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Brussels main think tank CEPS "postpones" at the last minute a debate on Catalan independence

The Brussels-based Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) stated it cancelled a debate on the EU Membership of an independent Catalonia because they could not find a speaker arguing that Catalonia would be excluded from the EU. However, the Catalan Government and the Catalan Public Diplomacy Council (Diplocat) suspect the Spanish Government pressured the CEPS to cancel the debate, as it already tried to do with previous events. The Spanish Executive denied the accusations, which are also rejected by the CEPS. The event was organised weeks ago and was supposed to take place on Tuesday at 9.30am at the CEPS facilities, which is the most prestigious think tank in EU Affairs. It was "postponed" on Monday evening, just a few hours before it was due to start. A prestigious Constitutional expert, who advises the Catalan Government, Carles Viver i Pi-Sunyer, was supposed to present a report arguing that Catalonia would remain within the EU.

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17 June 2014 07:32 PM

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ACN

Brussels (ACN).- At the last minute, Brussels-based Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) – which is probably the main EU Affairs think tank – "postponed" a debate on the EU Membership of an independent Catalonia that was supposed to take place on Tuesday at 9.30am. The CEPS cancelled the event on Monday evening and today it stated they did so because they could not find a speaker arguing that Catalonia would be excluded from the EU. However, the Catalan Government and the private-public body Catalan Public Diplomacy Council (Diplocat), which was co-organising the event, suspect the Spanish Government pressured the CEPS to cancel the debate, as it already tried to do with previous events. The Spanish Permanent Representation before the EU denied pressuring the CEPS "in any way" and insisted the think tank is "an independent" organisation "taking its own decisions". The Brussels think tank also rejected the accusations, although it is extremely strange that such a prestigious institution cancels an event at the last minute. In addition, the CEPS published the following ambiguous message on their website: "Due to circumstances beyond our control, CEPS decided to postpone the event 'In or Out? Catalonia and the EU' scheduled for tomorrow at its premises". The CEPS event was organised weeks ago and the former Member of Spain's Constitutional Court and Chairman of the Catalan Government's Advisory Council for the National Transition (CATN), Carles Viver i Pi-Sunyer, was supposed to present a report arguing that Catalonia would remain within the EU in the most likely scenario. The CEPS's Senior Researcher in EU enlargement and institutional issues, Steven Blockmans, was supposed to present the event and would have taken questions from the audience. Finally, Viver i Pi-Sunyer presented the report in Brussels' International Press Centre on Tuesday morning. "Today I feel a little bit like a refugee", he said.


The most prestigious think tank in European Union affairs, the Brussels-based Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), was supposed to host on Tuesday, from 9.30am to 12.00pm, a debate on whether an independent Catalonia would still be part of the EU. With the self-explanatory title 'In or Out? Catalonia and the EU', the think tank's senior expert in enlargement and institutional issues Steven Blockmans was supposed to moderate a debate between a Catalan expert and the audience. However, the CEPS announced that it had also been looking for a second guest speaker in order to counterbalance the views of Viver i Pi-Sunyer. Just a few hours before it was due to begin, the CEPS announced it was "postponing" the event for "circumstance beyond [their] control". It announced that Viver i Pi-Sunyer would instead present "his report between 9.00 and 11.00 at the International Press Centre".

The Spanish Government's "pressures" are "shameful"

In the event, Albert Royo the Secretary General of  Diplocat – a private-public body supported by the Catalan Government, Barcelona's City Council, the four Provincial Councils, Chambers of Commerce, Catalan universities and many other institutions such as FC Barcelona sports club – told the press about "the pressures of the Spanish Government". Royo stated that "the pressures of the Spanish embassies and Foreign Affairs Ministry" in order "to stop the debate on Catalonia's self-determination to reach European capital cities" are "shameful", since "no one should be scared of dialogue". He added that "in the last 6 months", since the consultation vote on Catalonia's independence from Spain has an exact question wording and a date (9 November, 2014), "in most of the events" abroad organised by Diplocat, "pressures have been received from the corresponding embassy or the Ministry asking to cancel the event". He explained that most of the times they do not denounce those pressures in order not to fuel tension. However, on this occasion they decided to it because "it is a shame". "No one should be scared of dialogue", he said.

