Mr. Puigdemont, former president of the Generalitat (Regional Government of Catalonia), having been effectively “exiled” in Brussels remains highly critical of European institutions and their leaders, asking rhetorically: “What kind of Europe does not support the secession of Catalonia?” Indeed, the unilateral declaration of independence has not been recognised by any State of the Union and the unilateral dissolution of the constitutional order of a member state has been explicitly rejected by multiple Presidents of European institutions, the Council, the Commission and the European Parliament. From this perspective, an independent Catalonia would not only be outside the EU, but furthermore they would be unable to help themselves. Catalonia are prevented from submitting an application for membership, as they do not fit into any of the cases currently envisaged by public international law which allow the member states to recognise a new state.
One can understand the disappointment Puigdemont feels at this time because he made assurances to all Catalans that the international community was in a position to receive (and ultimately accept) the new Catalan Republic with open arms, since the right to self-determination is recognised widely across democratic Europe, although this does not extend to the authoritarian neo-Francoist regime in Spain. Puigedemont must now face the stark reality that he has no more support than the Flemish nationalist party, which is itself a far right political party on the European political spectrum.
The art of not listening
Does Carlos Puigdemont have any right to be surprised by the current situation or did he simply ignore all the warning signs? It has been argued that he only had to read the statements from both the European Commission and the Committee of the Regions (CoR) to convince himself of the reality of his situation. Despite this however, he continued blindly repeating, together with Junqueras and Romevas, that the Catalan people should not worry because, one way or another, an independent Catalonia would continue to remain a part of the European Union.
The road to a happy and content Arcadia was founded upon this false truth. The public believed that they had the support of the international community as they had an unconditional right to self-determination. Whilst the application of Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution was not the outcome any of us wanted it was in many ways inevitable. It is widely agreed across Europe that, given the repeated violations of the Constitution, the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia and their own parliamentary regulation there was no alternative but to implement Article 155. It is worth noting that the provision outlined in Article 155 is almost a word for word copy of Article 37 of the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany. Moreover, the independence movement exists in opposition to the very wording of the Maastricht Treaty, at least in terms of respect for the rule of law (Article 2) and the threat their independence poses to the territorial integrity of a member state. (Article 4.2).
The truth is that any hypothetical new Catalan Republic will have no European outlook just as the certification by the European Commission and the majority groups within the European Parliament during the plenary session debate on 4 October attested to the truth that the Spanish Constitution was under threat. But the question which remains is not a judicial-legal one or one which focuses solely on the correct interpretation of the Treaties, nor is it a question about the strategic interests of the key European states. It is much more profound than that because the question relates directly to the essential values upon which the European project is based. The fundamental objective of the European project was to overcome conflicting identities by constructing complex and multiple identities, in which different components could be inserted. Therefore, those who claim that the secession of Catalonia is inspired by Europe and has the same aspirations as Europe are wrong. The secession is unconstitutional in substance and in form, and excludes more than half of the population of Catalonia which is not a value reflected elsewhere in Europe. On the contrary, the secessionist project of Catalan nationalism is profoundly anti-European by design. It is contrary to the spirit of European integration, which was created after the last great collapse of unity, to put an end to the wars across Europe. Europe exists as a means to create a supranational political solidarity in which member states share sovereignty based upon a federal approach, and act in accordance with the broad principle of solidarity through cohesion.
Return to European roots
As Joseph Weiler, a renowned political scientist and expert in European law (Community legislation) has explained, the reasons given to justify the demand for independence are diametrically opposed to the historical “ethos” which underpins European integration and the vision of the founding fathers, Schumann, Adenauer, Gasperi and Monnet. A vision based on overcoming conflicting identities, boundaries, as well as our differences and disputes, instead of looking to the past for answers.
Junqueras and Puigdemont’s proposals for Catalonia’s independence as part of a wider European calling are in fact contrary to the spirit, values and law of the European Union. It is unclear whether or not they realise this is the reality of their position. This is based on a desire to build an ever closer “union” between the people and as such represents integration in the face of fragmentation. This being said, we must recognise that the resurgence of old and new national ‘selfishness’ makes it increasingly difficult to achieve said goals and that such a problem does not only concern Catalonia but affects more and more European countries as European societies continue to undergo transformations which threaten to undermine solidarity if they are not founded upon the principle of national identity.
As such, the challenges posed by the recent movement for Catalan independence is not an isolated Spanish problem. It is a European question, and one which should be addressed at a political level. How this issue is resolved is dependent upon the future of the European project itself. If we permit a democratic constitutional order to be overthrown and disregard the established norms and boundaries which were forged at such great cost what does this say about our European project? If independence gains momentum it will not be long before we see the end of the European structure as we know it; one that was founded upon unity, solidarity and mutual respect for the rule of law.