Any territory that splits off from a member state of the European Union will be automatically excluded from the Union, and receive treatment as a “third country.” This is what is indicated in the EU Treaties, whose signatories and constituent parties are the states, and not their regions or cities, and is more explicitly spelled out by international legal doctrine on the succession of states in case of territorial division. The EU authorities have now, once again, brought these facts to the attention of the Catalan government and the region’s independence movement.
This fact, obvious to any person with the merest familiarity with these laws, but systematically ignored, hidden or downplayed by the Catalan secessionists (and by other regional nationalist movements on the periphery of the Iberian peninsula), is nothing new. It was previously formulated by the Commission presidents Romano Prodi and José Manuel Durão Barroso. It should be remembered that the Commission is not only the EU’s executive institution, but the chief administrator of legal legitimacy in its capacity as custodian of the Treaties.
What is new is perhaps the emphasis with which the reminder has now been repeated. This may be due to the institutional need to clear up the confusion under which the pro-sovereignty movement aims to found “a new state of Europe,” under the umbrella of the European Union. Or it may be down to the Spanish government’s express demands in Brussels. Perhaps it was both. But the concrete motive for this sudden spate of statements is the least of the matter, because the message connects with public opinion and with the current state of the Catalan question.
In any case, we are looking at a matter of capital importance which is almost always sidelined in discussions on Catalan independence, because the EU’s reminder of exclusion is one of the chief causes — together with the possibility of improved regional financing — that tends to substantially cut into the support for secessionism in opinion polls. If it has to be at the cost of belonging to the Union, a majority of Catalans are displeased by the prospect of saying goodbye to Spain.
The clarifications conveyed by the Commission (and by the European Parliament) are useful because they spoil the mirage according to which it is legally possible to break away from a European state and remain in the same EU club, where all the members enjoy a right of veto over the acceptance of new members. This is not to mention the political ambit, where the threat of territorial split would rule out any sympathy on the part of states with similar issues, such as our neighbors France and Italy. They are also timely because after all, it is Brussels that must make up the deficiency of reliable information offered to the citizens, which neither Barcelona nor Madrid have taken the trouble to supply.
The Generalitat (Catalan regional government), in the hands of the CiU nationalist coalition and the leftist nationalists of ERC, hides or twists such information, weaving in the fantasy of impossible support from Baltic countries or the daydream of an ethereal and unfounded “change of political circumstances.” Its loquacious spokesman should ease off in his relentless, daily bombardment of propaganda — even if only because he is not the spokesman of Europe.