Recap! How did the EU, if at all, respond to the Catalonian Referendum?
— Donald Tusk (@eucopresident) 10 oktober 2017
Three days after the ―constitutionally unlawful ― referendum on Catalonian independence, the European Parliament discussed the situation. Apart from a statement by Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, this discussion represents the last public statement by the EU on the referendum. While TOC awaits further news from Brussels, let’s recap the EU’s position.
Firstly, there is the 2 October press statement. This states, that for the European Commission, the referendum on Catalonia is an internal matter. Besides the, less relevant and obligatory statements to go ‘from confrontation to dialogue’, the central message of the statement is that:
“If a referendum were to be organised in line with the Spanish Constitution it would mean that the territory leaving would find itself outside of the European Union. Beyond the purely legal aspects of this matter, the Commission believes that these are times for unity and stability, not divisiveness and fragmentation.“
During his opening speech for European Parliament, First Vice-President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, repeated this point:”Respect for the rule of law is not optional: it is fundamental. If the law does not give you what you want, you can oppose the law, you can work to change the law, but you cannot ignore the law.” Afterwards, he continued by laying out what the EU sees as the way forward:
“As the Commission has stated, under the Spanish Constitution Sunday’s vote in Catalonia was not legal. Looking ahead, it is clear that an agreed way forward is needed in Spain. In the Commission’s view, as President Juncker has reiterated repeatedly, this is an internal matter for Spain that has to be dealt in line with the constitutional order of Spain. That is why the Commission has called on all relevant parties to move quickly now from confrontation to dialogue. The power of dialogue – of sitting down and talking to each other even if, and especially when, we passionately disagree – is what our Union is built on. All lines of communication must stay open. It is time to talk, to find a way out of the impasse, while working within the constitutional order of Spain.“
Both speakers after Timmermans, Manfred Weber, on behalf of the PPE Group, and Gianni Pittella, on behalf of the S&D Group, essentially make the same point: the referendum was illegal, and only served to ‘put oil on the fire’. The EU has no reason to meddle in the internal affairs of the politics of a ‘liberal‘ democracy such as Spain. Both stress the need for dialogue, without developing on either the illegality of the referendum, or the Spanish response to it.
Guy Verhofstadt, on behalf of the ALDE Group, was strongest in his condemnation of the referendum – even if he is also the only one who seemingly does welcome Catalan independence. It is just a shame that he is also a touch paranoid:
“No, what we need is a renewed political vision, an inclusive dialogue, a vision that the future and the interest of all people living in Spain lies in a multicultural, multilingual, federal state embedded in a multicultural, multilingual, federal Europe. (…) The point is that this referendum simply lacked basic democratic legitimacy. You knew very well in advance that a majority of Catalans would not participate and would stay at home, as the majority of them are against separation. It is not by accident that you did not even install a minimum threshold. So the result of this referendum was already known before it began. What do you call this? Manipulation? Deception? (…) Moreover, to declare independence based on the outcome of a defective referendum is totally irresponsible, not so much for Spain, not so much for Europe, but for Catalonia itself. It will cause a fatal fracture in your society, a fracture that may be impossible to heal. Who is going to profit from this gamble? The anti-Europeans who, as we know, want to destroy our union and who have already started to abuse your cause and violate our treaties today.“
Of course, no examples of those dastardly anti-Europeans and their violations are given.
Serious accusations in the direction of the EU are levelled by later speakers. Patrick Le Hyaric, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group, claims that had events of Sunday taken place in any far-off country,
“all the European leaders would have protested against the head of the government responsible for these acts, asked to put this country at the ban of the nations and what else, maybe asked for an economic blockade.“
Raymond Finch, on behalf of the EFDD Group, was equally strong in his condemnation, saying that:
“The fact that the EU’s institutions and its leaders have failed to recognise the human rights abuses which have taken place and have instead focused merely on legalistic verbiage shows how shallow the foundations of this project really are. Any ruling order that can condone acts of state violence has no popular legitimacy. Those Catalans who have looked to the EU for succour will be sorely disappointed.“
But the prize for ‘creeping barrage, followed by all-out-assault over a broad front’ goes to Marcel de Graaff, on behalf of the ENF Group. De Graaff starts by pointing out that in July, the European Commission and European Parliament:
“threatened Poland with the withdrawal of voting rights because of legislation on the judiciary. The Commission and Parliament opposed amendments to the Constitution of Hungary, which included the organisation of public broadcasters. The Commission and this Parliament are fully at ease with the condemnation of laws and constitutions of democratic states when they do not obey the diktats of Brussels.“
De Graaff follows by pointing out what he believes to be “the hypocrisy of this Commission“, namely the application of a double standard:
“For Spain, national sovereignty and the primacy of the Constitution apply. For Poland and Hungary, they do not. This EU is indeed a community of values: of double values and double standards.“
De Graaff posits the hypothesis that instead of 800 Catalans, 800 illegal immigrants were to be beaten up and what the EU’s reaction would have been in that case. He suggests that Timmermans would “explode in anger and that Parliament would demand immediate action. He closes by stating:
“Equality and respect are not a right only for Europhiles and globalists: they are a right for all citizens in the EU. They should start acting accordingly.“
Apparently, he hit a nerve, as the official report of the debate makes the dry, if somewhat childish note: “(Applause from certain quarters)” It’s the little things, really.
In a final response, Timmermans claims to ‘detect’ in some speeches, the ‘portrayal’ of democracy as a tool to be used against the rule of law. Because he doesn’t actually gives names, nor really engages with any of the arguments actually made, it remains a mystery what he is talking about.
For now, the most recent public statement made on the issue, as mentioned, is from Tusk, made hours before the Catalan government was to issue a statement. Talking, fittingly, to the European Committee of the Regions, Tusk said:
“Before you start the debate, allow me – at this extraordinary time for Catalonia and the whole of Spain – to address in your presence the President of the Generalitat de Catalunya, Mr Carles Puigdemont, shortly before his speech. I appeal to you not only as the President of the European Council, but also as a strong believer in the motto of the EU: “United in diversity”, as a member of an ethnic minority and a regionalist, as a man who knows what it feels like to be hit by a police baton. And as a former prime minister of a big European country. In brief, as someone who understands and feels the arguments and emotions of all sides.“