EU fails to condemn Spanish police violence
European Commission statement says Catalan conflict is an “internal matter” while president Puigdemont calls for international mediation
Despite images of brutality making many front pages around the world on Monday, the European Commission (EC) failed to condemn the violence by Spanish police at polling stations on Sunday. Calling on all sides to move “swiftly from confrontation to dialogue”, a short Commission statement declared the vote illegal and an internal matter for Spain. While the statement said that “violence can never be an instrument in politics” it also said: “We trust the leadership of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to manage this difficult process.”
Later in the day, EC spokesman Margaritis Schinas faced the press in a news conference, although he limited himself to reading out the statement. Asked about which violence the statement referred to, Schinas merely referred journalists to the memo. Nor was he more forthcoming when asked about a possible activation of article 7 of the European Union Treaty, which deals with the risk of a member state seriously violating human rights. A group of Podemos MEPs have sent a letter to the Commission asking the EC to look into whether there are grounds to invoke the article against the Spanish government. The letter will be answered “at the appropriate level,” said Schinas.
Juncker and Rajoy in touch
Schinas did confirm that Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, had been in contact with Spanish president, Mariano Rajoy, “over the weekend” and that the two plan to talk on the phone late on Monday. However, Schinas refused to answer repeated questions about how the EC would respond should Catalonia declare independence. Asked whether the EC might mediate in the conflict, Schinas said his organisation “has no role to play” and he again called on both parties to talk.
However, Schinas did not rule out the College of Commissioners debating the issue of Catalonia on Tuesday. With no specific agenda, the spokesman said “there is a possibility of discussing it.” Schinas also said that “if the Parliament decides to debate this issue, the Commission will participate at the appropriate level,” in reference to a question about left-wing groups tabling the issue of the police violence seen on Sunday in the next plenary session of the European Parliament.
"As a European citizen I am disappointed to have believed that if ever there was repression of rights like those we have seen in other countries, that the EU would protect me"
Carles Puigdemont · Catalan president
Puigdemont wants EU sponsored mediation
The EC’s response to the conflict falls far short of what Catalan president Carles Puigdemont called for on Monday. Asking Rajoy to accept “international mediation”, Puigdemont said that non-EU independent international experts would carry out the mediation, although the process would have to be “sponsored by the EU”. “It has to stop looking the other way… This is a European affair, not a domestic one. Everyone can see what is happening,” he said.
As for the EC’s statement on the events at polling stations on Sunday, Puigdemont called the Commission’s words on the violence by police “lukewarm”, and he pointed out that Catalan citizens are also EU citizens. “Everyone saw the violence of the State. Has it nothing to say about it? As a European citizen I am disappointed to have believed that if ever there was repression of rights like those we have seen in other countries, that the EU would protect me. And that has not happened,” he said.
Catalan conflict on world’s front pages
The international media, however, were much bolder than the European Commission in condemning the violence during the referendum. The front pages of newspapers all over the world reported on the actions of the Spanish police, with newspapers like 'The Guardian' and 'Libération' devoting their editorials to the subject. Meanwhile, columns in 'La Stampa' and 'La Libre' criticise Rajoy and “Europe’s guilty silence”. The 'Financial Times', the 'Daily Telegraph', the 'Western Mail' and 'The Independent' all made reference to the violence and the Catalan-Spanish conflict. Scottish newspapers 'The National' and 'The Scotsman' were particularly critical of the Spanish authorities, while the BBC reported that the Catalans had won the right to split from Spain. The US press also followed Sunday’s events, including the front page of 'The New York Times', with the Reuters news agency and digital publication 'Politico' dedicating their front pages to the issue.