Catalan dilemma of European Union

Catalan dilemma of European Union

The Catalan independence referendum, which has recently become the main topic on Europe's political agenda, firmly set aside the topic of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa, Brexit, French President Macron's proposals for reforming the EU, and tense relations with Turkey. European politicians and the media are now focused on the explosive situation that arose in Spain after Catalonia's unconstitutional independence referendum.

Brussels understands that the Catalan referendum can have dangerous and unpredictable consequences for the EU and potentially provoke a parade of similar cases throughout Europe. Here it would be good to remind ourselves of the Corsican separatists in France, Italy's Northern League party, or the Flemish separatism in Belgium. On the other hand, the EU's passive position on the crisis flaring up in Spain also undermines its already inadequate reputation - the European Union is regularly reproached for inaction and ineffectiveness in resolving crisis situations. If tomorrow Spane's police and, possibly, army starts rigidly restoring the constitutional order in Catalonia with the tacit consent of the EU, it will be a strong blow to the union's basis of liberal values.

The extreme degree of anxiety in Brussels over the situation is evidenced by European commissioner Gunther Oettinger's words, who warned the parties against a dramatic escalation. "The situation is very, very disturbing. A civil war in planned in the middle of Europe," he said during the discussions in Munich. "One can only hope that a conversation will be made between Madrid and Barcelona soon," Oettinger said, stressing that the European Union would only intervene "if asked".

Member of the European Parliament Elmar Brock also raised concern that if the Catalan regional government declares independence on Monday, "civil war-like conflicts" will begin in the region. Like Oettinger, Brok opposes the EU mediation mission in the conflict between Spain and the regional government of Catalonia, because at the moment there is no agreement of both sides with such an idea. Finally, on Wednesday, Vice-President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans formulated the position of Brussels more clearly: "For the European Union this is an internal matter for Spain."

Meanwhile, the Catalan authorities want the EU to act as an intermediary in their conflict with the Spanish government. Even before the referendum, the President of the Generalitat of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, spoke in favor of Brussels's help to restore deteriorating relations with Spain, regardless of the outcome of the referendum. The same appeal to the EU was also addressed by the Mayor of Barcelona Ada Colau.

The Spanish government, however, firmly rejects the possibility of an EU mediation mission. "The government will not negotiate over anything illegal and will not accept blackmail,"  said a statement from Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's office. Negotiations will be started only when the Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemon abandons his desire for independence.

"If Mr. Puigdemont wants to talk or negotiate, or wants to send mediators, he knows perfectly well what he must do first: return to the path of the law," Rajoy’s government said. It is obvious that the Rajoy’s government is not interested in replacing the format of the Catalan issue from the current "intra-Spanish" to the pan-European one, since in the first place  it would be the interests of the Catalan separatists, such a negotiation format would give them more legitimacy. Official Madrid talks with Catalonia's separatist authorities under the auspices of the EU will bind the Spaniards in the hands and feet, depriving them of the opportunity to arrests a number of separatists. The latter is a very real scenario in the current conditions.

There is another important factor. Both the European Commission and the Council of Europe are called upon to defend the economic, social and territorial unity of the European Union. These principles stem from the EU treaty, which means that it cannot be a neutral intermediary in a situation when the Catalan separatist movement is trying to separate the region from Spain. Catalonia's separation from Spain will automatically mean the exit of this region from the European Union as well. And there could be no expectation of taking Catalonia back into the EU as a new member, since Spain will most likely veto it.

In such a situation, Brussels has no choice but to call for a peaceful dialogue. Other alternatives will be detrimental to the unity of Europe. Ironically, until now, of all the countries of the European Union, only Spain has not recognized Kosovo's independence, believing that the Kosovo precedent, sooner or later, can hit the territorial integrity of Spain. Today Spain came face to face with Catalan separatism, which has become a challenge for the whole of Europe. It can not be excluded that Catalonia's separatists have a chance to play in the disintegration of the EU a role similar to those played by the Karabakh separatists in the disintegration of the USSR.

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Vestnik Kavkaza

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