Sunday

17th Dec 2017

Catalonia seeks EU support for secession vote

  • Puigdemont: "This is a European problem. And Europe cannot look the other way"

Catalan leaders came to the heart of the EU on Tuesday (24 January) to appeal for political support for an independence referendum they plan to organise this year.


"At the latest in September 2017, Catalonia will hold a binding independence referendum," said Carles Puigdemont, the president of Catalonia's government, in a speech at an event in the European Parliament.

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.

  • Junqueras: Catalonia's accession to the EU "has to be automatic" (Photo: Jordi Bedmar/ Government of Catalonia)

Puigdemont was in Brussels with his vice-president Oriol Junqueras and foreign minister Raul Romeva in an effort to set the European agenda on Catalonia at the start of the year, a Catalan official told EUobserver.

He said that Catalan separatists needed to make their voice heard in the EU because the terms of the debate were usually set by the Spanish government.

"This is a European problem. And Europe cannot look the other way," the Catalan leader said in his speech.

Puigdemont, Junqueras, and Romeva did not hold official talks with EU officials, but spoke in the EU parliament to appeal for EU support for the referendum in the hope that the Spanish government would bow to pressure to accept a political dialogue and subsequent vote.

So far, the Spanish government of prime minister Mariano Rajoy has said that a referendum on independence would be illegal. Next month, former Catalan leader Artur Mas will be face a court verdict for organising a consultation on the issue in 2014.

"We expect respect for democracy from the EU, for the votes of citizens and for democratic instruments, and a referendum is a democratic instrument," Junqueras told EUobserver in an interview.

The Catalan vice-president said that the government was "convinced that [it] can win the referendum" and that Catalonia can become an EU member "as a new republic in a process of internal enlargement of the EU".

"We are members of the European Union, we are European citizens and this process to incorporate Catalonia in EU institutions has to be automatic," he said.

He dismissed concerns that breaking up Spain at the time of Brexit and wider geopolitical uncertainties would create a crisis.


'Good news for the EU'

It would be "good news for the EU to have a society that is as pro-European and federalist as ours" joining the union, he said.

"It would be an opportunity to make a stronger Europe, a stronger democracy. It would be a guarantee for the rights of citizens in social, economic and political issues," he added.

"We think it is a way that Europe can follow if European institutions want to be closer to citizens," he said. "Democracy is always the way."

Junqueras, who holds the economy and treasury portfolio in the government, also dismissed concerns that an independence vote would threaten Spain’s economic recovery as well as Catalonia's growth - 3.4 percent in 2016.

"We've been in this process [towards independence] for several years and we have record exports, record foreign investment and record tourism," he said. "It's not true that democracy is a cause of uncertainties".

The government's vice-president insisted that the independence bid was "the extreme opposite to Brexit".

 Catalonia, he said, "wants to be a member of the EU. It wants more powerful common institutions, a more powerful commission or a common treasury to make the euro sustainable."

Junqueras did not want to say whether his government was working with Scotland, which could also organise an independence referendum next year if it cannot remain in the single market after the UK leaves the EU.

Working with the EU

"We respect the democratic way followed by the Scottish people," said Junqueras, whose party, the Republican Left of Catalonia, belongs to the same EU parliament group, the European Free Alliance, as the ruling Scottish National Party.

He noted that Scotland and Catalonia "work with the same goal”, but in a "parallel process" which amounted to “good news for the EU".

He said Catalonia wanted to "negotiate and work with EU institutions to have as much stability as possible" if the region choses to become independent.

In his EU parliament speech, Puigdemont also insisted that "if Catalonia becomes a new state, it will do so in the framework of the European Union".

"The first steps of the Catalan Republic will be taken according to the European rules. We do not consider any other scenario," he said.


The Catalan leader focused on the legal and moral right to vote on the region's future more than he defended the independence option itself.

He said that 80 percent of Catalans were in favour of calling a referendum and that 83 out of the 135 Catalan MPs elected in 2015 were either separatists or in favour of holding a popular vote on the issue.

The independence vote, which could be held before summer, will be preceded by a set of laws to be passed through the Catalan parliament to "prepare the structures and legislation that a state needs to act as an independent country" within the EU, he said.

'Orderly manner'

He said that the transition to eventual independence would take place "in an orderly manner, with legal certainty and with the maximum guarantees."

For the Catalan leadership, the main obstacles to the vote are the opposition of the Spanish government, the legal representative of an EU member state.

Speaking to EUobserver, a source close to the Catalan government admitted that the EU is "a club of member states" and that it was unlikely to put Barcelona’s interests before those of Madrid.


But he said that the Catalan government hoped that some EU leaders would discreetly advise Rajoy to stop "reading the [Spanish] constitution like the Qoran, like a dogma" and to open talks.

Spanish sensitivity to the Catalan issue could be felt in Brussels on Tuesday.

The vice-president of the centre-right EPP group in the EU parliament, Esteban Gonzalez Pons, wrote to his colleagues to ask them "as a friend" not to attend the Catalan event. 

He said that it would create the "false impression" that the parliament supported "this call for an illegal referendum".

Rajoy is also a member of the European People's Party, the group which currently holds the presidencies of the EU parliament, the European Commission, and the EU Council.

'No, no, no'

Puigdemont in his speech said that he wanted the referendum to be agreed on with the Spanish government.

"This proposal for dialogue and search for consensus will be open until the last day," he said, adding that he was ready to discuss "the date, the eligibility requirements [the necessary percentage for the winning option].”

