Amadeu Altafaj to represent Catalan Government in the European Union
The former European Commission’s Spokesperson for Economic Affairs during the Eurozone crisis, Amadeu Altafaj, is to become Catalonia’s Permanent Representative to the EU institutions. This position has been created as a way to increase the political weight of the already existing Catalan Government Delegation in Brussels in the middle of the debate about independence from Spain. Altafaj, who has also worked as Deputy Chief of Cabinet of the Commission’s Vice President for Economic and Monetary Affairs, Olli Rehn, since 2012, will now direct this delegation and become Catalonia’s voice in the EU institutions’ offices. On many occasions, Altafaj has been vocal about Catalonia’s self-determination, supporting it and emphasising that an independent Catalan State would be economically viable.
Barcelona (ACN).- The former European Commission’s Spokesperson for Economic Affairs during the Eurozone crisis, Amadeu Altafaj, will become Catalonia’s Permanent Representative to the EU institutions. This position has been created as a way to increase the political weight of the already existing Catalan Government Delegation in Brussels in the middle of the debate about independence from Spain. Altafaj, who has also worked as Deputy Chief of Cabinet of the Commission’s Vice President for Economic and Monetary Affairs, Olli Rehn, since 2012, will now direct this delegation and become Catalonia’s voice in the EU institutions’ offices. On many occasions, Altafaj has been vocal about Catalonia’s self-determination, supporting it and emphasising that an independent Catalan State would be economically viable. The new Permanent Representative will take on the challenge of making Catalonia’s voice heard at EU level, after years of underhanded pressure from the Spanish Government against the Catalan Executive and the self-determination demands.
On Wednesday, the Barcelona-based newspaper ‘Ara’ disclosed the news about Altafaj’s appointment, which was later confirmed by the Catalan Minister for Business and Employment, Felip Puig, during a radio interview. Puig explained that the Minister for the Presidency, Francesc Homs, who is also in charge of the Catalan Government’s External Action Policy, informed the rest of the Government of the decision on 23 December, during the last Cabinet meeting of 2014. However, the name of the new Permanent Representative was not released to the press until this Wednesday, which is the first regular working day in Catalonia after the Christmas break, since the 6 January is an important bank holiday.
Strengthening external action in a crucial political moment
In December, the Catalan Government announced it would strengthen its external action service in 2015, taking into account the delicate political moment, after two years of self-determination debate and the Spanish Government’s total opposition to making any concession in this respect. Besides, Catalonia’s EU membership in case of independence from Spain is not guaranteed. The Spanish Executive insists that Catalonia would be kicked out of the European Union in case of independence, an argument repeated by those opposing independence. However, the EU Treaties are not clear on this and the outcome is wide open to interpretation. In fact, experts point out that the Treaties would need to be reformed in order to either incorporate Catalonia or kick it out, and therefore the final outcome is a matter of political negotiation. At the same time, following the great level of pressure and numerous complaints from the Spanish Government, the EU institutions have been adopting an ambiguous stance on this issue, sending unclear messages and indirectly supporting the Spanish Government’s strategy of creating doubt and fear about independence.
Precisely because of this delicate moment, two weeks ago, the Catalan Government announced the creation of this Permanent Representative position in Brussels. In addition, two further delegations will also be opened, following the five already existing ones (located in Brussels, Paris, London, Berlin and New York). In 2015, the Catalan Government will open political delegations in Rome and Vienna. The delegation in Austria will also take care of diplomatic relations with Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia and Croatia. The delegation in Germany, which was up until now dealing with Austria, from now on will also deal with Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Furthermore, the Catalan Government is studying further strengthening its presence in Northern and Eastern Europe, but no specific plans have been disclosed.
The Catalan Government’s external action is legally recognised by the Catalan Statute of Autonomy, which was approved by the Spanish Parliament, ratified by the Catalan citizens through a binding referendum, and validated by the Constitution Court, after trimming some other points. Furthermore, the Catalan Parliament approved in late 2014 the External Action Law, which further develops self-rule powers in this area. Besides, the political representation delegations, the Catalan Government runs a network of commercial offices, which attract foreign investment and help Catalan companies to reach new markets. In addition, the Institut Ramon Llull – the public body in charge of promoting Catalan culture and language abroad – has 4 offices abroad, located in the political delegations in Paris, London, Berlin and New York.
