“We will defend our rights to the end. Because we’re playing with much more than our personal futures: we’re playing with democracy itself”. These are the words used by Carles Puigdemont, the President of Catalonia, on November 6, to conclude his op-ed published in The Guardian.

One week earlier, Puigdemont travelled to Brussels followed by four regional Ministers, with the hope of convincing EU institutions to take his side in the conflict with Madrid. But, two days after his trip, Spanish national authorities moved on announcing official arrest mandates for the five institutional representatives. Although released, Puigdemont and his colleagues now face the prospects of an official court ruling on November 17.

Meanwhile, the European press is split over the ideal stance the EU should take

In Brussels the Catalan President called for the EU to uphold its founding democratic values. Likesie, Puigdemont denounced the “non-democratic” ways of Madrid in handling the political crisis. He mentioned the violent actions by the national police on October 1, the day of the Catalan referendum, and Madrid’s stubborn refusal to engage in a dialogue with Barcelona, as proofs for his claims. In Puigdemont’s eyes, the arrest of the Catalan government was caused by Madrid’s refusal to dialogue.

Despite the accusations of “sedition” and “rebellion” issued against the Catalan leader by national institutions, Puigdemont claims that the referendum process was conducted in the interest of the Catalan “popular will” and under “sunlight”. One must admit: since his election in 2015, the Catalan President never hided his plans. Recently, he said: “Accusing the popular vote of conspiracy is nonsense”.

The Catalan crisis, a European debate

Puigdemont’s calls for democracy did not impede European newspapers from criticising the regional leader for, de-facto, having left “the sinking boat” for Brussels.

On The Guardian, George Kassimeris writes that Puigdemont could have become a sort of “political martyr”. Yet, by running away from Barcelona, the Catalan leader fell short of strengthening the Catalan struggle: “Leadership is a matter of character and exemplarity”, Kassimeris writes.

Nevertheless, the Belgian newspaper, De Morgen, underlines that with his move Puigdemont turned a Spanish matter into a European issue. Now the epicentre of the political fight ha shifted to Brussels, so to speak.

Meanwhile, the European press is split over the ideal stance the EU should take.

On Politico, Richard Youngs writes that Madrid fell short of dialoguing with Barcelona. Yet,  it is too late for the EU to mediate: a weak intervention would only shut down the trust of Catalan citizens in the Union. However, on the same newspaper, Fabrice Pothier explains that the unique virtue of the EU lies in its ability to balance national and shared sovereignty: “The European Union cannot exist without strong and democratic nation state”, Pothier argues. Consequently, leaving too much room for manoeuvre to Barcelona could backfire.

 If the EU is not able to handle the democratic grievances of its own citizens, these will never feel truly European, Betancor warns

On The Guardian, Simon Jenkins provides a completely different interpretation of the crisis. According to the editorialist, “it is the mounting force of nationalist identitarian claims that poses a risk to the European project”, not regionalism. The Catalan crisis is not a random event thus, but a true warning sign. Jenkins recalls that the “principle of self-determination” is a cornerstone of international law. The EU must intervene in the Catalan crisis, defend the latter principle and punish Madrid for its undemocratic ways. Eventually, the Spanish crisis became a European issue. It suffices to look at how much other regional powers look to the unfolding of the crisis. Jenkins calls for Brussels to act in a way that safeguards its very own political identity and future.

On Social Europe, Fernando Betancor argues that the Catalan crisis represents “the perils of the attempt to establish of a European identity”. Barcelona is waiting for a European intervention in vain. In the end, the EU has always been nothing but a club of Member States. Yet, Betancor argues that an official recognition of the Catalan State would not threaten the unity of the EU. On the contrary it would preserve the very democratic values that lie at its foundations. However, it is a fact that Brussels is talking only with Madrid. Betancor underlines that, at the end of the day, when it comes to play hard, national interests are always in the forefront: there is no space for the Catalan people in a “Europe united in diversity”. Yet, if the EU is not able to handle the democratic grievances of its own citizens, these will never feel truly European, Betancor warns.

Photo Credits CC Carolyn Hall Young

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