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The European Commission sends contradictory messages regarding hypothetical Catalan independence

Commissioners Reding and Almunia have publicly said that, if there were a unilateral declaration of independence, Catalonia would not be automatically expelled from the EU. However, after being put under pressure by the Spanish Government, Reding sent a private letter stating she shared Madrid’s analysis that a unilateral independence would lead to exclusion from the EU and having to re-apply for accession, which would require a unanimous vote among the 27 Member States. After Madrid’s complaints about previous statements, the EC stated that it would not give its opinion on the issue if the Spanish Government does not explicitly ask for it “on the basis of a precise scenario”. The Catalan Government has noted that there is not a precise scenario as yet. None of the main parties propose a unilateral declaration of independence.

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30 October 2012 11:07 PM

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ACN / Gaspar Pericay Coll

Barcelona (ACN).- The European Commission (EC) has been sending contradictory messages over the last few weeks about a hypothetical Catalan independence and its European Union membership. The EC Vice-President and Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, Viviane Reding, said in a press interview in the \u2018Diario de Sevilla\u2019 at the end of September that Catalonia\u2019s unilateral declaration of independence would not represent being automatically excluded from the EU. However, pressured by the Spanish Government, Reding stated in early October that her words had been misinterpreted and that she \u201Cfully shares\u201D Madrid\u2019s \u201Canalysis of the European constitutional framework\u201D. The Spanish Government sent a letter to Reding stating that \u201Cthe European Union cannot recognise a unilateral declaration of independence from part of a Member State and, in the hypothesis that following a constitutional agreement within such State the separation took place in, the separated part would not be part of the EU\u201D. According to this thesis, the \u201Cseparated part\u201D would need to re-apply for accession, which would require a unanimous agreement by the 27 Member States. European sources have recognised a diplomatic offensive by the Spanish Government, pressuring the EC to support its thesis and to publicly make no comment on the Catalan independence issue, after some comments made last spring and summer. However, things seem to be less clear for the EC. Furthermore, none of the main parties in Catalonia propose a unilateral declaration of independence but instead support organising a self-determination referendum and, based on that, in the case of a large majority supporting independence, negotiate this with the Spanish Government. However, the Spanish Government is opposed to any vote on the issue as well as to reforming the Spanish Constitution in order to give Catalonia greater autonomy or the capacity to organise a referendum.

The Commission stated on the 15th of October that it would not give its opinion on \u201Cthe legal consequences\u201D of the secession of part of a Member State, if the Member State \u201Cdid not explicitly ask for it\u201D and \u201Con the basis of a precise scenario\u201D. On Tuesday, the Spokesperson for the Catalan Government, Francesc Homs, noted that \u201Cthere is not a precise scenario as yet\u201D and he emphasised the EC\u2019s contradictions on the issue. \u201CThere are several opinions and not a final one clearly established\u201D, said Homs. In fact, besides Reding\u2019s September statements, just a week ago, the EC Vice-President, Spaniard Joaquín Almunia, publicly stated in Barcelona that \u201Cit would be dishonest [\u2026] to give a strict answer saying if something segregates itself, it is being left out [of the EU]\u201D. Almunia emphasised that \u201Cthe question is not a black and white one\u201D and \u201Cit has many nuances\u201D. He also stated that \u201Cwe are all European citizens\u201D and that \u201Conce you are a European citizen, you have rights as a citizen\u201D. Therefore, two EC Vice-Presidents publicly stated that a unilateral independence of Catalonia \u2013 which is not proposed by any of the Catalan main parties \u2013 does not have to lead to being automatically left out of the EU.


