Saturday

23rd Mar 2019

EU 'embarrassed' by Catalan 'taboo'

  • "We vote to be free," said supporters of the Catalan government in Barcelona. EU member states would prefer not to get involved. (Photo: Helena Spongenberg)

A day after Spanish forces raided regional ministries and a party HQ in Catalonia on Wednesday (20 September), in order to prevent an independence referendum on 1 October, the EU is still adopting a cautious stance.

"We are attached to the respect of the Spanish constitution, as of all member states' constitutions," European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas told journalists on Thursday.

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For the EU executive, he said, "all questions can be addressed within the constitutional order".

The spokesman, however, declined to answer a question on whether the commission "calls for a solution to be found within this framework."

He also refused to say whether the commission was ready to offer mediation.

In Brussels, the showdown between the Spanish and Catalan governments is being followed "with great, great concern," a top EU diplomat said on Thursday.

But the official said the situation was considered "a domestic issue of Spain", and that the EU "trusts in the democracy."

"If that is not a taboo, it looks like it very much," a source admitted to EUobserver.

"All member states are embarrassed - we don't want to get involved," he said, noting that no one wanted to appear as if to be acting against a fellow member state.

Calls to take a stand

On Wednesday, three Catalan MEPs in favour of independence - Greens Jordi Solé and Josep-Maria Terricabras, and liberal Ramon Tremosa - sent a letter to all EU commissioners. They called on "all the authorities of the institutions of the European Union to stand for the rights of Catalan people."

On Thursday, the leftist GUE/NGL group in the European Parliament, also called on the EU to "take a stand against Spanish government repression".

A second EU source told EUobserver that the commission doesn't want to be the first institution to take a position, while member states are still silent, and that it does not consider itself to have a role in initiating mediation or internal dialogue.

The commission's position "is not acceptable," Catalonia's representative to the EU, Amadeu Altafaj, said on Thursday.

"I sadly miss more constructive, responsible engagement by the European institutions, in particular from the European Commission," he said at a meeting with members of the Committee of the Regions, insisting on the commission's role as guardian of the EU treaties.

He said that he wrote on Wednesday to the commission's president and first vice president, Jean-Claude Juncker and Frans Timmermans, but that he was still waiting for a reply.

"I miss a minimum level of respect from the Catalan authorities from the European Commission," he said.

But ten days ahead of the planned referendum, some in Brussels expect that the atmosphere could change.

"What has to happen will happen," one of sources said, referring to a political initiative, in Spain or in the EU, to defuse tensions.

International mediation

"I've always said that the move will come from member states up to the institutions," a third source, who closely follows the situation, told EUobserver.

The official noted that member states may be less shy to put the situation in Spain on the agenda after Germany's elections have taken place on Sunday.

The Catalan government "would consider" international mediation "as an alternative solution to the lack of direct talks" with the Spanish government, said Altafaj at the Committee of Regions.

"The most obvious one is Europe. I would not like a non-European mediation," he said.

On Thursday, the Spanish government, the ruling centre-right Popular Party and the opposition Socialist Party said that they were ready for a dialogue with the Catalan government, but under the condition that it cancels the referendum.

But the day before, after the police raids, Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont said that "the Spanish government has crossed the red line that separated it from repressive authoritarian regimes and has become a democratic shame," and that he "will not turn back".

Spain arrests Catalan officials

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

Feature

Catalonia ponders independence 'leap of faith'

Ahead of a referendum on 1 October, Catalans are almost united on the need to go to the ballot box. But they are divided on the question, and uncertain about the result and the consequences.

Opinion

Time to de-escalate in Catalonia

Spain's apparent refusal even to allow for a dialogue on the referendum is giving the Catalan government less and less of an incentive to aim for a compromise.

Quiet showdown in Barcelona

Thousands of Catalans have taken to the streets, in protest against the Spanish government's efforts to prevent the independence referendum. Both sides know that violence would go against their cause.

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