Thursday

23rd May 2019

EU Commission's credibility eroding, says Catalonia

  • Protests against Spanish police violence are set to unfold on Tuesday in Catalonia (Photo: Nicolas Carvalho Ochoa/dpa)

Catalonia's top envoy to the European Union says the credibility and the reputation of the European Commission has eroded in the wake of an independence from Spain bid on Sunday.

"Speaking about violence in general but not specifying what kind of violence and who is mainly responsible for this violence and drawing political conclusions from it, is disappointing," Amadeu Altafaj told reporters on Monday (2 October).

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The EU commission had released a statement on Monday, a day after Catalonia's referendum poll, amid scenes of Spanish riot police beating people attempting to vote in Barcelona and elsewhere in the region.

The commission statement noted that "violence can never be an instrument in politics" without specifying who was behind it. Catalonia says 893 people had been injured, some seriously.

When pressed by reporters, the EU commission's chief spokesperson Margaritis Schinas refused to speculate, calling instead for dialogue.

Catalonia is set for massive demonstrations on Tuesday to protest, among other things, police violence.

Altafaj is himself an ex-senior European Commission official.

Between 2012 to 2014, he was the deputy head of cabinet of Olli Rehn, at the time vice-president and EU commissioner of economic and monetary affairs. He was also an EU commission spokesperson and skilled at defending the commission's views.

Schinas and Martin Selmayr, EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker's powerful German head of cabinet, were his close colleagues.

"We know each other, I think that at the personal level they are correct, but they haven't so far met my expectation in terms of at least gathering information in order to enrich their reporting to their political master," said Altafaj.

He said that he knows "positively" that some EU commissioners do not feel at ease with the statement read out by Schinas.

He noted his own efforts around noon on Sunday to get the EU commission to issue a statement or a call of restraint against the use of force were also rebuffed.

Altafaj then described Juncker's commission as weak, noting that the European Union remains a private club with extra perks for the biggest member states such as Spain.

"This commission is not a strong as it pretends to be," he said.

He also said that the Commission, along with the Council, representing member states, and European Parliament are all headed by centre-right EPP loyalists.

Altafaj's comments follows statements released earlier in the day by Catalan president Carles Puigdemont.

Puigdemont is asking for international mediation and is hoping the EU steps in to fill the role. But the EU is unlikley to respond, given the broader political sensitivities.

Parliament's reluctant debates

The European parliament in Strasbourg will debate Catalonia on Wednesday.

But the centre-right EPP, the largest group in the EU Parliament and the political family of Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy, accepted the debate under the condition that it doesn't focus on police violence.

The debate was asked by the leftist GUE/NGL and Greens groups, joined by the liberal Alde, the Socialists & Democrats (S&D) and the EPP.

"We can ask Europe not to turn a blind eye to the police violence that we've seen [on Sunday]," said Ska Keller, co-chair of the Green group.

The principle of the debate, which was rejected last week by the parliament's two main groups, the S&D and the EPP, was adopted under the pressure of Sunday's images and after negotiations between political groups.

"There are fundamental principles which we feel should be respected," EPP French MEP Francoise Grossetete said. "The rule of law must enforced and must be respected."

The debate will therefore be held under a broad title, which was agreed as a compromise between the EPP, the S&D and Alde: "Constitution, rule of law and fundamental rights in Spain in the light of the events of Catalonia."

"I'm a bit embarrassed with this Catalonia thing, because I cannot see clearly what the positions are," an EPP source told EUobserver after the group accepted the debate.

"We are happy," a GUE spokeswoman told EUobserver.

"But we would have liked that the title highlighted the state's repression against the people which is an aspect the EU has remained largely silent about."

Catalonia's separatists claim victory after violent day

"The citizens of Catalonia have won the right to an independent state," the region's leader, Carles Puigdemont, said at the end of a day marked by Spanish police violence inside and outside polling stations.

Catalonia to declare independence in a few days

Spain's king, Felipe VI, said Catalonia's leaders were breaking up the country's unity as hundreds of thousands of Catalans rallied against police violence at Sunday's referendum.

Key details on how Europeans will vote

It's one of the biggest democratic exercises in the world with over 400 million eligible voters. National rules apply, and national parties run, but the stakes are at European level.

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