From José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s arrival at the Moncloa until June 2017, a third of all conflicts between State and autonomous communities (AC) – constitutional challenges and conflicts of competence – have starred Catalonia. To be specific, 140 of 441 , according to reports by the Secretary of State for Regional Authorities. These do not include the most recent constitutional challenges against Catalan laws on the Referendum and Transience, amongst other regulations disputed since June.

Conflicts between state and ACs

Constitutional challenges are filed with the Supreme Court (SC), which is charged with deciding whether laws or other decisions of legal status are unconstitutional. They can be filed by the President of the Government, the Ombudsman, 50 MPs, 50 senators, autonomous governments or their parliaments. In this case, we have counted only those challenges brought by the President of the Government and ACs. Conflicts of jurisdiction between the State and autonomous communities are initiated when either party considers that their jurisdiction has been violated. A solution is arrived at by the Constitutional Court or through prior agreements between the parties.

Such clashes between authorities follow one of two paths, depending on who instigates them: the State either invokes regulations or acts from the communities, or the ACs themselves invoke such rules. Of the former, between 2004 and June 2017 the government disputed 149 acts or regulations from ACs. 40 of these, one out of four, were against Catalan actions. Rajoy is the toughest: his governments, in less than six years, have filed 36 disputes or conflicts. In almost 8 years as President, his predecessor José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero filed just 4: against Laws of Audiovisual Communication, of the Aranés, on Catalan registers and against the Referendum Law approved in 2010 by the President of the Generalitat José Montilla, also a socialist.

ACs’ Regulations challenged by the State

The arrival of Rajoy to the Moncloa not only witnessed an increase in conflicts between Catalonia and the Government, but also with all other ACs. Thus, throughout his first tenure as President of the Government from December 2011 to January 2016 - with an absolute majority in Congress - Rajoy signed over half of all appeals filed by the State in the last 13 years: 77 of 149.

By order of number of challenges from the Government: Catalonia (40, 26.8% of the total) is followed by Navarra, with 17 (11.4%). 15 of which were filed with the PP in the Moncloa and the autonomous community governed by its ally, the Union of the Navarran People (UPN). Since the regional elections on 24th May 2015 and the appointment of Uxue Barkos, of Geroa Bai, as President of Navarra, the state has not raised any type of conflicts.

For their part, Cantabria is the community with which the State clashes least. The government did so only because of the Cantabrian parliament's ban on fracking within its territory. Conversely, since 2004, Cantabria has not raised a single objection to any ruling from the central government.

The Canaries, the second community in number of lawsuits against the government

Taking the opposite tack are the challenges filed by the ACs - both by their governments and by their parliaments - where, alongside the Cantabrian exception we find scarce clashes between Castilla La Mancha or the Balearic Islands and the State - just one each. But this is not the prevailing trend.

State regulations disputed by the ACs

*Some rules are challenged twice by the same AC: both by its government and by its parliament.

As a whole, throughout the same period, Spain's autonomous communities filed 292 appeals against the State. Yet again, Catalonia and Rajoy are the stars: Govern and Parlament filed 100 appeals; 60, against regulations approved by the PP President. Thus is the case of the National Security Law, the Market Unity Guarantee Act or the controversial LOMCE (Organic Law to improve the quality of education) with which, according to the then-Minister of Education, José Ignacio Wert, the Government wanted to 'Spanify Catalan students'.

While the support of Coalición Canaria and Nueva Canarias was fundamental to the approval of the 2017 General State Budget, the islands disputed the budgets of 2012 and 2013, back when the PP governed with an absolute majority.

However, if Catalonia is the star of the show, the Canaries are best supporting actor. The archipelago has filed 35 disputes over the last 5 legislatures, amounting to 12% of the total filed by autonomous communities, in comparison with 34.2% from Catalonia and 8.2% from Andalusia, in third place.

Institutions on the Canary Islands clashed, among others, with the laws most hotly-disputed laws among other ACs, such as the Law of Rationalization and sustainability of Local Authorities or LOMCE. The majority of these were approved in the Rajoy's first term.

The State regulations most contested by ACs

Norm Promoters
Royal Decree-Law 20/2012, of July 13th, on measures to ensure budgetary stability and foster competitiveness Andalucía, Canarias, Cataluña, Extremadura, Navarra, País Vasco
Law 27/2013, of December 27th, on the streamlining and sustainability of Local Administrations Andalucía, Asturias, Canarias, Cataluña, Extremadura, Navarra
Royal Decree-Law 14/2012, of April 20th, on urgent measures to streamline public expenditure in the educational field Andalucía, Asturias, Canarias, Cataluña, Navarra, País Vasco
Organic Law 8/2013, of December 9th, for improvements to the quality of education (LOMCE) Andalucía, Asturias, Canarias, Cataluña, País Vasco
Royal Decree-Law 16/2012, of April 20th, on urgent measures to ensure the sustainability of the National Health System and improve the quality and safety of its services Andalucía, Asturias, Canarias, Cataluña, Navarra, País Vasco
Royal Decree 395/2007, of March 23rd, regulating the subsystem of vocational training for employment Castilla y León, Cataluña, Com. Valenciana, Galicia y Madrid

Regarding LOMCE (contested not only by the Canaries and Catalonia but also by the Basque Country, Asturias and Andalusia, on seeing that their autonomous jurisdiction was being violated in the field of education), the parties began negotiation procedures, a procedure foreseen to avoid the Constitutional Court. However, in the case of said law, this proved not to be possible, with only a partial agreement reached. The case is still pending jjudgement.

Making peace rather than squaring off in court

The Constitutional Court has the final say on constitutional challenges and conflicts of competency. Before resorting to this body, the State and autonomous communities can resolve their differences through the so called Bilateral Commissions for Cooperation, and if they reach an agreement, the CC only has to give its approval to the agreed upon solution.

Following a request for information from Civio, the Secretary of State for Territorial Administrations delivered the results of these commissions over the previous 10 years. Of the 425 cases detailed, 213 (50.1%) closed with a full agreement, thus avoiding going to court. However, 33.2% of negotiations did not avoid ending up in the Constitutional Court. The rest are still pending or receiieved no response from the invited party.

The result depends, in part, on who pushes for this type of resolution. Thus, when it was the State that invited the AC, both parties reached a full or partial agreement in 60.3% of cases, and went to appeals in 25.7% of discussions. Conversely when communities invited the State, agreements which avoided the Constitutional Court were only reached in 29.6% of cases and in 51.2% of the cases, the conflict was diffused with an appeal. In 19.2% of initiatives brought by ACs, the State did not reply.

According to the response given on the request for information, 16 potential conflicts are currently being debated. Among others, the regional budgets of Andalusia and Extremadura (those of Catalonia went directly to the Constitutional Court, without negotiation, due to the segments concerning the organization of the referendum) or laws on housing and social services. All on the State's initiative. According to the statistics, making peace before such cases reach court works better when the State has initiated negotiations, and not so well when it is invited by the ACs to dialogue. Regarding the 16 matters currently under negotiation, the outcomes remain to be seen.

You can download the data on disputes brought by communities against the Government here and by the Government against the ACs in this other link.