Altafaj has held key positions within the European Commission
Amadeu Altafaj’s appointment is a “great addition”, stated the Catalan Business Minister, because he has “great influence and knowledge” of the European Commission. Altafaj, who is a journalist by trade, was the Commission’s Spokesperson for Economic Affairs in the Euro’s most difficult years. During two and a half years he was Brussels’ face and main contact for the international press, in the midst of the bailouts of Greece, Ireland and Portugal. In fact, the ‘Wall Street Journal’ defined him as “a Spokesperson who understands the technical details” of a crisis that was becoming increasingly complex. He was a person “always surrounded by journalists”, who “totally knew” that “each of his words” could “cost millions”.
Precisely because of his high performance in this crucial moment for the EU and the world’s economy, in 2012 he was appointed Deputy Chief of Cabinet for Olli Rehn, who was the Commission’s Vice President in charge of Economic and Monetary Affairs. Altafaj started to work in Brussels as a press correspondent for Barcelona-based radio station COM and for the Madrid-based newspapers ‘ABC’ and ‘El Mundo’. Later, he joined the European Commission and started to work within its Communication machinery, occupying several positions. Before becoming Brussels’ face during the Euro crisis, he was Spokesperson for Development and Humanitarian Aid for several years.
EU institutions are obliged by Treaties to protect "democracy"
EU Treaties would have to be reformed to kick out an independent Catalonia from the EU, as they would also have to be reformed to include it, since there are no specific provisions on the matter. Therefore, the definitive decision would have to come after political negotiations. EU institutions are obliged by Treaties "to promote peace, its values and the well-being of its peoples" (Article 3). Furthermore, "the Union shall offer its citizens an area of freedom, security and justice without internal frontiers in which the free movement of persons is ensured". In case of Catalonia's independence, this would have to be guaranteed for Spanish nationals living in Catalonia, which may be most of the 7.5 million Catalans, since nationality cannot be withdrawn from individual citizens, and with there being even less reasons to do so if Spain does not recognise the new Catalan independent State. Therefore, the EU institutions would be legally bound to find a solution satisfactory to all, in line with the democratic principle on which the Union is founded and the "loyal cooperation" through which it works.
Additionally, Article 2 states that "pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail" in the EU and therefore EU institutions need to act according to those principles, which are "human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities". As well as this, it is declared that the EU "shall work for the sustainable development of Europe" and "shall respect its rich cultural and linguistic diversity, and shall ensure that Europe’s cultural heritage is safeguarded and enhanced" (Article 3).
Would 7.5 million EU citizens be expelled for peacefully and democratically voting to split from Spain?
Therefore, since the EU's primary mission is to promote democracy, peace, prosperity and the well-being of its citizens, it seems unreasonable that 7.5 million Catalans would be expelled from the EU because they have peacefully and democratically decided to split from Spain, particularly when the Treaties are not explicit about such a hypothesis. Not only that, following the EU values and considering the will to stay within the EU expressed by Catalans – who are currently EU citizens – as well as the economic and social damage caused by expulsion (to Catalonia's, Spain's and the EU's economy, as well as to individual citizens), the measure would ago against the EU institutions' obligation "to offer its citizens an area of freedom [...] without internal frontiers in which the free movement of persons is ensured" and again guarantee "the well-being of its citizens". After voting on independence, Catalans would still be part of Spain for a while and therefore EU citizens at all legal effects. EU institutions would be legally obliged to work as well on protecting the interests of Catalan citizens to ensure their "well-being" and "free movements". In addition, the EU is bound to act under "the principle of proportionality" (Article 5) and to work for "stability".
Since an hypothetical expulsion would cause an economic storm in Catalonia, Spain and the entire EU, the automatic exclusion of Catalonia and 7.5 million Catalans does not seem to be in line with the aforementioned principles. On top of this, the voluntary withdrawal of a Member State is included in the Treaties (Article 50), but the measure comes with a negotiation process that will explicitly decide how the country will relate to the EU in the future on the basis of "loyal cooperation". This Article explicitly applies to a Member State and not to a part of it, but it is the Article that comes closest to ruling on the expulsion of a territory from the Union. In this case, Catalan citizens and their political representatives have not expressed their will to voluntary withdraw; on the contrary, they have expressed their will to remain within the EU. In addition, when Greenland left the EU after their citizens voted so, there were long negotiations about how to do it and at the time Article 50 did not exist. Therefore, if it were to be used for Catalonia's case, despite the opposition of Catalan citizens, a negotiation should be carried out to decide on the future relationship with the EU, which can sign bilateral agreements in order to keep the free circulation of people, goods, services and capital, and the Euro as Catalonia's currency, among many other aspects.