Catalan leader asks EU for answers on independence
By Honor Mahony
Catalan leader Artur Mas on Wednesday (7 November) challenged the EU's ambivalence on the rise of regionalism in the Union by saying it would be "illogical" not to accept small, rich, pro-EU Catalonia as an automatic future member if it splits from Spain.
Mas, who is hoping that a 25 November election in Catalonia will give him a mandate to begin moving toward independence, said the northern Spanish region already meets criteria for EU membership.
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"The will of the Catalan people is to continue joining the European Union and the euro," he told a meeting organised by the Friends of Europe, a Brussels-based think tank.
"The question will be if the EU is prepared to offer solutions to countries such as Catalonia, that have the will to be in Europe, that have the same rights as European citizens and that ... only to change their political status."
It is a question EU leaders do not much like.
The break-up of a member state into different parts - as could also happen with the UK and Scotland or Belgium and Flanders - would put the Union into new territory in political and legal terms.
The central issue is whether the new entity would have to formally reapply for EU membership or would automatically become a member state.
More broadly, there is uncertainty in Brussels on whether the rise of regions spells a bright new future for the EU or rather its demise.
For Mas, there are two options for Catalonia, depending on how the EU itself develops.
If it becomes a united states of Europe, with a fully federalised government, then Catalonia could eventually be one of as many as 75 mini-states making up the union.
If it remains - which Mas believes it will - as something less than the US model, but more than a loose gathering of national states, then Catalonia's "aspiration is to have the same tools as Denmark, Austria and Finland" with which to determine its future.
Mas indicated that small states - such as Nordic and Baltic countries - have led European economic recovery, as they are more "efficient, homogenous and governable."
He added that Catalonia would be painless for the EU to take in - it is well-off (it would be the 7th richest in terms of GDP per capita among member states) and it would be a net contributor to the EU budget.
Its 7.5 million inhabitants would also rank it 16th in population terms, while its geographical size would make it the 23rd biggest among member states.
"It would be not very evident for a country like Catalonia - that belongs to the European Union, that fulfils the commitments and the roles and is a net contributor - why the European Union would take a decision to take us out. It would not be very logical," Mas said.
The liberal nationalist denied that Catalonia simply wants to keep its riches to itself rather than to show solidarity to poorer parts of Spain. However, he did point out that the 8 percent of GDP it transfers to fellow Spaniards is more than Bavaria - Germany's richest and transfer-fed-up region - sends to Berlin.
If Mas' Convergence and Union Party win in the 25 November elections, the Catalan leader will take it as a green light to pursue independence.
The "final step" in the process would be a referendum.
Asked if he had any allies among other EU leaders - silent on the issue so far - for his separatist pursuits, he replied: "Our friends are all the people who love democracy."