Spanish PM vows to end Catalonia standoff and force region to obey law | World news

The Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, has vowed to return Catalonia to the rule of law as his government prepares to announce unprecedented measures to head off the independence crisis by imposing direct rule from Madrid.

Speaking at the EU summit in Brussels on Friday, a day after he confirmed that article 155 of the Spanish constitution would be invoked to begin the process of suspending key elements of Catalonia’s self-rule, Rajoy said his government had two clear aims.

“The goal is a double one,” he said. “To return to the observance of the law – because you can’t have a part of the country where the law is not obeyed – and, at the same time, to bring about a return to institutional normality.”

Rajoy added that his response had the backing of the Spanish socialist party (PSOE) and the centrist Ciudadanos, or Citizens, party.

The Spanish cabinet is to hold an emergency meeting on Saturday to decide the precise nature of its intervention in Catalonia, which, as an autonomous region, controls its own education, healthcare and policing. Its proposals will be put before the Spanish senate next week.

Although Rajoy warns that the Catalan independence issue has reached “a critical point”, his ruling People’s party (PP) says that there is still time for the Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, to end Spain’s worst political crisis in four decades.

On Friday, Fernando Martínez-Maillo, the PP’s third-in-command, issued another call for Puigdemont to “change course … [and] return to constitutional legality” by abandoning his push for independence before the senate meets.

Martínez-Maillo said the holding of fresh Catalan parliamentary elections, agreed with the Spanish government, would give Puigdemont a way out of the impasse.

A woman and baby walk past Catalan pro-independence posters on a wall on in Barcelona.

A woman and baby walk past Catalan pro-independence posters on a wall on in Barcelona. Photograph: Jack Taylor/Getty

The Catalan government, however, has said it does not view elections as the answer. “What purpose would elections here serve when we’re halfway down the road [to independence]?” the Catalan vice-president, Oriol Junqueras, said on Friday.

“We’re not here to hold elections again just so we can have the same mandate we’ve already got.”

The Catalan government insists the results of the unilateral independence referendum held on 1 October give it a clear mandate to forge ahead with the creation of a sovereign republic. It says that 90% of participants in the poll opted for independence on a turnout of about 43%.

Although Puigdemont signed a declaration of independence on 10 October, he has proposed that its effects be suspended for two months while both sides open dialogue aimed at ending the standoff.

The Spanish government, however, has said there can be no discussion until the Catalan president scraps his independence project and obeys the Spanish constitution, which is based on “the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation, the common and indivisible homeland of all Spaniards”.

On Thursday, as a second deadline expired for the Catalan government to shelve its plans, Puigdemont accused the Spanish authorities of ignoring his appeals for negotiations and repressing the independence movement.

He also warned that the imposition of article 155 could provoke a unilateral declaration of Catalan independence, saying: “If the [Spanish] government persists in hindering dialogue and continues with its repression, the Catalan parliament could, if it deems appropriate, proceed to vote on the formal declaration of independence, which it did not do on 10 October.”

As tensions between Madrid and Barcelona continued to escalate, pro-independence Catalans protested against the decision of some banks to move their official headquarters out of the region by withdrawing symbolic amounts of cash.

By Friday morning, dozens of people were lining up at a CaixaBank branch in central Barcelona, most of them withdrawing €150 or €160 from ATMs in a nod to article 155.

The crisis engulfing Spain has been noted by some of the leaders attending the Brussels summit this week.

A protester poses with an envelope containing €155 after withdrawing that sum from a Banc Sabadell ATM during an independence rally in Barcelona.

A protester poses with an envelope containing €155 after withdrawing that sum from a Banc Sabadell ATM during an independence rally in Barcelona. Photograph: Lluis Gene/AFP/Getty Images

The British prime minister echoed previous remarks made by other European leaders, saying the UK backed the Spanish government’s actions.

“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,” Theresa May said. “We believe that people should be abiding by the rule of law and uphold the Spanish constitution.”

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, gave the Spanish government his “full, entire support” and said extremist forces were “feeding” on separatism as a kind of division within Europe and a creating a “factor of destabilisation”.

On Thursday, the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, offered her support to the Spanish government, adding: “We hope there are solutions found on the basis of the Spanish constitution.”

While the Catalan issue was not on the official agenda of the summit – and Rajoy has repeatedly said it is an internal Spanish matter – the Spanish prime minister described the Catalan government’s behaviour as “something that goes directly against the basic principles of the European Union”.

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Comparing Catalonia with Ireland or Kosovo | Letters | World news

Dominic Keown (Letters, 12 October) compares Catalonia today to Ireland in 1916. This is beyond hyperbole. Ireland under British rule was a colonial society, impoverished and exploited, a Catholic country governed by Protestants. Catalonia, by way of comparison, is wealthy and largely self-governing with a Catalan-speaking political and business elite and schooling conducted entirely in Catalan. Far from being oppressed, Catalan separatists are making a selfish bid to keep more tax revenues at home, starving Spain’s poorer regions of investment.

