Catalonia: Expert on EU stripping separatists of immunity
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Spain restarted talks to resolve the Catalan secession crisis on September 15. Catalonia has attempted to become independent from Spain for more than 40 years, but it had its autonomy suspended after a failed independence bid. The leaders of Spain and Catalonia met to resolve the ongoing crisis but critics are already condemning these talks to failure – citing the full-blown constitutional crisis which developed in 2017. But why is the European Union likely to be impacted?
Catalonia’s drive for independence in 2017 plunged Spain into its biggest political crisis for 40 years.
The region had its autonomy suspended by Madrid for almost seven months after a failed bid to break away.
Both Spain and Catalan authorities called on the EU to intervene – but most member states were reluctant to respond formally.
Instead, EU member states saw the dispute as an internal Spanish matter.
With talks resuming between Spain and Catalonia – many critics fear the Catalan crisis could ignite again.
Expectations are low for any huge advances from the meeting between regional president Pere Aragonès and Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez.
Mr Aragonès’ Republican Left party called the talks a “historic opportunity”, but junior members of the party have publicly voiced their doubts.
The influential grassroots group National Catalan Assembly went even further saying the talks will only serve to derail their cause.
Negotiations between Spain and Catalonia first began in February 2020 between Mr Sánchez and then-Catalan President Quim Torra.
However, only one meeting was held before the territorial conflict was put on the backburner – due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Now more than a year later, a new Catalan Government has been formed, led by Catalan Republic Left (ERC) Pere Aragonès.
Mr Aragonès is a more moderate figure than Mr Torra – voicing his support for talks from the outset.
The ERC offered parliamentary support to Mr Sánchez, enabling him to maintain his narrow majority in exchange for continued negotiations on the dispute.
In August, Mr Aragonès said: “It is necessary to find a democratic outcome, a political solution to a political conflict.”
But why will this cause a headache for the EU?
Catalonia’s independence referendum in 2017 descended into chaos, with clashes occurring as police attempted to prevent the vote from taking place.
The referendum was declared illegal by Spain’s constitutional court – but organisers said 90 percent of voters backed a split.
Turnout only reached 43 percent however amid a boycott by unionists.
Polls and election results over the past five years consistently show that half of Catalonia wants to remain in Spain, while the other half wants to sever all ties.
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When tensions rise between Catalonia and Spain – calls to intervene are levied on European institutions including the EU.
However, the bloc has repeatedly said it respects the Spanish Constitutional order “including decisions of the Spanish judiciary”.
In 2019 after Spain’s Supreme Court sentenced nine Catalan politicians and activists to jail terms of between nine and 13 years for that independence bid – calls for EU intervention surfaced again.
Irish MEP Matt Carthy said the ruling of the Spanish court was “a fundamental betrayal of human rights and democracy”.
Other MEPs also backed the Catalan authorities pledging to bring the debate to the European Parliament.
In June, Mr Sánchez issued pardons for the nine Catalan leaders who had been jailed for sedition.
It was a move which he said would ease tensions in the northeastern region and was seen as instrumental in firming up continued ERC support.
Recent polls suggest the move hurt Mr Sánchez’s PSOE popularity with voters, but given an election is not due to be held until 2023, the continued survival of his Government relies on parliamentary allies such as ERC.
As talks resume, each side remains at some distance from the other in terms of its demands.
The Catalan Government seeks an amnesty for the dozens of pro-independence politicians who are still facing legal action for their role in the events of 2017 and acknowledgement of Catalonia’s right to self-determination, leading to a binding referendum on independence.
However, the Spanish PM has ruled out both already – deeming an independence referendum unconstitutional.
Mr Sánchez said he plans to discuss increasing investment and financing in the region in a bid to “get out of the navel-gazing they have been indulging in for the last 15 years.”
Such an offer is likely to fall on deaf ears with pro-independence Catalans.
The ERC has presented the talks as a difficult but necessary step.
But the Together for Catalonia (JxCat) party has been more sceptical, with the self-exiled leader Carles Puigdemont saying “if we want independence, the Spanish state has made sure that confrontation is inevitable.”
Elisenda Paluzie, president of the Catalan National Assembly said a return to a unilateral independence strategy is likely if the Spanish Government does not agree to a referendum on secession.
Therefore if talks do not show they are leading to a meaningful place for Catalonia the outcome could be costly – not only for Spain but for the EU as well.
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