In addition, the Spokesperson for the Catalan Government and Minister for the Presidency, Francesc Homs, stated that "it is hard to prove, but there have been pressures from the Spanish Government". Homs added that considering "the Spanish Government's pressures" to cancel the CEPS event and previous ones, he was having serious doubts about the Spanish Executive's "democratic convictions". "It is not the first time" this happens, he emphasised. He was sorry that the Spanish Government is allocating so much resources and efforts in "obstructing" the Catalan society's attempts to present its views abroad.

The CEPS cancelled the event because they could not find an expert supporting the view that Catalonia would be excluded from the EU

Asked about it on Tuesday, the think tank said that it could not find a person arguing that Catalonia would be excluded from the EU if it became independent from Spain. However, the CEPS announced the cancelation was "due to circumstances beyond [their] control". In fact, such prestigious institutions do not normally cancel events, although it could of course happen for unexpected reasons, such as medical or travel problems of the speakers. In this case, the reason stated was that they could not find anyone willing to openly debate the issue with a Catalan expert.

The former Member of Spain's Constitutional Court and Chair Professor of Law, Carles Viver i Pi-Sunyer, was supposed to present the report issued by the Advisory Council for the National Transition (CATN), which he chairs. This body formed by university experts and personalities stated that Catalonia's EU Membership in case of independence would depend on  a political negotiation between Catalan authorities and EU institutions, since EU Treaties are open to interpretation on this issue. The CATN report portrayed different scenarios and in the most likely one, the EU would adopt transition measures to guarantee that EU Treaties and agreements continue to be in place for citizens and companies in Catalonia in case of independence, in order to guarantee the total continuity of provisions.

Several experts and reports insist that both Scotland and Catalonia could remain within the EU

A similar view was expressed months ago by experts talking before a committee of UK's Westminster Parliament regarding Scotland's EU Membership in case of independence. According to them, EU Treaties are not crystal clear on this issue and can be interpreted. In addition, since independence would not take place from one day to the other and its terms would have to be negotiated for several months, the EU would have time to modify the Treaties or to adopt transition measures. Furthermore, other experts have argued similar conclusions, rejecting the idea of an automatic exclusion "for centuries and centuries", as the Spanish Government stated on several occasions.

In fact, the Spanish Government is insisting that an independent Catalonia would be excluded not only from the EU but from the entire international relations' system, including the United Nations. Furthermore, the Spanish Foreign Affairs Minister, José Manuel García Margallo, stated Catalans "would roam out of space" and the Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, compared an independent Catalonia with Robinson Crusoe's island, poor and isolated from the rest of the world.

Madrid is undertaking an active pressure campaign against self-determination

In addition, Spanish authorities have launched an international campaign against Catalonia's self-determination process, sending memorandums with fake, incomplete or exaggerated data to all the foreign embassies present in Spain as well as to most of the world's governments. The Catalan Government replied with its own memorandum and, following the constitutional principle of political plurality and taking into account the fact that Catalan citizens also pay for the Spanish Foreign Affairs Ministry, they asked Madrid to distribute the Catalan answer as well. Barcelona's petition was ignored.

Furthermore, Spanish authorities have pressured the European institutions, including European Commissioners, who have been obliged to review some of their statements. For instance, Viviane Reding and Joaquin Almunia both stated that EU Treaties were not clear about excluding an independent Catalonia (saying that the "Treaties do not say this" and that it was "dishonest" making such an affirmation), but later they said the contrary. A similar thing happened with the Prime Ministers of Latvia and Lithuania, who supported Catalonia's right to self-determination if it was done in a legal way. The day after, once their ambassadors in Madrid were summoned by García Margallo, they said that journalists had misinterpreted their words, although they were recorded and people could hear what they said.

However, the pressure from the Spanish Government goes beyond the EU institutions and other Member State Governments. For instance, in February, the Dean of the University of Lisbon's Faculty of Law, Eduardo Vera-Cruz Pinto, publicly denounced through a newspaper article that the Spanish Government had pressured him to cancel a debate on Catalonia's self-determination taking place in the faculty premises and also organised by Diplocat. As opposed to the CEPS's case, Lisbon's debate took place.

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  • Viver i Pi-Sunyer (right) presenting the CATN report in Brussels' International Press Centre next to Royo (left) (by A. Segura)

  • Viver i Pi-Sunyer (right) presenting the CATN report in Brussels' International Press Centre next to Royo (left) (by A. Segura)