Unlike Ireland’s struggle for independence, Catalan nationalism has always had a helping hand from the highest echelons of government. This should be no secret to Professor Keown, who recently spoke at a widely publicised forum at CIDOB, a Barcelona thinktank whose president, Carles Gasòliba, resigned in 2016 citing pressures from the Generalitat to act as a mouthpiece for the separatist movement.
Sergio Bacallado de Lara

The EU has not recognised or supported the democratic wishes of Catalans for independence. Indeed, it has refused to condemn the hideous scenes of Madrid police closing polling stations and battering voters. What a contrast to the recognition of the Kosovo referendum and the independence of a state built on terrorism and the ethnic cleansing of Serbs but which had full support from the EU. Catalonia was a bastion against fascism in the 1930s while Kosovo was a haven of fascism on the 1940s. That might explain it.
Rodney Atkinson
Stocksfield, Northumberland

Most of the world has seen shocking pictures of Guardia Civil and Policía Nacional violence on peaceful civilians in Catalonia. Most of Spain has not, and certainly not on mainstream TV. The media problem is not some imagined Catalan cocoon (there have been countless real debates with all views freely expressed on Catalan TV, none on Spanish TV. And 80% of TV viewing in Catalonia is of Spanish-language Spanish channels), the problem is that Spanish media has misrepresented Catalonia and Catalan issues for years, thus ensuring that most Spanish people haven’t a clue what’s going on in Catalonia and much less why.
Francis Humble
Sitges, Catalonia

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Catalonia’s dreams of secession were incubated in a media cocoon | World news

We know what happens first when coup leaders strike. They take control of the state TV and radio station. We know what the SNP would have done if they’d won their referendum. Set up a Scottish Broadcasting Corporation on the grave of the BBC. So here’s one additional factor to note after Spain’s tumultuous week.

Catalonia has had its own television and radio services since 1983, delivering Catalan-only language programmes and – guess what? – paid for by the same government that declared quasi independence a few days ago.

Bias comes naturally, perhaps inevitably, in the reporting of poor anti-separatist demonstrations, in the constant flashbacks to civil guard police wielding batons and throughout the hours of political discussion. Two regular participants in those discussions – voices against independence, hired in the supposed name of fairness and balance – wrote an article for El País the other day, explaining why they wouldn’t be appearing any longer.

“The official thesis in Catalonia is that this is a natural, essentially good nation that for at least three centuries has been living in a situation of unsustainable colonial oppression within an artificial, perfidious Spain, from which we must escape,” Joan López Alegre and Nacho Martín Blanco declared.

“But when reality is reduced to a single theme, secession… then the presence of a single voice opposed to the thesis of the talk – facing three or four participants plus to the moderator … only serves to project the idea that it is a minority position, even a marginal one in Catalan society. Goodbye. We’ve been ‘useful fools’ too long.”

Their argument can be pursued in two ways. One, filled with the emotion that surrounds the independence vote; the other more reflectively. Let’s take the high road.

Language is a wild card when you try to define nationhood. The areas of inland Catalonia most committed to independence are also the likeliest to use Catalan as their first, and sometimes only language. They depend on TV3 and its four sister channels for their news, soaps and drama series, and rely on Catalan radio round the clock. The algorithms of their social media follow the same route. And the picture they’ve drawn for all of this is often at odds with the complexities you find in Barcelona.

They have lived in a media cocoon of settled opinion, convinced that the EU will welcome their new nation into its midst, that the economic outlook is untroubled, that “taking control” will solve all problems. Passion becomes ingrained. No need to draw parallel conclusions closer to home, but this mingling of fact and conviction crosses many borders. If you can make the rest of the world go away, then doubt becomes a stranger.

No one watching Spanish TV through this crisis should pretend that it’s not had its own biases. Nor should anyone believe that the BBC, charting its lugubrious, legally mandated way through the thickets of bias, can ever achieve consensual calm.

The more open the windows, the easier it is to breathe. Scotland’s own cocoon of devolution has weakened because SNP and now Tory success – as represented in parliament – make the national picture more relevant again. Brexit, too, is gradually opening eyes and horizons. But the language factor comes with an added twist. How did Catalonia wander so close to the edge of a cliff? Because – on screen, on the airwaves, in cosseted print – there was no real debate. Because (think Fox News) the semblance of real debate was quite enough, thank you. Think of the little boxes of diversity; then think adversity.

