Catalan and the dikes to overcome in Congress

And we ask that he respond to his institutional responsibilities and not to his dreams, and that he thus stop the social suffering, the economic bleeding and the harm to the self-government of Catalonia".

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
19 August 2023 Saturday 11:18
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Catalan and the dikes to overcome in Congress

And we ask that he respond to his institutional responsibilities and not to his dreams, and that he thus stop the social suffering, the economic bleeding and the harm to the self-government of Catalonia". These are the words of Meritxell Batet. They correspond to the plenary session in Congress on October 25, 2017 and were addressed to Carles Puigdemont. In Catalan. Two days later, the Catalan Parliament promoted a declaration of independence that came to nothing.

Batet, then deputy of the PSOE, was reprimanded by the president of the Congress, at that time Ana Pastor, of the PP. Two years later, it would be the socialist who would preside over the Lower Chamber, and who would withdraw the use of Catalan for pro-independence deputies.

Francina Armengol now occupies the same seat with a different temperament. The negotiation with ERC and JxCat by the Board is binding. The new third authority of the State assured on Thursday that from that same session, the constitutive one, it will allow the use of Catalan, Basque and Galician.

But despite the promise of immediacy, the former Balearic president qualified her words the next day, on TVE. He will have to "find agreements" with the groups and "technical issues" will have to be addressed, he acknowledged. Issues that go beyond the use of, for example, earmuffs or the hiring of translators. There is a regulation in Congress that will most likely have to be changed.

This is what Manuel Fernández-Fontecha, a lawyer for the Congress of Deputies, believes. The commitment made by the PSOE with Esquerra and Junts has difficulties. "What the president expressed has no legal effect, it is not properly an agreement, but a manifestation that can be made by anyone and does not have the rank to validate the use of the other official languages" apart from Spanish, assures consulted for this newspaper.

For Fernández-Fontecha, if simultaneous translation measures are not adopted, "there can be very big problems". Which? "It's not banal. Anyone who does not understand what is being said could challenge the procedure of a law, a motion, whatever, and declare it null”. "It is a typical case of conflict of rights: that of a deputy to express himself in the language he wishes against that of the rest to understand him".

The Congress regulations do not specify anywhere which language is to be used. But, according to the lawyer, there is an unwritten rule or "a convention or a custom" for it to be Spanish, and as a convention that has been established for years, "a normative instrument capable of overcoming it is required".

There are three possibilities here: a reform of the rules of the Congress, promoting a supplementary interpretive resolution or an organic law.

For the first case, Fernández-Fontecha believes that specifications should be introduced in article 70 of the regulation, which refers to the use of the word, to include the ability to speak Catalan, Basque or Galician. In addition, a complete procedure is required, with full and absolute majority. Political parties like Sumar, on the other hand, point to article six.

The second option, the supplementary interpretative resolution, is a capacity assigned to the presidency of Congress, thanks to article 32 of the regulation. It establishes that "it is up to the president to fulfill and enforce the regulation, interpreting it in cases of doubt and replacing it in cases of omission". Apart from being a possibility linked to subjectivity and, therefore, unstable, "it has a limit: it must have the approval of the Board and the Board of Spokespersons", explains the lawyer.

Of the three, the organic law that the PSOE has agreed with ERC "is the most protective and guarantor".

Even so, the next question would be whether, despite the measures that could be taken by the legislative power to include Catalan, Basque and Galician, there would be a clash with the Constitution. "It is debatable and problems would arise", says Elviro Aranda, professor of Constitutional Law and professor at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid. He believes that "with almost all certainty" the issue would end up in the Constitutional Court to resolve it definitively.

"Castilian is the official language throughout the State. Article three of the Constitution. Therefore, since the Congress is a State institution, the language that must be used is Spanish", he reasons. However, he sees possibilities for the three languages ​​to be accepted, not only from a legislative point of view, but also juridically: "Making a loose interpretation, it could also be said that article three does not prevent the use of other languages officials in the State... And we could resort to comparative law or to other parliaments in other countries, where other languages ​​are spoken that have a lower official level than Catalan, Basque and Galician in Spain".

The professor also recalls that the three languages ​​in question have been allowed in the Senate since 2010. Aranda was a former deputy of the PSOE during the IX legislature (2008-2011). Then there was an attempt to incorporate them into Congress, but it did not take root. Yes in the Senate, although only for motions, based on article 69 of the Magna Carta, where it is said to be a Chamber of territorial representation. A loophole was found. "The Congress does not have this kind of character, but if in article 66 it is said that "The General Courts [the two Chambers] represent the Spanish people" and Catalan can be spoken in the Senate, why not in the Congress".

However, Aranda points out that even though "formally, if the regulations of the Congress do not prevent or say anything about which languages ​​should be used, it is because it assumes that the official language is Spanish".

In any case, the professor agrees with Fernández-Fontecha that "there is no doubt that the regulations of the Lower Chamber should be reformed", as a first step, and that the inclusion of these three official languages ​​in Congress "cannot be done only neither by a decision of the presidency, nor by a parliamentary resolution".

After these considerations, you should think about all the logistics – earmuffs, translators, stenographers – and their cost. There are no calculations made for Congress, but to get an idea, in the Senate there are 355,000 euros planned in the budget for interpreters alone for the introduction of the three languages ​​in plenary sessions with motions. Junts presented a proposal in 2021 that, to extend its use in all sessions and introduce texts to the register in these languages, 950,000 euros would be needed annually. The expense at the Congress would be greatly multiplied by the large amount of activity and the entire administrative process of written translation that would result.