British Prime Minister David Cameron joined his Spanish counterpart Mariano Rajoy in Madrid on Friday afternoon to address the growing Syrian refugee crisis and the Catalan independence bid.
At a joint press conference at La Moncloa prime minister’s residence, Cameron took the opportunity to issue a warning to Catalan nationalists over the upcoming September 27 regional elections, which secessionists are casting as a plebiscite on independence.
If the latter win the ballot and declare unilateral independence, as they are threatening to do, this would automatically mean Catalonia would no longer form part of the EU and be forced to the back of the line of countries awaiting admission, said Cameron.
“Just like the UK, Spain is a great country with a long and proud history, and if I had a message, it would be the same as the one in the UK, that we are better off together,” said Cameron in reference to the secessionist crisis he himself faced last year when Scotland held a referendum on independence.
“If one part of a state secedes, it’s no longer part of the European Union and has to take its place at the back of the queue behind those other countries applying to become members of the European Union,” added the British PM, in front of Rajoy, who has long opposed the independence bid and has stated that Catalonia will never be independent.
For Rajoy, these words represented the second show of support from a European leader this week, after German chancellor Angela Merkel called on Catalonia to respect European agreements on territorial sovereignty.
Speaking at a joint press conference with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in Berlin on Tuesday, Merkel had underscored the need to guarantee the “sovereignty and integrity of each state […] It is important that national law be respected, and on that issue there is no difference between Rajoy and I.”
What to do with the refugees
Meanwhile, the Spanish leader addressed the growing refugee crisis in Europe by pledging to “help everyone with the right to asylum.”
“We are dealing with the most important challenge facing Europe in the coming years,” said Rajoy, of the center-right Popular Party (PP).
Rajoy, who had initially said that Spain could not accept more than 2,739 refugees but has since pledged to raise that number, also asked European officials to make a difference between refugees and “illegal immigration for economic reasons.”
His government has argued that Spain’s resources are already stretched to the limit as a result of the influx of undocumented migrants from the north of Africa.
As for just how many refugees Spain is now willing to take in, Rajoy said it was necessary to wait until the September 14 meeting of EU interior ministers.
Cameron held Spain up as a role model of how to handle a migratory crisis because of its experience with illegal immigration. The British leader mentioned the way Spain “financed the coast guard system in the countries of origin, funding programs in those countries,” in reference to the mass arrival of migrant-filled boats to the Canary Islands in 2007.
“That’s an experience we need to learn from and that the European Union must take into account,” he said.
English version by Susana Urra