Merkel calls on Catalonia to respect territorial sovereignty agreements

German leader lends support to Rajoy as he seeks to internationalize Catalan campaign

Angela Merkel with Mariano Rajoy in Berlin on Monday.
Angela Merkel with Mariano Rajoy in Berlin on Monday.Markus Schreiber (AP)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called on Catalonia’s administrations – and indirectly on regional premier Artur Mas – to respect European agreements on territorial sovereignty.

Speaking at a joint press conference with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in Berlin on Tuesday, Merkel underscored the need to guarantee the “sovereignty and integrity of each state.”

“It is there in the treaties of the European Union and we all have to respect them,” she said in response to a question on whether she and Rajoy had discussed the issue of Catalan independence during their talks this week. “It is important that national law is respected and on that issue there is no difference between Rajoy and I.”

It is important that national law is respected and on that issue there is no difference between Rajoy and I”

Catalonia will hold regional elections on September 27 and premier Artur Mas and his Junts pel Sí bloc – a coalition of pro-sovereignty parties and civic associations – are together casting the legislative election as a de facto plebiscite on independence, and suggesting that if the secessionist group wins a large enough majority, it would give them the legitimacy to declare unilateral independence from Spain soon after.

Merkel’s show of support will be much welcomed by Rajoy, who is set to play a key role in the run-up to the Catalan election.

The leader of the conservative Popular Party (PP), who is also due to meet with British Prime Minister David Cameron in Madrid on Friday, will be calling on his European allies to travel to Catalonia and take a clear position against Mas’s independence plans.

Rajoy is convinced that the Catalan self-rule proposals will not find support among other leaders in the center-right European People’s Party Group, and wants them to clearly express their rejection during the election campaign.

The challenge of stopping the Catalan secessionists is the main task facing Rajoy in the final stretch of his legislature before this fall’s general elections, the date of which is yet to be set. The PM is aware that he needs to put his proposal of casting the PP as the only party capable of guaranteeing the unity of Spain into practice as soon as possible to avoid pro-independence groups getting a good result on September 27.

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Recent polls show pro- and anti-independence forces on equal standing, with the Catalan branch of the PP slightly behind.

The PP is studying the possibility of including events involving the European People’s Party Group in the regional election campaign, so Catalans will hear arguments against independence from European leaders on their own territory.

Party strategists would be happy to hear any kind of message suggesting that an independent Catalonia would be left out of the European Union for the foreseeable future – an idea that former Spanish Socialist Party Prime Minister Felipe González underlined in an open letter published in EL PAÍS on Sunday.

They believe these rallies will be seen as more neutral than those given by the prime minister.

However, there remains some concern within the party about whether such events might be counterproductive. A visit Rajoy made to Athens in January to lend support to then-embattled Greek conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras during the election campaign only succeeded in bolstering support for Alexis Tsipras’s left-wing Syriza party. Strategists are worried that a visit by someone such as Merkel or Cameron to Catalonia might have a similar effect there.

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