Merkel, Macron and May show support for Spain over Catalan crisis

The issue is not on the EU summit’s official agenda, yet it is very much present at the two-day event

German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Brussels.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Brussels.JOHN THYS (AFP)

While the Catalan secessionist challenge is not officially on the agenda of the two-day European summit of state and government leaders currently being held in Brussels, it is something of an elephant in the room: everyone is talking about Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont’s most recent letter to Spanish  Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy threatening imminent independence, and about the upcoming cabinet meeting to approve emergency measures against it – the so-called application of Article 155 of the Spanish constitution

Spain’s official position continues to be that this is “an internal matter”

The Spanish prime minister did not speak about the matter as he joined the EU Council meeting on Thursday. Instead, the tone was set by the leaders of the EU’s two most powerful countries, Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Emmanuel Macron.

“We are taking a very close look at Catalonia and are supporting the position of the Spanish government, which happens to be supported by all major political parties in Spain,” said Merkel. “We are very concerned and hope there will be solutions based on the Spanish Constitution.”

Macron said that “this European Council will be marked by a message of unity, unity around our member states in the face of the crises they may experience, unity around Spain.”

“Nobody in the EU would recognize the independence of Catalonia,” noted Antonio Tajani, the president of the European Parliament. Diplomatic sources said that Madrid had not requested such statements to be made.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy (L) chats with British Prime Minister Theresa May.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy (L) chats with British Prime Minister Theresa May.JULIEN WARNAND (AFP)

UK Prime Minister Theresa May also chimed in on Friday, saying: “I have spoken to Mariano Rajoy this morning as I did earlier this week and made clear that the United Kingdom’s position is very clear. We believe that people should be abiding by the rule of law and uphold the Spanish constitution.”

But Belgium is striking a discordant note, calling for dialogue either within or outside the bounds of the Constitution and criticizing the police violence of October 1, the day that an illegal referendum was held in the region.

“I continue to condemn all forms of violence and I urge dialogue. I don’t think an escalation is a good thing,” said Belgium’s Prime Minister Charles Michel of the centrist Reformist Movement, which governs in coalition with Flemish nationalists.

Rajoy was planning to discuss Catalonia in his bilateral meetings; only one has been confirmed so far: with Macron.

Nobody in the EU would recognize the independence of Catalonia

Antonio Tajani, president European Parliament

More than one European leader has said some kind of explanation from Rajoy on the issue of Catalonia would be welcome, but Spain’s official position continues to be that this is “an internal matter.

The summit comes at a time when other issues seem to be more or less under control: Europe no longer has to deal with the Greek crisis, the migratory problem is somewhat encapsulated, and while Brexit is still a headache, the parties involved are not throwing plates at each other just yet. The economy is back on track, and the far right has not made it into government.

But European crises have a formidable ability to reinvent themselves, and so the “nationalist challenge,” as currently exemplified by the Catalan independence drive, looms as a new threat on the EU’s horizon.

European institutions and partners, while closing ranks around Spain, have two demands to make: the first is dialogue, and the second is no more images like the ones that made world headlines on October 1. As the head of the European Council, Donald Tusk, put it: “The force of reason is better than reason by force.”

English version by Susana Urra.

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