Almunia now states that an independent Catalonia would be out of the EU and the European Commission backs him
Last October, the Vice President of the European Commission, Joaquin Almunia, emphasised “it would be dishonest [...] to give a strict answer” as to whether a separated part of a Member State would still be part of the EU. Back then, Almunia insisted that “the question is not a black and white one” and “it has many nuances”. However, this Monday he stated that the “separated part of a Member State would no longer be part of the European Union”. A few hours later, the European Commission’s Spokesperson, Pia Ahrenkilde, backed Almunia’s statements. The issue comes after last week’s 400-kilometre-long human chain supporting Catalonia’s independence from Spain, which was formed by 1.6 million citizens, and Madrid’s diplomatic offensive, including the controversy with Latvia and Lithuania.
Barcelona (ACN).- On Monday, the Spanish Vice President of the European Commission, JoaquínAlmunia, stated in Barcelona that a “separated part of a Member State would no longer be part of the European Union”, referring to Catalonia. However, last October, Almunia, had emphasised that “it would be dishonest [...] to give a strict answer” as to whether a separated part of a Member State would still be part of the EU. The European Commissioner explained back then that “the question is not a black and white one” and “it has many nuances”. However, this Monday he had a different opinion on the issue. 11 months have passed, the Spanish Government has undertaken an intense diplomatic offensive – including the recent controversy with Latvia and Lithuania, support for independence in Catalonia has increased and last week there was the 1.6 million citizen human chain, which was 400-kilometre-long. This Monday at noon, the European Commission’s Spokesperson, Pia Ahrenkilde, backed Almunia’s statements made the same day, after she had been avoiding the issue for several months (although she refused to mention the word “Catalonia”). In the last year, the European Commission has been repeating that this is “an internal issue” to be debated “within Spain”, and has refused to take sides officially and “to elaborate on hypothetical scenarios” if a Member State government was not “explicitly” asking for a detailed legal analysis “on a precise scenario”. Neither the European Commission nor the Spanish Government have announced that such an analysis has been requested. In fact, last Thursday Ahrenkilde used the ready-made answer stressing the “internal” nature of the issue when she was asked about the massive demonstration in Catalonia with 1.6 million European citizens, and decided to ignore the peaceful protesters by refusing to make any comment or even acknowledge the 400-kilometre-long human chain. The Catalan Government answered Almunia and insisted that the issue is mainly political and that “no automatic legal mechanisms” are in place for the separation of part of a Member State and its EU membership. Furthermore, the Catalan Finance Minister made it clear that, with political will, a formula could be found to keep Catalonia within the EU.
Almunia asks Madrid and Barcelona to talk openly and resolve the issue
Almunia stated that he is “very concerned” about Catalonia’s potential independence from Spain. He added that this feeling has grown after witnessing how the Spanish and Catalan Governments do not deal with the issue “face to face”. Almunia asked the Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and the Catalan President Artur Mas to work together to find a solution “to channel the situation” and keep Catalonia within Spain.
“Concern” in Brussels about Catalonia’s independence
Almunia also made it clear that there is “concern” in Brussels about the Catalan process and he is “very often […] asked about it by [his] colleagues”. The former Secretary General of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE), who ran for Prime Minister in 2000 and has been a Minister of the Spanish Government in several positions, also added that his colleagues do not ask him about Catalonia’s independence from Spain “with a smile on their faces”.
“It would be dishonest” to provide “a strict answer” on Catalonia’s membership of the EU, stated Almunia 11 months ago
On Monday morning in Barcelona, the European Commissioner for Competition stated “if there is a decision to separate a part of a Member State, this separated part is no longer part of the European Union and has to start again [the accession process]”. Almunia, who is responsible for economic competition policy within the EU institution, also emphasised that “Spain would have more than 2,000 opportunities to veto” Catalonia’s accession within the EU. A few months ago, the veteran Spanish politician had stated “it would be dishonest” to provide “a strict answer” on this very same issue, since “the question is not a black and white one” and “it has many nuances”. Back then he also stated that “we are all European citizens” and that “once you are a European citizen, you have rights as a citizen”. In addition, last October, he also praised the United Kingdom and Scotland for having given “a lesson in democracy” for agreeing to hold the Scottish self-determination referendum.
The European Commission backs Almunia’s most recent statements
The Spokesperson of the European Commission (EC) backed Almunia most recent statements, saying “they are in line” with the institution’s views on the issue. However, Ahrenkilde has not confirmed or denied whether there is “concern” in Brussels about Catalonia’s independence and refused to comment on Almunia’s call for Rajoy and Mas to talk. The EC official read a text from 2004 making it clear that “an independent state will be, because of its independence, a third country regarding the Union and, from the day of its independence, the [EU] treaties would no longer be in force”. However, she also added that this is “a general” principle but that things might be different according to “a Member State’s hypothetical situation”, opening the door to nuances. She also added that the Commission will only give its opinion about Catalonia’s case in the event of a precise scenario.
The European Commission has sent contradictory messages
Almunia’s change of mind is reminiscent of that of another European Commission Vice President, the Luxembourgian Viviane Reding. The Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship said in a press interview in the ‘Diario de Sevilla’ at the end of September last year that Catalonia’s unilateral declaration of independence would not represent being automatically excluded from the EU. After a protest by the Spanish Government’s, in early October Reding said that her words had been misinterpreted and that she “fully shares” Madrid’s “analysis of the European constitutional framework”.