What happens in Catalonia, doesn’t stay in Catalonia

Last Sunday, the pro-independence parties in Catalonia won the regional elections. But right before this important day, not was only Catalonia the place to be. Also Brussels, as the heart of the European Union, was sometimes the center of attention concerning the possible independence.

Catalonia, the wealthiest region of Spain, has been one of the most discussed regions in Europe for the last few months. At the end of September, more than one million Catalans were demonstrating in the streets of Barcelona, asking for independence. The president of this region, Artur Mas (CiU), called earlier elections to enforce a possible referendum. If the pro-independence parties get majority, a referendum could be held in the next four years. But the Spanish government in Madrid never agreed to this. They still assume that only the national government is able to organize a referendum, not the Catalan government.

Controversy

In Brussels, the clash between Catalan and Spanish MEP’s was also visible. It all began at the end of September with a statement by the European Parliament’s vice-president, Alejo Vidal-Quadras, which caused a lot of controversy. He stated that military intervention by the Spanish army would be necessary if there would be a referendum. Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, was far from pleased with this personal expression. He refused to take any further measures and continued to state that the Catalan voters were the ones to judge Vidal-Quadras. But the vice-president of the European Parliament didn’t change his point of view. He kept on defending Spain’s unity, and concluded that asking for independence has nothing to do with democracy or peace.

Catalan MEP’s are thinking in a different way. After the controversial expression by Vidal-Quadras, four Catalan MEP’s wrote a letter to Viviane Reding, the European Commission’s vice-president. They asked if the Commission could tell Spain it can’t use military force to stop the actions in Catalonia. One of the MEP’s was a member of the Greens-EFA. This group stands for self-determination, and defends possible independence.

Judicial arguments

Jordi Bacardit, political adviser on foreign affairs for the Greens-EFA (European Parliament), commented on this issue. He assumes that in Brussels and especially in the European Parliament, two big issues will be about the possible independence. First of all, there’s the question “If Catalonia would become independent, would it remain a member of the EU or not”? The second discussion has to do with judicial arguments from different MEP’s.

He explains: “We as the Greens-EFA group stand for self-determination. Regions should decide on their own what’s best for them. We support the independence of Catalonia, if the Catalan citizens vote for it.  To defend our position, we use the principle of democracy. So all the Treaties should be interpreted according to democracy.” But Spanish MEP’s, who are against this independence, come up with other arguments.

Bacardit continues: “According to article 4.2 in the Treaty of Maastricht, the Spanish constitution says that national sovereignty resides in Spain, not in Catalonia. According to that, a referendum on independence in Catalonia would be illegal.” This legal debate doesn’t seem to have an end. Both sides are defending themselves very well, based on real arguments. Only the Catalan citizens could bring more clearness, and so they did last Sunday. The majority of the citizens voted for pro-independence parties.

New and federal Europe

As the elections were coming closer, even more events were held in Brussels concerning the independence. On 7 November, Artur Mas, the president of Catalonia, came to Brussels to hold a debate about this topic. It was organized by Friends of Europe, an independent think tank, which is not led by any European institution.

 

Frederica Torcoli (Office Manager, Friends of Europe) commented: “As an independent think tank we hold many discussions of this kind to spur debate and reflection on key questions on Europe’s landscape.  We welcome all kinds of thinkers, policymakers and politicians, but we do not ourselves take sides.” One day before the debate, she added: “We are welcoming Artur Mas as an important European politician, and we are hoping for an interesting and animated debate, with many comments and questions from the audience.”

In his speech, Mas stressed that Catalonia is a role player in the construction of a new, federal Europe. He explained: “I am proposing real European integration. For us, the Catalans, the border has never been a defining element of our identity and neither do we want to build new borders.”

One ‘independent’ voice

In the last three months, Brussels was more than ever involved in Catalonia. Discussions, debates, open letters, etc. But Bacardit stated that the European Union actually just needed to wait and see: “It’s up to the Catalan citizens now. After the elections, real decisions will be taken and then, the European Union can come up with negotiations and solutions.”

As it’s clear now, the pro-independence parties got a majority in the regional parliament. But new challenges will come.  First of all, a referendum needs to be accepted by the Spanish constitution. Secondly, CiU, the conservative right-wing party of Artur Mas, lost 12 seats, while left-wing parties like the ERC were the winners on the day. They all want independence for Catalonia, but they have different opinions on social-economic issues. Now it’s up to them to create one ‘independent’ voice.