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EU intervention in Catalonia would cause chaos, Juncker says | World news

The president of the European commission has spoken of his regret at Spain’s failure to follow his advice and do more to head off the crisis in Catalonia, but claimed that any EU intervention on the issue now would only cause “a lot more chaos”.

Speaking to students in Luxembourg on Friday, Jean-Claude Juncker said he had told the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, that his government needed to act to stop the Catalan situation spinning out of control, but that the advice had gone unheeded.

“For some time now I asked the Spanish prime minister to take initiatives so that Catalonia wouldn’t run amok,” he said. “A lot of things were not done.”

Juncker said that while he wished to see Europe remain united, his hands were tied when it came to Catalan independence.

“People have to undertake their responsibility,” he said. “I would like to explain why the commission doesn’t get involved in that. A lot of people say: ‘Juncker should get involved in that.’

“We do not do it because if we do … it will create a lot more chaos in the EU. We cannot do anything. We cannot get involved in that.”

Juncker said that while he often acted as a negotiator and facilitator between member states, the commission could not mediate if calls to do so came only from one side – in this case, the Catalan government.

Rajoy has rejected calls for mediation, pointing out that the recent Catalan independence referendum was held in defiance of the Spanish constitution and the country’s constitutional court.

“There is no possible mediation between democratic law and disobedience or illegality,” he said on Wednesday.

Despite his refusal to intervene, however, Juncker warned the international community that the political crisis in Spain could not be ignored.

“OK, nobody is shooting anyone in Catalonia – not yet at least. But we shouldn’t understate that matter, though,” he added.

The commission president also spoke more generally about the fragmentation of national identities within Europe, saying he feared that if Catalonia became independent, other regions would follow.

“I am very concerned because the life in communities seems to be so difficult,” he said. “Everybody tries to find their own in their own way and they think that their identity cannot live in parallel to other people’s identity.

Carles Puigdemont signs the Catalan declaration of independence before suspending it for dialogue with Spain

Carles Puigdemont signs the Catalan declaration of independence before suspending it for dialogue with Spain. Photograph: Oeste/Zuma Wire/Rex Shutterstock

“But if you allow – and it is not up to us of course – but if Catalonia is to become independent, other people will do the same. I don’t like that. I don’t like to have a euro in 15 years that will be 100 different states. It is difficult enough with 17 states. With many more states it will be impossible.”

Juncker’s comments came as the Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, found himself under increasing pressure over his decision on Tuesday to sign a unilateral declaration of independence but propose that its effects be suspended for a few weeks to allow for dialogue.

Rajoy has told Puigdemont that he has until Monday to confirm whether or not independence has been declared, and until next Thursday to abandon his push for independence or face the suspension of the region’s autonomy and the imposition of direct rule from Madrid.

On Friday, Spain’s deputy prime minister, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, said the regional government’s behaviour was damaging the region’s economy and asked Puigdemont to put an end to instability by re-establishing “institutional normality” as soon as possible.

Sáenz de Santamaría told the Catalan president that the central government was prepared to discuss the issue in parliament if he stopped ignoring Spanish law. She also reminded him that Rajoy and the Spanish socialist party had already agreed to establish a commission to investigate possible changes to the way the country’s autonomous regions are governed.

“That would allow him [Puigdemont] to set out his thoughts, his proposals and his plans,” she said. “Nothing in our constitutional framework is immutable – anything can be discussed. But it has to be done by respecting the rules of the democratic game and the rights of our citizens.”

Meanwhile, Puigdemont’s junior coalition partners, the far-left separatist party CUP, urged him to ignore pressure from the Spanish government, abandon the suspension and move to a definitive proclamation of independence.

The call was backed by the Catalan National Assembly, the main pro-independence civil society group in the region. In a statement, it said that Rajoy’s refusal to talk meant it no longer made sense “to keep the suspension of the independence declaration”.

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Making the numbers add up in the Catalonia poll | Letters | World news

You uncritically adopt the claim that a “silent majority” of Catalans oppose independence (Puigdemont speech gives no clarity on Catalan independence, 11 October). The figures do not support this. In most opinion polls held prior to recent events, both proponents and opponents of independence formed a minority, with the difference being made up by those who did not know.

I am Catalan: ‘It’s about building a new society for all’ – video

During the last regional elections, only 39% voted for explicitly unionist parties, 47% voted for pro-independence parties, while 13% voted for parties who were equivocal on independence. It is correct that the official turnout in the referendum of 1 October was below 50%, but that fails to take into account the closure of polling stations and confiscation of votes by the police. In fact, the number of votes in favour that were counted would have been enough to secure a majority at the record-high turnout level of the last regional election. On 8 October, hundreds of thousands of people protested in Barcelona against independence. A show of strength, yes, but no majority, and somewhat undercut by the fact that some of the attendants had come from outside Catalonia.

