Thursday

19th Jul 2018

Opinion

Time to de-escalate in Catalonia

  • Catalan and Spanish leaders Carles Puigdemont (l) and Mariano Rajoy (r). Currently, the situation is headed for escalation, with neither side willing to budge. (Photo: president.cat)

Tensions have reached a boiling point in Catalonia. Following the Catalan Parliament's call for a referendum, to be held on 1 October, the Spanish government has ramped up repression to long-forgotten levels, using its military police to raid several Catalan government buildings and arrest public officials.

Spain's military had not forcefully entered Catalan institutions since the times of the Civil War. The Catalan leader, Carles Puigdemont, has vowed to press on with the vote, and has expressed concern that Spain is de facto suspending Catalan autonomy.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... our join as a group

The Spanish Constitutional Court has so far sided with the prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, and suspended the newly passed Catalan referendum law. Catalan politicians are now facing fines, public office bans and even prison.

Meanwhile, the Spanish military police are on a hunt to find and confiscate the ballot boxes that the Catalan government recently purchased to use in the referendum.

Referendum materials such as pro-independence posters, ballots, and websites have been seized as well. Spain has also repeatedly threatened to withhold federal funding to Catalonia, tightening its financial stranglehold over the region.

The Catalan response has been to send a letter to king Felipe VI, with Rajoy in cc, with "a call for dialogue in order to figure out how [the parties] can come to an agreement so that Catalans may vote in a referendum".

The letter was signed by Puigdemont, mayor of Barcelona Ada Colau, Catalan vice-president Oriol Junqueras, and president of the Catalan parliament Carme Forcadell. Several pro-independence organisations have called for peaceful demonstrations all around Catalonia.

The Spanish crackdown has garnered attention from a number of well-known and influential anti-establishment figures.

In an interview with the Spanish Huffington Post, Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek minister of finance, declared his support for Catalan self-determination and repeatedly castigated Madrid for blocking all efforts toward sorganising a vote.

Assange and Rajoy

Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, went on a tweet storm on the night of 11 September, in support of Catalan independence, and said that "on 1 October, Europe will witness the birth of a nation of 7.5 million people or a civil war."

Assange in particular has thrown his weight behind more or less every attempt to change the West's geopolitical map, including Scottish independence, Brexit, Catalan independence and (albeit tentatively) the Yes California Independence Campaign, which eyes the secession of California from the United States.

Whether Assange supports these causes coherently, inspired by a deep-seated mistrust of governmental overreach, or throws his weight behind any movement with potential to destabilise the West is as yet unclear.

This type of support for Catalan independence might be more of a curse than a blessing, as it can provide ammunition to those who oppose it. Mariano Rajoy used the looming Brexit negotiations as a mallet with which to pummel his Catalan adversaries.

"Brexit will have dreadful consequences for the British people and for the rest of Europe, despite its being carried out via a set legal process. For this reason, we need to be clear on what the impact would be on Catalonia if it secedes from Spain", he said.

Rajoy is trying to lump together Brexit and Catalan independence in the minds of Europeans. Brexit is disastrously unpopular pretty much everywhere outside of the UK, and if a Europe-wide free association exercise puts Catalan independence and Brexit under the same banner, Catalonia will be worse off for it.

Diplomatic solution

In this sense, Rajoy and Assange et al are turning the independence referendum into an establishment versus anti-establishment showdown, with unpredictable and potentially perilous consequences.

In our view, the Spanish state has repeatedly exercised a serious overreach of its powers. In its apparent non-negotiable refusal even to allow for a dialogue on the referendum, it is giving the Catalan government less and less of an incentive to aim for a compromise.

Currently, the situation is headed for escalation, with neither side willing to budge.

The Spanish government's actions, particularly on Wednesday (20 September), have exacerbated rather than alleviated the situation. In this light, the Catalan proposal for dialogue seems imminently reasonable.

We respectfully, but pressingly, call on Mariano Rajoy to be open to a diplomatic solution and de-escalate the situation.

Jon Roozenbeek is a PhD-student at the Department of Slavonic Studies at the University of Cambridge. He previously worked as a journalist and editor in the Netherlands, and now studies Ukraine's post-conflict media landscape and online social movements.

EU 'embarrassed' by Catalan 'taboo'

Faced with the growing tension between the Spanish and Catalan governments, the member states and EU institutions would prefer not to get involved.

Spain arrests Catalan officials

Armed Spanish police have arrested Catalan officials and seized ballots for an independence referendum, prompting appeals for EU help.

EU must create safe, legal pathways to Europe

As the rapporteur for the European Parliament on an EU regulation on resettlement, my colleagues and I have outlined an effective plan based on solidarity and humanitarian principles.

How the World Cup exposed Russian chauvinism

The suggestion that Russians themselves play a role in the condition of their state today is often dismissed as "xenophobic" or "Russophobic". But if not addressed, the evils of nationalism, chauvinism, and imperialism will continue even after Putin is gone.

News in Brief

  1. Trump threatens EU over Google fine
  2. Spain withdraws arrest warrant for Catalan separatists
  3. EU readies counter-measures on possible US car tariffs
  4. EU Commission launches probe into Hungary's 'Stop Soros' law
  5. EU warns Turkey on anti-terror bill
  6. Report: EU secretly scorns UK's Brexit paper
  7. Hungary: UN treaty could 'inspire millions' of migrants
  8. Nato reacts after Trump disparages Montenegro

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  2. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  4. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  6. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  8. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  9. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  11. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  12. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  2. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  4. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  5. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  7. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and Reconciliation Is a Process That Takes Decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  8. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  9. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  10. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  12. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us