EU si­lence on Spain-Cat­alo­nia dis­pute won’t help

The Daily News Egypt - - Commentary -

DW—Two stub­born forces are squar­ing off in Spain and Cat­alo­nia.The EU should at­tempt to me­di­ate the in­de­pen­dence dis­pute, even though the le­gal sit­u­a­tion seems crys­tal clear, says DW’s Bernd Riegert.

Is it re­ally pos­si­ble that a con­flict brought on by an in­de­pen­dence move­ment might ac­tu­ally lead to a gov­ern­men­tal cri­sis, an at­tempted coup or even a vi­o­lent con­fronta­tion within the Euro­pean Union in the 21st cen­tury? Who is will­ing and able to step in and put an end to the mad­ness tak­ing place in Cat­alo­nia? So far, the Span­ish govern­ment has failed mis­er­ably. Right now, those Cata­lans who want in­de­pen­dence, along­side the re­gion’s state govern­ment,are sim­ply push­ing ahead with their plan. The Span­ish king has in­ter­vened but the con­flict still con­tin­ues to in­ten­sify.A uni­lat­eral dec­la­ra­tion of Cata­lan in­de­pen­dence is only days away. Is that le­gal? Il­le­gal? The Cata­lan pres­i­dent could care less.

Cata­lans ar­gue that the Span­ish con­sti­tu­tion doesn’t ap­ply to them be­cause they don’t want to be part of Spain any­how.True, the Span­ish con­sti­tu­tion could be changed, but only through the will of the Span­ish peo­ple as a whole, not a re­gional ref­er­en­dum. The rule of law in Spain is un­der threat be­cause it can­not be en­forced in Cat­alo­nia. It is not un­der threat be­cause the Span­ish govern­ment is act­ing un­con­sti­tu­tion­ally.

That as­sess­ment, put forth by the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion, is cor­rect.And the Com­mis­sion can­not sim­ply step in as a me­di­a­tor be­cause it is bound to re­spect the in­de­pen­dence and con­sti­tu­tional sovereignty of in­di­vid­ual mem­ber states. Euro­pean con­tracts do not guar­an­tee the EU me­di­a­tor sta­tus, at least not in this par­tic­u­lar in­stance. In Poland and Hun­gary, the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion was forced to act be­cause the gov­ern­ments of those two mem­ber states had taken steps to un­der­mine their coun­tries’ jus­tice sys­tems,and with that,the rule of law. Thus the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion was act­ing as a body re­spon­si­ble for en­forc­ing con­trac­tual agree­ments and not as a me­di­a­tor be­tween ma­jori­ties and mi­nori­ties within a mem­ber state.

Res­traint legally cor­rect but po­lit­i­cally un­sound

EU res­traint is there­fore un­der­stand­able from a le­gal stand­point, but is it po­lit­i­cally wise? No, it isn’t. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion, or Euro­pean Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Don­ald Tusk, should not sim­ply stand by as the sit­u­a­tion in Cat­alo­nia con­tin­ues to es­ca­late. It would be help­ful if some­one within the EU would of­fer to fa­cil­i­tate di­a­logue be­tween Madrid and Barcelona.That said, there is no chance that the EU can take on the role of a true me­di­a­tor be­cause nei­ther Madrid nor Barcelona want that. Cata­lan rep­re­sen­ta­tives in the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment ex­pect the EU to dis­ci­pline Spain.That won’t hap­pen. For their part, diplo­mats rep­re­sent­ing the Span­ish govern­ment in Stras­bourg have re­jected the idea of me­di­a­tion or even di­a­logue with the Cata­lan pres­i­dent. The Span­ish govern­ment says that Cat­alo­nia is car­ry­ing out a coup. Thus, there is noth­ing to dis­cuss.

Nev­er­the­less, the EU should at least of­fer its ser­vices in lay­ing the ground­work for talks.The bloc must show its cit­i­zens that it is deal­ing with the sit­u­a­tion and doesn’t sim­ply ig­nore crises. EU Vice-Pres­i­dent Frans Tim­mer­mans, who is re­spon­si­ble for the rule of law within the bloc, has sig­naled that he is keep­ing a close eye on the le­gal­ity of the sit­u­a­tion in Spain. But he sees the ap­proach of Cata­lan sep­a­ratists as the root of the prob­lem. Still, if the EU con­tin­u­ally points to it­self as a suc­cess­ful model for peace it must prove that it is also ca­pa­ble of find­ing peace­ful so­lu­tions to con­flicts within in­di­vid­ual mem­bers states and not just be­tween them.

The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion ur­gently needs to come up with a backup plan in the event that Cat­alo­nia ac­tu­ally takes the ir­ra­tional step of uni­lat­er­ally declar­ing its in­de­pen­dence from Spain. Nei­ther the EU nor any of its mem­ber states would recog­nise such a move. But that would still leave the prob­lem of just how to deal with Cata­lan rep­re­sen­ta­tives, trav­el­ers, goods and any fu­ture at­tempts at ac­ces­sion.What will the EU do if Spain de­cides to re­move the re­gional govern­ment, call new elec­tions and re­voke Cat­alo­nia’s au­ton­o­mous sta­tus? All moves, by the way, that are within its le­gal rights. So far, the EU has been con­tent to bury its head in the sand rather than deal with this cri­sis— which has been build­ing for years. That is no longer an op­tion.

One ma­jor rea­son that it is no longer an op­tion is the fact that Brexit sup­port­ers,right-wing pop­ulists and na­tion­al­ists across the EU are try­ing to mythol­o­gise the sit­u­a­tion in Cat­alo­nia as just one more in­stance in which Brus­sels is try­ing to crush mi­nori­ties’ and peo­ples’ free­dom. Of course that ar­gu­ment is ut­ter non­sense;nonethe­less, it is not enough to ig­nore it. Such ar­gu­ments must be con­vinc­ingly re­futed. Oth­er­wise, the Span­ish cri­sis could well be­come a Euro­pean cri­sis.


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