Tuesday

19th Feb 2019

Opinion

EU must find solutions for Catalonia

The Spanish Constitutional court prevented the Catalans from organising a legally binding referendum on independence. But on 27 September this year, elections in Catalonia were perceived as a de facto vote on Catalonia's relationship with Spain.

This resulted is an absolute majority of pro-independence seats in the Catalan Parliament despite a strongly scaremongering campaign and international pressure.

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  • Elections on 27 September resulted in an absolute majority of pro-independence seats in the Catalan Parliament (Photo: Helena Spongenberg)

The last example of this was the wrongly translated European Commission answer on the issue of future Catalan EU membership, a scandal which undermined our institutions' credibility.

As a Pro-European and supporter of a future European republic, my understanding of the "no comment" or "human error" answer is worrying.

I can understand the "Commission does not comment on internal affairs" position as a diplomatic way out of an uncomfortable question, but my hope is that officials of the Bureau of European Policy Advisors (BEPA) or elsewhere in the Berlaymont building are already dealing with the elephant in the room of Catalan (or Scottish for that matter) independence: How to handle the creation of a new state within a pre-existing EU member state to ensure business continuity and integration within the European system of governance.

As Edinburgh University law professor and MEP Neil MacCormick said in 1998, internal enlargement is something more than regular enlargement and it is not foreseen in the treaties, meaning that it is not explicitly allowed nor forbidden, which gives the European institutions margin for manoeuvre to ensure that a smooth transition can be planned to safeguard the rights of European citizens and businesses.

Should the EU fail to come up with effective solutions for Catalonia, some of our flagship achievements could be significantly imperilled.

In the one hand, the euro could enter into new turmoil: an economy of 7.5 million people would still be using the common currency, but outside of the supervision of the Central Bank and not subject to any other EU control mechanisms.

Schengen would also be in danger and this is in nobody's interest since Catalonia receives more than 14 million visitors every year.

No one has any interest either in re-establishing border controls, customs or import/export taxes, certainly not Spain, because it transports a significant bulk of goods through the Mediterranean corridor via Catalonia and up to France.

Finally, lest we forget the past sovereign debt crises. If Catalonia is considered a seceding state and not a succeeding state (to use the terminology of the Vienna convention on succession of states of 1978) it will not be subject to Spanish debt which would make it even more difficult for Spain to pay back.

Again, this would be on the table for discussion when negotiating the transition towards EU membership and it is in everyone's interest to solve this issue in the most equitable manner.

It's in the common interest of Catalans, Spanish and Europeans to facilitate a smooth transition when it comes to EU membership. Let's make it happen.

Ignasi Centelles is coordinator of "The Internal Enlargement of the European Union" a 2010 Centre Maurits Coppieters' Policy paper

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