For now, the Spanish government "always says no, no, no," vice-president Junqueras told EUobserver.

"It says to the linguistic question, no to questions about taxes [that Catalonia wants to levy]. No democracy. No vote. It's very difficult to speak with the Spanish government," he said.

"The Spanish government is very far from democratic practices in Europe," he added.

For Junqueras, "the best way to have the best possible relationship with Spain is between states that are equal in freedom."

He said that economic, emotional and linguistic links between the two entities would be "the best stimulus for Spain to accept the continuity of Catalonia in European institutions".

But in a democratic environment, the Catalan leaders cannot force Madrid to accept their referendum claim without some external support.

Their Brussels PR operation on Tuesday will be followed by more appeals to the EU in the hope for positive signals.

"If not, what is the way?" Junqueras said.

Catalan parliament backs independence vote

Lawmakers in Catalonia voted to set up a referendum for independence, next September, in defiance of Madrid and a recent constitutional court ruling.

Interview

Statehood is Catalonia's 'only option'

The new Catalan government wants independence from Spain, but it also wants to convince Europe it can be "an asset, not a problem", says its foreign minister Raul Romeva.

Migration looms over summit, as Africa pledges fall short

EU summit leaders on Thursday will not reach any deal on migration, while Italy and the Visegrad Group countries confront each other on the Trust Fund for Africa. The debate on internal EU asylum relocation, however, remains off the table.

Romania searching for EU respectability

Ten years after its accession and a year before holding the EU presidency, the fastest-growing EU economy wants to "engage" more with its partners. But concerns over the rule of law continue to give the country a bad image.

News in Brief

  1. EU adopts 'track-and-trace' tobacco system
  2. Luxembourg appeals Amazon tax decision
  3. EU leaders agree to open phase 2 of Brexit talks
  4. Juncker: May made 'big efforts' on Brexit
  5. Merkel took 'tough' line on Russia at EU summit
  6. EU leaders added line supporting 'two-state' solution
  7. EU leaders agree to 20 European Universities by 2024
  8. Belgian courts end legal proceedings against Puigdemont

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Dialogue PlatformThe Gülen Community: Who to Believe - Politicians or Actions?" by Thomas Michel
  2. Plastics Recyclers Europe65% plastics recycling rate attainable by 2025 new study shows
  3. European Heart NetworkCommissioner Andriukaitis' Address to EHN on the Occasion of Its 25th Anniversary
  4. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  5. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  6. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  8. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  9. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  10. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap
  11. European Friends of ArmeniaEU-Armenia Relations in the CEPA Era: What's Next?
  12. Mission of China to the EU16+1 Cooperation Injects New Vigour Into China-EU Ties

Latest News

  1. Catalonia, Brexit, and Uber on EU agenda This WEEK
  2. Macron and Merkel take tough line on Poland
  3. Eurozone future needs structural reforms, EU leaders told
  4. Showdown EU vote on asylum looking likely for next June
  5. EU stresses unity as it launches next phase of Brexit talks
  6. Polish PM ready for EU sanctions scrap
  7. Dutchman to lead powerful euro working group
  8. EU mulls post-Brexit balance of euro and non-eurozone states

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSUEU Blacklist of Tax Havens Is a Sham
  2. EU2017EERole of Culture in Building Cohesive Societies in Europe
  3. ILGA EuropeCongratulations to Austria - Court Overturns Barriers to Equal Marriage
  4. Centre Maurits CoppietersCelebrating Diversity, Citizenship and the European Project With Fundació Josep Irla
  5. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceUnderstanding the Social Consequences of Obesity
  6. Union for the MediterraneanMediterranean Countries Commit to Strengthening Women's Role in Region
  7. Bio-Based IndustriesRegistration for BBI JU Stakeholder Forum about to close. Last chance to register!
  8. European Heart NetworkThe Time Is Ripe for Simplified Front-Of-Pack Nutrition Labelling
  9. Counter BalanceNew EU External Investment Plan Risks Sidelining Development Objectives
  10. EU2017EEEAS Calls for Eastern Partnership Countries to Enter EU Market Through Estonia
  11. Dialogue PlatformThe Turkey I No Longer Know
  12. World Vision7 Million Children at Risk in the DRC: Donor Meeting to Focus on Saving More Lives

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSU-Eurelectric-IndustriAllElectricity European Social Partners Stand up for Just Energy Transition
  2. European Friends of ArmeniaSignature of CEPA Marks a Fresh Start for EU-Armenia Relations
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Energy Ministers Pledge to Work More Closely at Nordic and EU Level
  4. European Friends of ArmeniaPresident Sargsyan Joined EuFoA Honorary Council Inaugural Meeting
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsEU Leaders Should Press Azerbaijan President to End the Detention of Critics
  6. CECEKey Stakeholders to Jointly Tackle the Skills Issue in the Construction Sector
  7. European Friends of ArmeniaLaunch of Honorary Council on the Occasion of the Eastern Partnership Summit and CEPA
  8. EPSUStudy Finds TUNED and Employers in Central Governments Most Representative
  9. Mission of China to the EUAmbassador Zhang Ming Received by Tusk; Bright Future for EU-China Relations
  10. EU2017EEEstonia, With the ECHAlliance, Introduces the Digital Health Society Declaration
  11. European Jewish CongressEJC to French President Macron: We Oppose All Contact With Far-Right & Far-Left
  12. ACCASmall and Medium Sized Practices Must 'Offer the Whole Package'