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Catalonia's independence and EU membership, feature in the EU Presidential debate

In the first debate ever among the official candidates to chair the European Commission, Catalonia's self-determination process, the referendum and the EU membership of a hypothetical Catalan independent state was discussed. After a question from the debate's host, Italian journalist Monica Maggioni, about Scotland and Catalonia, each of the five candidates shared their views on the issue. Juncker (People's Party) and Schultz (Socialist) called for respect for constitutional frameworks and insisted that Scotland and Catalonia are internal matters for the UK and Spain. Verhofstadt (Liberals) emphasised that the EU has to listen to the citizens and that it cannot intervene in a negative way, as it has done so far in this issue. Keller (Greens) promised that if Scots and Catalans vote for independence, she will work for an automatic membership. Tsipras (Alternative Left) recognised the right to self-determination but suggested greater autonomy within their respective countries as the best solution for Catalonia and Scotland.

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16 May 2014 09:39 PM

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ACN

Barcelona (ACN).- In the first debate ever among the official candidates to chair the European Commission, Catalonia's self-determination process, the referendum and the EU membership of a hypothetical Catalan independent state were discussed. After a question from the debate's host about Scotland and Catalonia, each of the five candidates shared their views on the issue. Juncker (People's Party) and Schultz (Socialist) called for respect for constitutional frameworks and insisted that Scotland and Catalonia are internal matters for the UK and Spain. Verhofstadt (Liberals) emphasised that the EU has to listen to the citizens and that it cannot intervene in a negative way, as it has done so far in this issue. Keller (Greens) promised that if Scots and Catalans vote for independence, she will work for an automatic membership. Tsipras (Alternative Left) recognised the right to self-determination but suggested greater autonomy within their respective countries as the best solution for Catalonia and Scotland.


On Thursday evening, the European Union experienced an historical debate. The forthcoming Elections to the European Parliament are the first ones where the main parties have agreed to run with an official candidate to chair the European Commission. On Thursday evening, in the Dutch city of Maastricht, the candidates to chair the EU Executive held their first debate ever. There were five of them, representing the five largest political families in Europe: Conservatives and Christian-Democrats (Jean-Claude Juncker), Social-Democrats (Martin Schultz), Liberals and Democrats (Guy Verhofstadt), Green Socialists (Ska Keller) and Alternative Left (Alexis Tsipras). The debate was chaired by the Italian journalist Monica Maggioni, who asked the candidates directly about "the independence movements in some Member States, such as Scotland and Catalonia" and whether they would grant automatic accession to the EU in the event that they became independent.

The first one to answer was the Belgian Guy Verhofstadt, from the Liberals and Democrats. He said that Catalans "have to be heard" and that the EU cannot intervene "in a negative way", as Barroso has already done. Verhofstadt insisted that the EU can only intervene "in a positive way" and should not take sides on behalf of Member State governments, although he would prefer the EU not to intervene but let the Brits and Scots and the Spaniards and Catalans decide. In addition, he insisted that "citizens have to be heard" because "we cannot build an EU where public opinion is not taken into account in such an important issue". A few weeks ago, the International Liberal Congress approved a resolution backing the Catalans’ right to self-determination and several of their leaders have stated in the last few months that an independent Catalonia should be automatically recognised as an EU Member State.

The second candidate to talk was Alexis Tsipras, from the Alternative Left, who addressed the audience in Greek. He stated that his party Syriza "respects the right to self-determination" and that in the light of this people have to be heard. However, he also warned about the risk of a nationalist clash. Tsipras went one step further and even suggested a way out of the current situation: granting greater autonomy to Scotland and Catalonia within their respective countries in order to avoid "moving borders".

The third to answer was the German Ska Keller, from the Greens. Keller was very short, since on previous occasions she has already backed Catalonia's right to self-determination and stated that if Catalans vote for independence, she will work to guarantee continuity of their status within the EU. Keller repeated these arguments, insisting that Catalans and Scots "must have the right to decide on their own future and the future of their own state".

Then, Luxembourgian Jean-Claude Juncker, the candidate of the People's Party – in which the Spanish PP has an important influence, took the floor. Earlier this week, Juncker was in Madrid and, speaking next to Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, the Conservative candidate backed the Spanish Prime Minister's thesis. "Beware of thinking that, out of the blue, a province could become a new Member of the EU", he said in Madrid, referring to Catalonia. "I respect the Catalans a lot, but I also respect the Spanish Constitution". He then said that an independence referendum was illegal. However, in the debate Juncker was much more cautious and, contradicting what he had said in Madrid, he asked the European Union not to intervene in such issues because this debate belongs "to the United Kingdom and the Kingdom of Spain". In Maastricht Juncker declared that the EU should simply "shut up".

Finally, Martin Schultz, the Socialist candidate and President of the European Parliament during the past two years and a half, recognised that "the EU does not have a blueprint" for these cases. Therefore he suggested that there are no rules for an automatic expulsion nor for an automatic accession. Schultz insisted that each case is different, making an implicit difference between Scotland and Catalonia, and then emphasised the need to respect Member State constitutional frameworks. "In Scotland there will be a referendum, but in other countries this type of referendum is not foreseen", he concluded.

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  • The five candidates to chair the European Commission in the first and only debate (by L. Framis)

  • The five candidates to chair the European Commission in the first and only debate (by L. Framis)
Catalonia's independence and EU membership, feature in the EU Presidential debate