ALEX FONT MANTÉ
I had a conversation with one of the Catalan business leaders with influence in Madrid. His experience in the Spanish capital has allowed him to get to know its labyrinths as few Catalans do, and our chat meandered into an explanation of how the Spanish State works. "Politicians from Catalonia —he stated firmly— don’t have the slightest idea of how power works in Madrid. They're like innocent lambs. What rules there is an extraordinary technocracy." This same businessman explained how he had negotiated with the governing party some amendments to a bill, only to find out a few days later that “the technocrats had killed the amendments". "The technocracy has more power than the Ministers", he said.
For those who are not used to this, the picture that he paints seems unlikely. Government technocrats blocking ministerial decisions? There are many examples.
I recently had a meeting with a supervisory agency. The conversation ended up on this same issue. "The technocracy dominates everything", lamented one of the managers. "The Spanish administration is full of technocrats. All of them were the elites of the Franco era, and they’ve never come to terms with the fact that we now have a system of autonomous regions, almost a near-federal system. During the transition to democracy they reached a tacit agreement with the State: "We will give you, the political leaders, your space for discretionary policies [while he was saying this he held his thumb and index finger a few centimeters apart to indicate that, in reality, it is a very small space], but we will handle the rest.”
The story —even more frightening if you keep in mind that the person explaining it knows the issue in depth— continued: "The worst are the inspectors and auditors, who are everywhere. These inspectors, scattered away in every corner of the administration, live off getting information on everyone, and can paralyze the government, if they want to. After the inspectors come the State attorneys and Treasury inspectors ... the State economists don't have as much influence as they are not as well organized. But the rest simply socialize together all day: they have lunches, dinners, organize golf tournaments ... they spend the whole day together, and protect each other. They block what they dislike. And they safeguard their privileges: when somebody wants the inspectors from a specific agency to earn less money, among other reasons because they make more than the president of that agency, they all block it”.
There have been people who have tried to take power away from these mandarins, but they have failed spectacularly. For example, Jordi Sevilla, former Minister of Public Administrations in the Zapatero administration. Sevilla created something called AEVAL, a State public policy administration founded in 2006 to oversee the administration and require it to be transparent. Few people remember AEVAL, but as surprising as it might be, it still exists. Its aim, according to the web page, is to implement "a new model of public management" based on "responsibility, efficiency, participation, openness, and consistency". AEVAL is a symbol of how things work in the Spanish state: a new minister arrives with a decisive vision, the technocracy says yes to everything, and yet day-by-day this ambitious project becomes less and less so, and in the end the agency simply lingers in limbo, perhaps to avoid the embarrassment of axing it altogether. Projects often don't die, but are merely blocked, and thus their life comes to an end. This also happens in other regional administrations, including in Catalonia, but in the central administration the power to block things is much greater, as the State technocracy influences and decides on very important issues.
Sometimes, however, this technocracy axes projects in broad daylight. A case in point was the transfer of management of the El Prat Airport in Barcelona to the Generalitat, an issue that seemed bound to be included in the 2006 Catalan Statute. Even though it appeared that president Zapatero had agreed to it, in the end there was a hidden block that prevented the transfer. It is the same inexplicable hurdle that the Mediterranean railway corridor faces today. A businessman involved in the project assured that not even the Minister of Public Works knows how to explain the reasons behind the delays. It's the technocracy in all its splendor.
In closing, a conclusion. These administrative, and even democratic, deficiencies did not appear by magic nor because people are better or worse in any given region. Rather, they are the result of a consolidation of bad practices and the lack of checks on the administration and balances in the political system. The question is: do those who wish to build a Catalan Republic get the point?