The European Commission asks for dialogue to keep Catalonia within Spain
The Spanish Government replies that dialogue can only take place “within the law” and respecting “the national sovereignty”, “two red-lines” that cannot be questioned. The Catalan Government said the Commission should consider Catalonia as “a very good ally to build Europe’s future”. The day before, in Barcelona, Viviane Reding, European Commissioner for Justice, had asked the Spanish and Catalan authorities “to talk” with “an open attitude” and “without red-lines” in order to remain “united”. The European Commission broke its supposed neutrality in the political conflict regarding Catalonia’s future within Spain, despite it officially considers the issue to be Spain’s internal affair. The Commissioner for Justice, Citizenship and Fundamental Rights acknowledged “to understand” the Catalan claims, but she refused to say whether citizens should be allowed to hold a self-determination vote. However, she stated that if independence was declared, Catalonia would no longer be part of the EU.
Barcelona (ACN).- On Sunday afternoon in Barcelona, Viviane Reding, the European Commissioner for Justice, asked the Spanish and Catalan authorities “to talk” with “an open attitude” and “without red-lines” in order “to stay together”. The European Commissioner broke its supposed neutrality in the political conflict regarding Catalonia’s future within Spain, despite it still considers the issue to be Spain’s internal affair. On Monday, the Spanish Government replied that dialogue can only take place “within the law” and respecting “the national sovereignty”, “two red-lines” that cannot be questioned. Besides, the Catalan Government said the Commission should consider Catalonia as “a very good ally to build Europe’s future”. The Commissioner for Justice, Citizenship and Fundamental Rights acknowledged on Sunday “to understand” the Catalan claims and citizens’ will “to express themselves”, but she refused to say whether Catalans should be allowed to hold a self-determination vote. At this point she underlined that the issue should be solved according to Spain’s legal framework. The Commission’s Vice President made such statements in a Citizen’s Dialogue in Barcelona, which are a series of talks Commissioners give throughout the EU, directly answering the questions of citizens and local representatives. Surprisingly, the Spanish Deputy Minister for EU Affairs, Iñigo Méndez de Vigo, was given the floor in the middle of Reding’s speech to emphasise that if independence was declared, Catalonia would no longer be part of the European Union. According to the Spanish Diplomat and Reding, treaties are clear on such an issue, although many EU experts do not share the same opinion. At this point, Méndez de Vigo said “it was a fact” and that “only fools discuss the facts”. Many attendees felt insulted at this point and protested.
The European Commission takes sides
The European Commission sided with the Spanish Government and broke its supposed neutrality regarding Catalonia’s self-determination process. In October 2012, Viviane Reding had said that the Treaties did not state that an independent Catalonia should be excluded from the EU, a statement that was even shared by institution's President José Manuel Durao Barroso about two years ago. However, after significant pressures from the Spanish Government, some European Commissioners are now stating that treaties are “clear”, interpreting that an independent Catalonia would be kicked out from the EU. On Sunday, the Commission went one step further and took sides on the political conflict, asking for Catalonia to stay within Spain.
A week ago, Barroso stated that an independent Scotland would be out of the EU and he compared it with Kosovo, stating that its accession is “almost impossible”. The day after, a Commission Spokesperson was acknowledging that Barroso had gone too far and nuanced his words, rejecting the comparison with Kosovo. Last week EU experts considered Barroso's words to be “extremely unwise” and “inaccurate”, and stated that the EU would not block the accession of an independent Scotland. 'The Economist' also criticised Barroso for not being neutral and stated that an independent Scotland and Catalonia might be full-right EU Member States after a process lasting some 4 or 5 years. Other experts had previously advocated against the exclusion of an independent Catalonia, such a French study published in 'Politique Étrangère'.
Reding stated that Spanish and Catalan authorities should “talk […] without red-lines” to solve the issue and “stay together”. The Vice President of the European Commission wished for Catalonia and Spain “to stay together, to start negotiating with an open attitude in order to leave Catalonia within Spain and a strong Spain within a federal and politically-strong European Union”, she said. The Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Justice was therefore lobbying against independence, despite this option being the preferred one by a majority of Catalan and EU citizens (according to opinion polls). On top of this, looking at the latest electoral results in Catalonia, a majority of citizens voted for parties that proposed to organise a self-determination vote in 2014.
The Luxemburg politician in charge of Fundamental Rights rejected to openly supporting Catalans’ right to freely and democratically vote on their collective future, while she was openly campaigning to stay together. In a condescending tone, Reding said “to understand” the Catalan claims and she added they “had the right to express themselves”. However, she could not say whether they should be allowed to vote, since this “is Spain’s internal issue”; “it is a Member State issue”. Despite this statement, she also added that “voting should never be a problem”.
The Commission, not fully committed with the EU citizenship?
Regarding the EU membership of an independent Catalonia, Reding insisted that Treaties were “clear” and that Catalonia would be left out from the EU if it split with Spain. In October 2012, she was thinking the contrary. Furthermore, the Citizenship Commissioner did not disclose what would happen with the 7.5 million of Catalan - and so-far - EU citizens in the event of independence. Barroso said a few months ago that EU citizenship was “accessory”, going against the last 18 years of efforts to build it and the EU being more than a union of states but also being a union of citizens.
“Only the fools discuss the facts”
Reding added that if independence happened she would be sorry as she did “not want to lose Catalonia”. At this point, surprisingly she stopped her speech and gave the room to the Spanish Deputy Minister for EU Affairs, Iñigo Méndez de Vigo, who was present at Barcelona’s event.
This Spanish Diplomat used to be a Member of the European Parliament for the People’s Party (PP), which runs the Spanish Government. He is part of the aristocracy and the son of a former military commander of Franco Regime’s as well as brother-in-law of a prominent neo-Nazi, who allegedly attacked the Catalan Government’s delegation in Madrid in September. Méndez de Vigo quoted Lenin and said that “only the fools discuss the facts”. According to him, it is a fact that Catalonia would be kicked out from the EU if it declared independence. At this point, part of the audience protested and felt insulted. Furthermore, Méndez de Vigo stated that Commissioners are “tired” of being asked about Catalonia’s independence. Reding referred to him as her “friend”.
The Spanish Government rejects talking “without red-lines”
The Spanish Foreign Affairs Minister, José Manuel García-Margallo, answered Reding and said that dialogue can “only take place within the legal framework”. He said that he has “always believed in the freedom of opinion”, particularly “that of European Commissioners”. García-Margallo said that Reding “was right” when “she repeats what the Treaties clearly say”. Regarding the petition to dialogue, he said that the Spanish Government is “open to talk” and “has offered [the possibility to] talk without an expiration date”. However, “this dialogue has to be done as in civilised countries, within the legal-framework”.
In addition, the PP’s Secretary General, María Dolores de Cospedal, was also asked about Reding’s words and stated that “in all the countries there are red-lines, including hers: the Law and national sovereignty”. “I don’t want to think that a European Commissioner is asking not to respect the laws from a Member State or the EU”. In this vein, she insisted that “national sovereignty belongs to all the Spaniards” and they “all have to decide on the issue”.
The Catalan Government presents Catalonia as “an ally”
The President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas, asked Reding to “see Catalonia as a very good ally to build Europe’s future”. Both Mas and Reding were present at the opening ceremony of Barcelona’s Sant Pau Hospital Art-Nouveau venues, which went through an intense renovation work. In his speech, Mas directly addressed Reding in French. He highlighted that Catalonia has “a European mentality” and has worked for the EU’s construction, and wants to continue doing so. Mas pictured Catalonia as “a dynamic country”, with a lively civil-society, which wants to participate in building “the Europe that we also want”.