Víctor Torre de Silva. Professor. Instituto de Empresa
18 May 2005
Over the last few years, lawyers were the only ones to notice the appearance of a somewhat cumbersome guest at Christmas, uninvited but always present: the Accompaniment Act.
Its real name is the Tax, Administrative and Social Law and Order Act. As you might imagine, with a title like that, it had to be given a more familiar appellation. This unseen guest usually appeared in the Official State Gazette on 31 December, just in time to celebrate the New Year, and used to come into force the next day, in case any responsible legal expert wanted to spend the last day of the year studying it. There was a lot to be studied, since the Accompaniment Act modified dozens of laws of all kinds (the last one, Act 62/2003, of 30 December, covers 119 two-columned pages in the Gazette). Legal certainty, which is not a whim of experts but rather a constitutional principle, suffered at the hands of this type of law. In the twinkling of an eye, a large part of our legal system changed, to the delight of specialized publishers and the misery of citizens.
This bothersome guest did not slip in through the window, but walked in through the door, taking advantage of the fact that the Constitutional Tribunal had opened it to throw out certain principles of the General State Budget Act. This Tribunal issued Sentence 76/1992, of 14 May, banning provisions outside state income and spending from this type of law, by virtue of the appropriate constitutional interpretation. This posed a problem for the government. It now had to decide what to do with the many legislative measures it believed necessary and which, year after year, had swollen each Budget Act. The solution wasn’t very clever: the government decided to use them to create a new omnibus, or catch-all Act and process it together with the Budget. This produced the first of these Acts: 22/1993, of 29 December.
Processing the Act at the same time as the General State Budget meant that the parliamentary procedure was extremely rapid. The bill was usually sent a few days after the Budget - some time in October - to be enacted less than three months later, with amendments and revisions by the Senate. It was not a model of serene analysis by Parliament.
A pair of points
This year, we have reason to celebrate: there is to be no Accompaniment Act. The government of laws and parliamentary customs is pleased. However, this absence poses two considerations worthy of mention.
The first has to do with majorities and minorities. The government is leading without an absolute parliamentary majority. So for bills to pass, pacts with minority groups (normally nationalists) are unavoidable. By processing the Budget and the Accompaniment bills at the same time, deals were usually global; in exchange for certain concessions, a vote in favor was agreed on for both bills. One indirect consequence of the Accompaniment Act’s disappearance will be the need for agreements for each law modified, which may spark more demands from minority groups. Who knows if this proliferation of negotiations will frustrate some convenient but unpopular government initiatives?
The second point refers to the need for economic reforms in Spain. This is nothing new: the European Union reminds us of it constantly, as do other national and international organizations. If we want a competitive nation which creates employment and has a developing economy, we can’t carry on with the conditions we have at present. The public sector needs to be adapted constantly, and out-of-date interventionism must be replaced by growing structural flexibility. With all its negative points, the Accompaniment Act was a supple tool for introducing reforms faster in keeping with the rate at which society requires them. Without it, reforms are possible of course, but the government may have to be more energetic.
This Christmas, we will celebrate without our irksome guest. I just hope that at future Christmases, we don’t discover that this guest used to bring part of the dinner.