A negotiated agreement

Furthermore, Almunia praised the United Kingdom and Scotland for having given \u201Ca lesson in democracy\u201D for agreeing to hold the Scottish self-determination referendum. In fact, sources from the EU institutions state in private that the EC expects Catalonia and Spain to find a negotiated agreement on the issue. If the negotiated agreement was to split into two independent states, then both parts should agree not only on the division of public debt, but also on the division of asset and on EU matters, such as how the number of MEPs or votes within the European Council should be split. Then, once the internal agreement is reached, the EC would have the \u201Cprecise scenario\u201D it requires and could give its formal answer on the legal consequences regarding EU membership. In fact, on Tuesday, after the publication of Reding\u2019s letter, the EC stressed that it has not given any formal answer and that its stance on the issue has not changed.

Reding\u2019s letter from early October, published on Tuesday

On Tuesday, the Spanish newspaper \u2018El País\u2019 published a private letter from the EC Vice-President and Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, Viviane Reding, answering a previous letter from the Spanish Deputy Minister for EU Affairs, Íñigo Méndez de Vigo, on the Catalan independence issue. In her letter, from the 4th of October, Reding states that she \u201Cfully shares the analysis of the European constitutional framework\u201D made by Méndez de Vigo. The Spanish Deputy Minister had sent Reding a complaint letter on the 2nd of October about her statements made in a press interview published by the \u2018Diario de Sevilla\u2019 in late September. In that interview, Reding said that a hypothetical Catalonian unilateral declaration of independence would not be working outside of the Treaties. In her letter to the Spanish Government, Reding said her words were misinterpreted and published wrongly. However, a few days ago, the newspaper \u2018Newsnet Scotland\u2019 published the audio track of Reding\u2019s interview with \u2018Diario de Sevilla\u2019, in which she clearly said what the Andalusian newspaper later published. However, the Spanish Government has been undertaking a diplomatic offensive at all levels, in Brussels and throughout European capitals to convince fellow governments and EU institutions about its anti-secession thesis.

Part of this offensive is the letter sent by the Spanish Deputy Minister for EU Affairs to Reding. Méndez de Vigo stated that the EU Treaty, in article 4.2, guarantees respect for the territorial integrity of the Member States, as well as their constitutional structures. He then adds that the Spanish Constitution does not predict a unilateral declaration of independence of one of the Autonomous Communities, such as Catalonia. Therefore, the EU cannot recognise such a unilateral declaration of independence, which is only claimed in Catalonia by a marginal part of the Catalan political spectrum, representing less than 5% of the votes. The main Catalan parties supporting the self-determination process support a negotiated independence. However, Méndez de Vigo adds that, in the case that the Spanish Constitution was modified \u2013 which does not seem likely as the running People\u2019s Party is opposed \u2013 and the independence of a resulting new state agreed on, article 52 of the EU Treaty lists the EU Member States, and it does not include Catalonia, but only \u201Cthe Kingdom of Spain\u201D. Therefore, according to the Spanish Deputy Minister, Catalonia should follow article 49 and apply for its explicit accession, which should then be approved by a unanimous vote among the 27 Member States.

The Spanish Foreign Affairs Ministry threats a Spanish veto and that of \u201Cmany other states\u201D

On Tuesday evening, in a conference taking place in the Catalan city of Lleida, the Spanish Foreign Affairs Minister, José Manuel García-Margallo stated that Reding\u2019s letter is a \u201Crectification\u201D of her previous words. Furthermore, García-Margallo stated that Spain would not be the only Member State vetoing the accession of a hypothetical independent Catalonia. \u201CWe would be wrong if we thought that only Spain would veto it: Spain would veto it, the five states that do not recognise Kosovo and many others that think that an EU implosion is not good news at a moment when we are integrating ourselves from a banking point of view\u201D. Asked about the Scottish case, the Spanish Minister said it is \u201Cradically different\u201D and \u201Cunique\u201D as the British Parliament has the power to delegate the organisation of an independence referendum to the Scottish Parliament, \u201Cwithin the British legal system\u201D. This would be \u201Can agreed secession and not a unilateral declaration of independence, which goes against the established order\u201D. 

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  • EU Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, Viviane Reding, in a press conference (by F. Lenoir / Reuters)