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Suspending the Catalan Ministry for Foreign Affairs is "counterproductive", say foreign MEPs

The suspension of the Catalan Ministry for Foreign Affairs is “going to work against the aim of the Madrid government” and boost independence support, according to some foreign MEPs that have been following the political process in Catalonia. “It was just a kind of name change, not a legal change, but it has big emotional meaning for both sides”, said former Foreign Affairs Minister of Lithuania and now MEP Algirdas Saudargas. The President of the Scottish National Party (SNP) and also MEP Ian Hudghton said Scots are “fortunate” not to have “been treated in the way that Madrid seeks to treat Catalonia”. Flemish MEP Mark Demesmaeker argued that there is a “big contrast” between Spain and Belgium, while the Swedish Green MEP Bodil Valero defined as “very strange” the decision by the Spanish Constitutional Court to suspend the Catalan ministry.

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25 February 2016 11:44 AM

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ACN

Brussels (CNA).- The suspension of the Catalan Ministry for Foreign Affairs is “going to work against the aim of the Madrid government” and boost independence support, according to some foreign MEPs that have been following the political process in Catalonia. “It was just a kind of name change, not a legal change, but it has big emotional meaning for both sides”, said former Foreign Affairs Minister of Lithuania and now MEP Algirdas Saudargas. The President of the Scottish National Party (SNP) and also MEP Ian Hudghton said Scots are “fortunate” not to have “been treated in the way that Madrid seeks to treat Catalonia”. Flemish MEP Mark Demesmaeker argued that there is a “big contrast” between Spain and Belgium, while the Swedish Green MEP Bodil Valero defined as “very strange” the decision by the Spanish Constitutional Court to suspend the Catalan ministry.


Former Foreign Affairs Minister of Lithuania, Algirdas Saudargas, said that politics is “more based in emotions than legal structures”, and that naming Raül Romeva Foreign Affairs Minister raised eyebrows in Madrid because of the “emotional meaning” of the post. “It is a business to be discussed between Catalans and Spanish”, he added, pointing out he is not a “legal expert”. In Mr Saudargas’ point of view, however, if Catalans “feel as a nation and want to do more things and decide more things for themselves, they will do that sooner or later”.

The Lithuanian asked only for the relationship between Catalonia and Spain to be “solved in a peaceful and negotiated way”. “I believe the Catalan approach is peaceful, and I have nothing to suggest but for it to continue in a peaceful way”, he explained. Pointing out the stark “differences” between Lithuania, which was occupied by Soviet forces, and Catalonia, that is part of a democratic state, Mr Saudargas said he doesn’t believe that “there could be some assistance from outside” – only “recommendations” but nothing “decisive”. 

Asked about the refusal of the Spanish government to discuss a referendum or independence, Mr Saudargas said that “not willing to talk is already a language”. “The world is changing, Europe is changing, one day the situation looks quite different from the previous day. If real determination is on the Catalan side, you will find a way”, he pointed out.

Flanders and Scotland 

Other stateless nations such as Flanders and Scotland also have powers on external affairs, and they usually compare their activities to those of Catalonia. That’s why the suspension of the Catalan Foreign Affairs Ministry by the Spanish Constitutional Court is especially worrying for them. “In an atmosphere of confrontation, where there is no respect, a court takes a political a decision. This of course it’s not a surprise in itself because it happened before, but it means of course that the Spanish centralist forces use their courts to do their dirty work for them, to take a political decision”, said Mark Demesmaeker, from the New Flemish Alliance (N-VA).

Mr Demesmaeker said that there is a “strong contrast” between what Belgium allows the Flemish to do and what Spain seems to allow the Catalans to do. The Flemish government, in fact, “is able to negotiate and sign treaties or cooperation agreements with other countries or other regions for those competences it has responsibility for”. “It is very important”, said Mr Demesmaeker, adding that Spain is “using semantic discussions to answer a problem not in a political way, but using the courts”.

“Maybe the Spanish government should give a political answer, very openly, to the question: What are they willing to grant their autonomous regions that are demanding more autonomy?”, suggested Mr Demesmaeker. The Flemish politician said that Catalonia “is a strong brand” and will continue to be so. “Catalonia is on the international stage, will be active and is still active on the international stage, and nothing will prevent that”, he stated.

“It was a bit surprising, but perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised given the levels of disagreement between Barcelona and Madrid”, explained the President of the SNP and also MEP, Ian Hudghton. “It seems to me counterproductive for the member state government to seek to supress a minister and a ministry in this way, particularly when there are legal powers in place over the subject”, he added. According to him, this “underlines” that if Catalonia wants “the normal powers of a normal country, independence is the route”.

Hudghton said they are “proud” in Scotland to have an SNP government that it is “outward-looking” and has a Minister of External Affairs. “Perhaps we are fortunate that we haven’t been treated in the way that Madrid seeks to treat Catalonia”, he said. “We know that they don’t want Catalonia or other parts of the current Spanish state to talk about or to vote about independence, we know that, but surely to try to supress legitimate actions in this way, that have been voted for by Catalans, can only be counterproductive and can only ensure that more Catalans will see that the way to ensure that Catalonia has all the normal powers of a normal country is to become independent”, he concluded. For him, the Spanish strategy against the Catalan Foreign Affairs Ministry is “going to work against the aim of the Madrid government”. 

“The name of the post has nothing to do with it”

Green Swedish MEP Bodil Valero, who was one of the international observers of the 9-N consultation and the 27-S elections, described as “strange” the attitude of the Spanish government. Ms Valero said that Catalonia has been engaged in external affairs for many decades. “It is very strange that they’ve done that [suspend the Ministry] and I don’t think it’s legal”, she pointed out.

Ms Valero went on to state that the name of the post of Raül Romeva “should be decided” by the Catalan government and whether he is Minister or Secretary of Foreign Affairs doesn’t make any difference. “What’s the difference? For me, there is none. If someone abroad wants to meet with him, he will meet with them, he will have the same opportunities to talk to other Europeans, regardless of the post”, she stated.

The Swedish MEP also said that the Spanish government should have accepted a referendum in Catalonia “a long time ago”, and campaigned for ‘no’. “The attitude of the Spanish government is making it even harder to find an agreement”, she regretted. According to her, the PP government in Spain has “done everything in its power to create this tension with Catalonia”. 

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  • The Swedish Green MEP Bodil Valero (by ACN)
  • The president of the SNP and Scottish MEP Ian Hudghton (by ACN)
  • The Flemish MEP Mark Demesmaeker (by ACN)
  • The former Foreign Affairs Minister of Lithuania and now MEP Algirdas Saudargas (by ACN)
Foreign MEPs comment on the suspension of the Catalan Ministry for Foreign Affairs