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European Council commits "to respect" Member State decisions on their "territorial integrity"

The Spanish Government has welcomed a European Council decision which emphasises that "territorial integrity" is "an essential function" of each Member State. Furthermore, the EU institution will "respect" the "national identities of Member States inherent in their fundamental political and constitutional structures, inclusive of regional and local self-government". Such statements are included within a more general declaration about respecting the rule of law within the European Union, issued after recent events in Hungary. However, the Spanish Government managed to include such references to the document, in the middle of the debate about Catalonia's potential independence from Spain and its continuity within the EU. EU Treaties would have to be reformed to include Catalonia, but they would also have to be reformed in order to kick it out of the EU, since there are no specific provisions on this case.

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16 December 2014 10:38 PM

by

ACN

Brussels (ACN).- The Spanish Government has welcomed a European Council decision, which emphasises that "territorial integrity" is "an essential function" of each Member State. Furthermore, the EU institution will "respect" the "national identities of Member States inherent in their fundamental political and constitutional structures, inclusive of regional and local self-government". Such statements are included within a more general declaration about respecting the rule of law within the European Union, issued after recent events in Hungary, where Prime Minister Viktor Orban has limited civil rights. The Spanish Government managed to include such references to the final document, as explained by the Spanish Deputy Minister for EU Affairs, Íñigo Méndez de Vigo, who has been very active in cancelling any support for Catalonia's right to self-determination from the EU institutions. In fact, the document issued this Tuesday comes as a veiled warning, in the middle of the debate about Catalonia's potential independence from Spain and its continuity within the EU as an independent state.


However, 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. However, the European Council – which represents the governments of the Member States and their interests – is sending a veiled warning to Catalan citizens who might vote for pro-independence parties in likely early elections, transforming it into a 'de facto' referendum on independence.

With such a document, the EU institutions are definitively breaking their neutrality regarding this issue, which they have been addressing over the past few years when they repeatedly stated that Catalonia's self-determination was an "internal affair" and that they did not have anything to comment about. However, when asked about Catalonia or Scotland, European Commission Spokespeople stated that EU Treaties would not apply to a region that secedes from a Member State, although later added that this was a general principle and that each particular case should be analysed individually.

Now, with this document, the European Council highlights the "national identities of Member States", the "rule of law" and the "territorial integrity", but it forgets to stress other core principles also recognised in the EU Treaties, such as "democracy" and the "well-being of its peoples".

EU Treaties also protect "democracy", "pluralism" and "linguistic diversity"

In fact, 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), 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 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, such a measure does not seem to be in line with the principle of working for "stability".

It does not seem, therefore, that an automatic exclusion of Catalonia and 7.5 million Catalans is in line with those objectives. 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.

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  • Íñigo Méndez de Vigo (right) talking with his French homologue, Harlem Désir (by European Council)

  • Íñigo Méndez de Vigo (right) talking with his French homologue, Harlem Désir (by European Council)