MADRID (Reuters) - An urgent reform of the Spanish constitution was needed, the new Minister of Regional Administration Meritxell Batet said on Saturday, in allusion to a long-running political conflict between the central government and the region of Catalonia.
The Socialists hold just 84 of the 350 seats in parliament and would need a two-thirds majority to pass any constitutional reform, giving the conservative People’s Party (PP), who have balked at reform in the past, veto power over any bill.
“The territorial pact from the ‘78 constitution is in crisis, nobody can deny it,” Batet said in a public appearance as minister in Barcelona.
The industrious north-eastern region of Catalonia held an illegal referendum on its secession from Spain before making a unilateral declaration of independence in October, plunging the country in to its worst political crisis in decades.
In response, the PP took direct control of the region and the courts have since detained politicians involved in the independence drive based on the constitutional clause that Spain is indivisible as a country.
Many Catalonia civil servants in power during the push are living in self-imposed exile to escape detention orders for charges that include rebellion and misappropriation of funds.
The new Socialist government took over last week after the PP’s leader and then prime minister Mariano Rajoy was ousted in a vote of no confidence.
On Friday, the Socialists lifted financial controls on Catalonia and said they would seek dialogue with the region’s administration to relieve tensions over the independence bid.
A constitutional reform is “urgent, viable and desirable” Batet said, adding she wanted to create a parliamentary commission, originally proposed by the Socialists last year, to investigate how it might be done.
New Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez is likely to meet Catalonia’s hard line, pro-independence leader Quim Torra before the summer, the government spokeswoman said on Friday.
Former Catalan minister Clara Ponsati told Reuters at a conference of the Scottish National Party in Aberdeen that the departure of Rajoy could offer new chances for dialogue.
“(The Spanish government) has a great opportunity to change their strategy, but honestly I’m not overly optimistic,” she said.
(This story has been corrected to change Pablo to Pedro in 10th paragraph)
Reporting by Paul Day and Rodrigo de Miguel; Editing by Stephen Powell