The political crisis between Spain and Catalunya is making the headlines across Europe. Both, political leaders and opinionists, shared their views on the constitutional crisis unravelling the southern Eu Member State.

Already before yesterday’s “ineffective independence declaration”, a majority of EU leaders backed the national Government in Madrid.

For instance, the Polish Prime Minister, Beata Szydlo, overtly said that she “does not intend to interfere in Spanish internal issues”. Likewise, the President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, “recalled that the unity of European nations is a guarantee for stability across the Union”. The outgoing German Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, argued that “the respect for the rule of law and the constitutional order” represents the ground zero of any democratic order.

Yesterday morning, the French European Affairs Minister, Nathalie Loiseau, blasted Catalan authorities saying that Paris would never recognize a unilateral independence declaration. So did the heads of State of France and Germany, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel.

However, over the past weeks, some European citizens and minor political movements tried to back the Catalan independence movement. A report from the German conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung pointed at linkages between local politicians in southern France and the Catalan independence movement.

Coming to the role of the EU, Lehnartz argues that although there are good reasons for not interfering, the risk of similar independence movements to spread across Europe is strong

In other news, the Council of Europe announced that it is poised to kick-off an inquiry over the acts of police violence that took place on October 1, in Catalunya. Besides, the very same actions of the Spanish national police forces caused protest across Europe, though mainly on social media platforms.

Meanwhile, over the past few weeks, representatives of the European Union and MEPs in Brussels have tried to cool down waters rather than taking a specific stance.

Manfred Weber, the leader of the European People’s Party (EPP) in the European Parliament warned that the Catalan crisis could feed a new wider Euro-crisis, as it happened in Greece back in 2015. Yesterday morning, the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, warned Carles Puigdemont, the President of Catalunya, to not declare the independence of the region.

However, it is fair to say that Brussels is pushing for a dialogue to take place between Madrid and Barcelona.

Yet, many intellectuals and opinionist call for European institutions to take action. But what should the EU exactly do? Should Brussels mediate between the parties? Meanwhile, the national Government in Madrid ruled out any external intervention in the dispute.

The EU and the Catalan crisis: a European debate

On TheConversation, Simon Toubeau tries to establish a parallel between the Catalan crisis and other violent territorial conflicts of the past, such as those occurred in Northern Ireland, Cyprus and Bosnia Herzegovina.

According to Toubeau, the EU needs to mediate between the national and regional authorities. Yet, he admits that a great deal of “creativity” will be required. Toubeau calls for the European Parliament to pass a resolution condemning the situation which should be backed by all other EU institutions and EU leaders. At that point, the EU could offer itself as an impartial mediator.

On Carnegie Europe, Richard Youngs outlines a more balanced, yet substantive view. Youngs clearly states that the EU has always prioritized the rule of law over participative democratic practice, being, ultimately a collection of Nation States

Yet, according to Toubeau, the basic condition for such a process would have been the absence of a “unilateral independence declaration” by Barcelona. Unfortunately, this is exactly what (somehow) took place yesterday, even if it remains unclear to what extent – and from when – Puigdemont’s announcement will have a real effect.

Talking of Northern Ireland, in an editorial published before Puigemont’s declaration on TheGuardian, Gerry Adams, the leader of Sìnn Fein, argues that for international communities to disregard the issue as a national problem is to worsen the situation.

More specifically, the leader sketches a parallelism with the Northern Ireland peace process, its path to resolution, and the international interventionism that occurred at that time. Adams argues that, although Catalunya’s government is reportedly open to discuss the matter, Madrid has cut the lines of communication and is acting in a brutal manner, threatening to trigger the “nuclear option” (article 155) and thus negating the preconditions necessary for a resolution.

Riedel claims that Europe needs a new “culture of disagreement” whereby conflicts can be solved in a smoother way. For instance, it would be helpful to establish specific institutional channels for Catalunya and Madrid to learn from other national specific conflictual experiences

The author corroborates his claim with historical evidence from the Northern Ireland peace process; he states that, in that case, no real progress had been made until the British refusal to deal with the issue was set aside, and the US and EU intervened constructively.

On Social Europe, former Greek Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis, claims that the Spanish constitutional crisis is “Europe’s opportunity to reconfigure the democratic governance of regional, national and European institutions”.

Varoufakis argues that “Catalonia provides a case study of Europe’s broader conundrum”: a choice between authoritarian state and identitarian claims. The EU needs to reject this false dichotomy and move towards a pan-European democratic organisation that entails a new form of sovereignty. This would entail a restructuring of the current governance architecture and, thus, give regional executives and city councils some sort fiscal autonomy.

On Die Welt, Sascha Lehnartz outlines the history of Catalunya and traces the process that brought the Spanish region to become such an “outstanding” place within Europe. Far from justifying the independence movement, Lehnartz, however, brings to the debate elements that help to understand why independentist claims are so strong in Barcelona.

Coming to the role of the EU, the author argues that although there are good reasons for not interfering, the risk of similar independence movements to spread across Europe is strong. Lehnartz mentions, for instance, political movements in Northern Italy and Scotland.

The same view is shared by Sabine Riedel who is interview by the German outlet, Handelsblatt.

Riedel claims that Europe needs a new “culture of disagreement” whereby conflicts can be solved in a smoother way. For instance, it would be helpful to establish specific institutional channels for Catalunya and Madrid to learn from other national specific conflictual experiences. Eventually, Riedel calls for the EU to take tackle vigorously independentist ideologies across Europe.

On Carnegie Europe, Richard Youngs outlines a more balanced, yet substantive view. Youngs clearly states that the EU has always prioritized the rule of law over participative democratic practice, being, ultimately a collection of Nation States.

The latter can be understood as the main reason why the EU has been so mild until now. Nevertheless, Youngs argues that the EU needs to offer something more concrete than fostering dialogue. Brussels has to put to the fore new substantive governance ideas.

The author briefly discusses the notion of “democratically participative confederalism” as a new form of governance. The latter should “oxygenate the rule of law” without subverting it. Eventually, Youngs warns that if the EU does not hold “a round and proactive role” on the ongoing crisis, the Catalan crisis might not be the last of the sort to unfold in Europe.


Photo Credits CC Víctor Collado


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