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The European Commission stays silent on Catalonia despite questioning

Meanwhile, members of the international community stands in support


21 September 2017 08:31 PM


Rachel Bathgate | Barcelona

The Chief spokesperson of the European Commission (EC), Margaritis Schinas, has had to field dozens of questions about Catalonia from correspondents of different international and Catalan media at the regular midday press conference in Brussels. Still, the message was the same all around: the Commission "has nothing to add" with respect to what has already been said by commissioners such as Frans Timmermans or Valdis Dombrovskis, who have already qualified the issue as an "internal affair" within Spain.

This is following a day of continued protests demanding the release of Catalan government officials who were arrested by the Spanish government, an open letter to the international community by Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, and various responses from foreign countries and individuals.

The European Commission refuses to answer

When asked whether those who expect some kind of European mediation by the institution should lose hope, the spokesman avoided answering and merely said that the Commission "has already previously responded" to the question. Various other foreign journalists who reformulated the same question, asking for clarity, also received no answer.

International journalists also questioned Schinas on the subject of the Wednesday morning police operation, some echoing others opinions that "what happened yesterday is strange to happen in a member state of the European Union." Some even pointed out that "Catalans are being deprived of the right to express themselves" and added that "they are also European citizens."

However, Schinas' message always stayed the same: that the EC "respects the law and constitutional order of Spain".

"The European Commission often demands dialogue. Do you really have nothing to say?" a member of the international press asked Juncker’s spokesperson.

"You've always told us that this is a political Commission, but the answer you’re giving us is not political. People have been detained, we’re starting to see a problem of freedom of expression," added an Italian journalist.

"When will the European Commission state its opinion?", asked another foreign reporter.

Still, Schinas did not change his response. "This is a repetitive result, I have covered this question from all angles," said the spokesperson. "What we say is not improvisation, we respect the Spanish constitution as with all the constitutions of Member States," he reiterated.

"And if the Spanish government brings armed forces to the streets of Catalonia?", another European correspondent inquired. To this, Schinas responded: "We have never answered questions about speculations, nor do we imagine things.”

  • "It's of concern anywhere for a state to seek to deny the right of a people to democratically express their will" 

    Nicola Sturgeon · First Minister of Scotland

A call to the international community

In an article published today in the English newspaper The Guardian, Catalan president Carles Puigdemont described the current situation in Catalonia, which started Wednesday when paramilitary police induced “a de facto state of emergency” by arresting various high-ranking government officials and raiding government buildings, offices, and private homes.

He compared this situation to “the dark past” of Spain, adding that the situation would not occur in any other EU country.

Puigdemont went on to state that Catalonia has been requesting dialogue with Spain, but has instead received “police and judges” as a response. This, he believes, is a violation of the European charter of fundamental rights,” adding that the “EU itself” is based on these precepts. Catalan citizens, he continued, are peaceful as well as “European and open-minded,” willing to contribute to a better Europe.

He ended the letter by stating that the desire for a referendum will not be compromised on, refusing to give up. “Whatever the actions of the central government,” he finalized, the October 1 referendum will take place. He lastly called on the international community “to stand with Catalonia in its defense of democracy and true European values.” 

Support for Catalonia from the Baltics

Despite the European Commission refusing to voice its opinion, some members of the international community did indeed stand in support. Today, 5 Estonian MPs from both the ruling party and the opposition of the Baltic state sent a letter to Puigdemont and Rajoy.

The officials are part of an Estonian government association called ‘Support Catalonia,’ and “draw attention to specific issues, support or protect the interests of a narrower field,” according to the Estonian Parliament. The letter was signed by Erki Savisaar and Helmut Hallemaa of the ruling Estonian Centre Party (ALDE). Other officials who signed were Artur Talvik, Krista Aru and Andres Ammas of the opposition Estonian Free Party.

The letter stated that the five politicians were “extremely concerned” by the “show of force to solve political issues” adding that it “is not a feature of democracy.” The statement further said that “applying pressure and court punishments on a massive scale” to not only democratically elected officials but also “the media, and citizens” will “only demonstrate the inability or the unwillingness” of Spain to “find compromises.”

The politicians added that “democracy lives on dialogue,” adding that they “cannot understand” why the government in Madrid is “rigidly refusing” to engage. They further condemned “threats, sanctions, and consistent refusal of dialogue” which they said were “not attributes of the rule of law.” They additionally expressed that it was for politicians to solve political problems – “not the police or the judges.”

The letter ended by calling on the Spanish government to “finally” start a dialogue with both the Catalan authorities and people, in order to “find a peaceful solution that is based on mutual respect.”

Scotland stands with Catalonia

Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland and leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) spoke out today in a Scottish parliamentary session in Holyrood.

She validated the legitimacy of Spain to “oppose” Catalan independence, but added that it’s worthy of concern when a state, anywhere, seeks “to deny the right of a people to democratically express their will.”

Sturgeon declared the right to self-determination to be “an international principle” and that said that she very much hopes for it to be respected in Catalonia. She then offered the Edinburgh Agreement as a “shining example” to be used by the international community of two governments “with diametrically opposed views on independence,” but who still came together to “agree on a process that allowed people to decide.”

Scots for Catalonia

This intervention made by the Scottish Prime Minister follows a previous statement issued by the Cabinet Secretary for External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop. In this statement, Hyslop demands the respect for the right to self-determination in Catalonia.

Several deputies from Sturgeon’s party the SNP, also wrote a letter to European Council President Donald Tusk, demanding that he intervene in the Catalan situation.

Ex-First Minister of Scotland Alexander Salmond voiced his support in few – if powerful words, as well. On Twitter, he posed holding the Scottish newspaper ‘The National,’ which dedicated an entire page to the estelada Catalan independence flag and the word ‘yes,’ writing “I support Catalonia’s right to choose,” adding the hashtag #ScotsForCatalonia.

Edward Snowden voices his concern

Support for Catalonia also came from a name that, while not tied to any country, still holds much weight in the field of freedom: former CIA employee Edward Snowden.   

As a direct response to Carles Puigdemont’s article in the Guardian on Twitter, Snowden called “the Spanish crackdown on inconvenient speech, politics,” a “violation of human rights.” These human rights, he explained, are not “subordinate to politics” nor “gifts of law,” but instead “natural,” and inasmuch “no state may restrict them.”

He continued by detailing that the right to self-determination “cannot simply be outlawed” and that he feels Rajoy is “free to oppose Catalan independence,” but “through persuasion alone, not violence.” He additionally qualified “use of force to halt a vote” as “oppression.” “One can be against Catalan independence and still in favor of human rights,” he ended, “but one cannot be in favor of Rajoy's crackdown and say the same”


  • European Commission spokesperson, Margaritis Schinas (by EBS)

  • European Commission spokesperson, Margaritis Schinas (by EBS)