necessary then?’ It looks like another effort to send out the message that Spain is still a safe bet for investors. The government probably also saw it as a chance to take the lead in Europe on the matter (at this stage, Germany is the only member state to have implemented this constitutional cap).
Regardless of whether the reform itself is a good or a bad thing, it is quite surprising, and perhaps a little alarming, at how quickly and easily the Spanish Constitution can be changed.
Up until now, it had appeared to be set in stone. Talk of “unconstitutionality” was quickly thrown about whenever matters came up that the government had no interest in changing, permitting or even talking about, such as regional referendums on independence and other thorny issues, and this was usually its last word on the matter.
It seems, however, that with the right political will in place (and the right pressure from external forces!), constitutional reform is as easy as placing an order at a fast-food drive-thru and certainly not more complicated than passing other types of law.
‘El nuevo artículo 135’ 26 Aug. (2011) El País. Available at: http://politica.elpais.com/politica/2011/08/26/actualidad/1314314619_582841.html (Accessed: 11/09/11)
‘Reforma de la Constitución española’ (2011) Wikipedia. Available at: http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reforma_de_la_Constitución_española (Accessed: 11/09/11)
Ruiz A. (2011) ‘¿Por qué lo llaman Estado en vez de España?’ 5 Sept. El País. Available at: http://politica.elpais.com/
‘Spain changes constitution to cap budget deficit’ 26 Aug. (2011) The Guardian. Available at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/aug/26/spain-constitutional-cap-deficit (Accessed: 11/09/11)
‘The golden amendment’ 3 Sept. (2011) The Economist. Available at: http://www.economist.com/node/21528317?fsrc=scn/tw/te/ar/thegoldenamendement (Accessed: 11/09/11)