23rd Mar 2018

MEPs to show understanding for Rajoy at Catalonia debate

  • By sending the Guardia Civil into polling stations in Catalonia, Rajoy "fell into the trap set by the separatists". (Photo: European Parliament)

MEPs will discuss the Catalan crisis on Wednesday (4 October) amid continued unease at the Spanish government's controversial handling of the separatist push in the region.

The emergency debate was first called by the Greens and the leftist GUE/NGL groups as a reaction to police violence during Sunday's independence referendum.

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  • European Parliament president Antonio Tajani cancelled all media appearances during the plenary session. (Photo: European Parliament)

It was accepted by the parliament's main groups, the centre-right EPP and the centre-left S&D, under the condition that it also covers respect for the law.

"Once we agreed on the principle, the whole negotiation was about the title," a source told EUobserver.

The scope of Wednesday's debate is to be framed under the title "Constitution, rule of law and fundamental rights in Spain in the light of the events of Catalonia".

On one side, parties that have country leaders among their ranks - the EPP, the S&D and to a certain extent the liberal Alde - have been careful not to put pressure on a fellow EU leader.

On the other side, the Greens and the GUE/NGL insisted on including 'fundamental rights' in the title.

"We all live in a great spirit of compromise. The title now includes fundamental rights and that is what we wanted," Ska Keller, co-chair of the Green group, told EUobserver. "With that title we can do a lot of things."

Keller said in a press briefing that the EU "should not turn a blind eye" to violence and that the Commission "should promote dialogue and offer its services as mediator".

The debate, however, will not be followed by a parliament resolution that could have put pressure on Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish prime minister.

"The debate is already extremely helpful," Keller said, adding that she was "not sure" that a resolution would have had "extra value".

"The message has to be clear that we want the Commission to offer a mediation. The message also needs to be that this is a political conflict that can only be solved by political means," she said.

'The Commission is not part of this situation'

The Commission will be represented by its first vice-president, Frans Timmermans, who is in charge of fundamental rights.

Timmermans is expected to repeat the EU executive's position carefully crafted in a statement on Monday, where it called on "all relevant players to now move very swiftly from confrontation to dialogue" and expressed "trust" in Rajoy's "leadership to manage this difficult process in full respect of the Spanish Constitution".

"The European Commission is not part of this situation," vice-president Jyrki Katainen said on Tuesday, after the EU commissioners discussed the situation at their weekly college meeting.

"We just took stock of what happened," Katainen told journalists

Manfred Weber, the leader of the EPP group, Rajoy's political family, is also likely to reject any idea of a Commission mediation.

He said on Tuesday that it was "tragic that there was an escalation surrounding the illegal referendum", adding that "the rule of law is vital" in the EU and that "it has to prevail".

Weber will be the EPP speaker in Wednesday's debate. He will insist on the need to defend Spain's constitutional order and "debunk the separatists' lie" than an independent Catalonia would automatically join the EU, according to a EPP source.

The S&D will criticise Rajoy but not call for an outright condemnation of his strategy.

On Tuesday, the S&D group leader Gianni Pitella said that "Rajoy showed he was not up to the job to prevent escalation". But he also said that the "irresponsible" and "illegal" referendum "poured oil on the flames of a nationalist approach".

He said that the debate would be to "send a clear call to the regional Catalan government to return to the legal path and to the central government to begin dialogue with all political forces involved".

Problem of personalities

Pitella noted that the EU Parliament will not be "imposing anything" on the Spanish government or the Catalan leaders.

"We don't have the power to do that, nor do we have the desire," he said. "We're talking about issuing a call."

Iratxe Garcia, from the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE), the main opposition party to Rajoy, will speak in the name of the S&D in addition to Pittella.

She will regret the excessive force used by the police and call for dialogue and willingness to live together, but she will also insist on the need to go back to legality and to the rule of law, according to a S&D group source.

Some MEPs in the group have been in favour of a EU mediation, while others consider that the Catalan crisis is a domestic issue and a question of national sovereignty.

"The problem is the personality" of Rajoy and Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, Eric Andrieu, a Socialist MEP from Narbonne in the French Catalan region, told EUobserver. "They cannot [do] dialogue or listen to each other."

He said that even if Rajoy is "in a strategy of doing an act of authority", he could "understand why the Commission says that he defends the law and is a legitimate chief of the executive."

The liberal Alde group is also split between MEPs who insist on the respect of the law and others who became more symphathic to the Catalan separatists' cause after seeing the images of police violence last Sunday, a source told EUobserver.

Inside the group, the Catalan MEP Ramon Tremosa is a long-time staunch defender of the region's independence.

Separatist trap

On Sunday, the group's leader Guy Verhofstadt condemned the "disproportionate violence" as well as the "so-called referendum" and called for dialogue. He is expected to repeat this position during the debate.

By sending the Guardia Civil against the polling stations in Catalonia, Rajoy "fell into the trap set by the separatists", a source in Rajoy's EPP family admitted.

Tajani cancels press conference

In a sign of the EPP's nerves, European Parliament president Antonio Tajani cancelled his press briefing on Tuesday as well as other meetings with journalists until at least Wednesday evening.

But the majority of MEPs, like EU leaders, will avoid making the Catalan crisis an EU problem.

"Give me the name of the one who will raise the issue" at the EU summit in two weeks in Brussels, an EU source told this website.

EU Commission's credibility eroding, says Catalonia

A former commission official who now represents the Catalan government says some European commissioners do not agree with the EU commission's official statement on Catalonia's bid for independence from Spain.

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.

EU urges Spanish and Catalan leaders to talk

MEPs and the European Commission have called on Mariano Rajoy and Carles Puigdemont to "sit together" and find a way out of the crisis over the push for the region's independence, and ruled out any mediation.


Commission employs double standards in Spain

The European Commission seems to accept Madrid's line on judicial independence and the constitution - whilst pushing Poland hard on the same issue.


The populists may have won, but Italy won't leave the euro

The situation as Rome tries to form a government is turbulent and unpredictable. However, the most extreme eurosceptic policies floated during the election campaign are unlikely to happen - not least due to the precarious state of the Italian banks.


Why has central Europe turned so eurosceptic?

Faced with poorer infrastructure, dual food standards and what can seem like hectoring from western Europe it is not surprising some central and eastern European member states are rebelling.

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