Monday

18th Dec 2017

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.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

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 help independent media in Ukraine

Some seven journalists have been killed in Ukraine since the pro-EU uprising of 2014 - with elections looming in 2019, next year looks like another dangerous year for reporters covering Kiev.

Iceland: further from EU membership than ever

With fewer pro-EU MPs in the Iceland parliament than ever before, any plans to resume 'candidate' membership of the bloc are likely to remain on ice, as the country prioritises national sovereignty and a more left-wing path.

News in Brief

  1. EU-UK Brexit trade deal by January 2021, official says
  2. Bitcoin is 'deadly', Danish central bank warns
  3. EU Commission wants to ban 'legal weed'
  4. France files €10m complaint against Amazon
  5. EU negotiators reach deal on 'circular economy'
  6. Poll: Tight race in Catalonia days before elections
  7. EU: Israel built 8,000 settler homes in six months
  8. China agrees to promote London as centre for yuan

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceA New Study Challenges the Infrastructure Mega Corridors Agenda
  2. Dialogue PlatformThe Gülen Community: Who to Believe - Politicians or Actions?" by Thomas Michel
  3. Plastics Recyclers Europe65% plastics recycling rate attainable by 2025 new study shows
  4. European Heart NetworkCommissioner Andriukaitis' Address to EHN on the Occasion of Its 25th Anniversary
  5. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  6. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  7. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  8. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  9. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  10. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  11. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap
  12. European Friends of ArmeniaEU-Armenia Relations in the CEPA Era: What's Next?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EU16+1 Cooperation Injects New Vigour Into China-EU Ties
  2. EPSUEU Blacklist of Tax Havens Is a Sham
  3. EU2017EERole of Culture in Building Cohesive Societies in Europe
  4. ILGA EuropeCongratulations to Austria - Court Overturns Barriers to Equal Marriage
  5. Centre Maurits CoppietersCelebrating Diversity, Citizenship and the European Project With Fundació Josep Irla
  6. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceUnderstanding the Social Consequences of Obesity
  7. Union for the MediterraneanMediterranean Countries Commit to Strengthening Women's Role in Region
  8. Bio-Based IndustriesRegistration for BBI JU Stakeholder Forum about to close. Last chance to register!
  9. European Heart NetworkThe Time Is Ripe for Simplified Front-Of-Pack Nutrition Labelling
  10. Counter BalanceNew EU External Investment Plan Risks Sidelining Development Objectives
  11. EU2017EEEAS Calls for Eastern Partnership Countries to Enter EU Market Through Estonia
  12. Dialogue PlatformThe Turkey I No Longer Know