The Spanish 1978 Constitution establishes a complex state. In constitutional terms, it is not defined as a federal state, but rather as a unitary state with significant scope for political decentralization. This complex constitutional arrangement is in response to both internal and cultural features, and to a search for greater administrative efficiency. The pluri-national character of the state is the subject of fierce debate in Spain, while the way in which certain minority nations (Catalonia and the Basque Country) are accommodated is a permanent source of friction. This paper seeks to provide an overview of this complex political/constitutional situation by analysing the historical, political and legal developments that have occurred during the last 40 years, with a focus on the last developments of the Catalan crisis. Although Spain is markedly asymmetric in political and identity terms, this asymmetry is not adequately reflected in Constitutional Law. In addition, the ongoing tension between unionism and separatism in some regions poses significant challenges to the Spanish constitutional system as a whole, in particular, through the pro-independence process in the autonomous region of Catalonia.
Immigration policies are of great significance for minority nations, like the Basque Country. Basque nationalism is inclusive and civic; through regional institutions, it has created an informal citizenship with a strong social foundation. This regional citizenship, despite some limitations on regional powers, embraces immigrants by offering social rights to all in order to promote integration in a Basque nation in which identities are not clearly defined. From a technical and legal perspective, there is no specific or separate regional citizenship that could be created by regional institutions in the Basque Country. From a political perspective, however, the principle of inclusive citizenship incorporated by regional policies has played a significant role in the integration process. This trend is similar to the situation in Scotland although it differs slightly from the cases of Catalonia and Quebec, nations in which language is a strong marker of identity.
Basque and Catalan demands for legitimising political accommodation, solely on the basis of the democratic will of their residents, poses a significant challenge to the Spanish constitutional system. The core of the debate in this kind of conflict revolves around the so-called “right to decide” which commonly finds its expression in the capacity to hold a referendum over sovereignty matters. The path opened by Quebec, Scotland and other minority nations are considered by some to constitute evidence of the democratic need to include this right as a new accommodation formula. Incorporating a “sovereigntist proceeding” into the legal system(s) may pave the way to a new framework aimed at solving the significant constitutional problems that exist in Spain and other countries. I suggest that such a procedure could be incorporated and regulated in the existing legal systems and provide some guidelines that could be adopted when drafting the aforementioned regulation.