The reality is that we can’t know what Catalans want until a legally binding referendum is held. As the Scottish independence and Brexit referendums have shown, opinion polls can be wrong and people will change sides – in both directions – due to the dynamics of a real election campaign. The strategy of the Spanish government seems to be above all to obstruct such a real test of opinions, and my worry is that your newspaper is falling for this.
Oliver Urs Lenz
Ghent, Belgium

Let’s stop reducing complex problems like the constitutional status of Catalonia, or our own relationship with the EU, to a blunt choice of just two supposedly mutually exclusive opposites. We could start by reading the works of Ramón Llull, the Majorcan who, 700 years ago, suggested a better voting procedure would be multi-optional and preferential. Let us further remember that the EU has made some terrible mistakes, as for example when the Badinter commission insisted on a plebiscite in Bosnia, or when in Kiev it promoted majority rule up until the very day Viktor Yanukovych fled into exile. In fact, of course, “all the wars in the former Yugoslavia started with a referendum” (Oslobodjenje, 7 February 1999), and the same is now true of the conflict in Ukraine.
Peter Emerson
Director, the de Borda Institute

Giles Tremlett reveals that in the Catalonia v Spain impasse: “At stake are five centuries of coexistence with the rest of Spain.” Indeed: not dissimilar to the centuries of coexistence between Ireland and England that inspired the Easter Rising of 1916.
Dominic Keown

Simon Doubleday rightly criticises the Francoist ideal of unity (Opinion, 10 October). This holds that no region of Spain should have the right to separate under any circumstances. But he goes on to propose a two-thirds “super-majority” for Catalan independence in any future constitutional referendum, which effectively rules out independence. Imagine requiring this absurd margin for Scottish independence.

A simple majority of votes cast was an appropriate criterion for the Scottish referendum. As it was, despite my pro-remain view, for Brexit too, because Brits do not have the same redistributive obligations to poorer European countries as to poorer parts of Britain. Catalonia is morally different because it is the richest part of Spain after Madrid and the Basque country. So the bar might be raised to, say, 55% to deter other rich European regions such as northern Italy from separating.
Joseph Palley
Richmond upon Thames, Surrey

The essence of the Catalans’ claim is the so-called “right to self-determination”, which is “the right of peoples to determine their own political status and to be free of alien domination, including formation of their own independent state”. Ironically, on 24 March 1999, a Spanish aircraft from the Nato alliance was among the first Nato planes to bomb Belgrade for denying the right to self-determination to the Albanian Kosovans. The action was also supported by the Catalans. But it came to haunt them both: the Spanish government for enthusiastically supporting the Kosovans’ claim, and the Catalans for naively believing that they would be rewarded for their staunch support.

The only constant and unfortunate feature that emerges from those episodes is that the application of the “right” is dependent, not even on politics but on ideology; that the “right” can only be exercised by units that live in the countries that are deemed “undemocratic” or enemies of the west. This is also an inevitable conclusion from the UK foreign secretary’s statement that the Catalan referendum was “illegal” because Spain is a close ally and a good friend. This echoed Margaritis Schinas of the European commission, who, asked to explain the difference between the Kosovo and Catalonia episodes, said: “Comparisons between Spain and Serbia could not be drawn because Spain is a member state.”

Dear Catalans: you will have to give up on your claim because you live in a democracy! In fact, if I am allowed to predict, it seems that the Catalans will settle with a financial deal in this episode in the same way as the Basque people managed in 2011.
Dr Miroslav Baros
Sheffield Hallam University

The Guardian appears to have moved to using a barely qualified description of the illegal Catalan referendum as one “in which 90% of participants voted in favour of splitting”, without the reminder that over half of possible voters boycotted the vote (Catalan government suspends declaration of independence, 11 October). If a short form is needed then “in which 55% of Catalans showed that they did not want a referendum, never mind independence” would be more accurate, providing a much better reflection of the state of opinion in Catalonia. It is time the Guardian reconsidered its automatic support for any group that disturbs the peace on supposed national or ethnic grounds.
John Hall

“I am still going to declare independence from Spain, but I am giving them some time, a window.” With these words, Catalan president Carles Puigdemont betrayed the hopes of his brave people’s dream of independence from Spain – because the people of Catalonia did not brave the clubs and gas of the Spanish police in order to vote for a “window”.

Puigdemont’s cowardice has not appeased the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, who has refused to acknowledge the prospect of an independent Catalonia and has shown the brutal methods he is prepared to use to preserve the Spanish state. Puigdemont simply does not have the luxury of “some time”. He must declare full independence while he can. He should recall the warning of Louis Antoine de Saint-Just: “Those who make revolutions halfway only dig their own graves.”
Sasha Simic

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The Guardian view on Catalan independence: time to talk | Editorial | Opinion

The Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, is playing hardball with Catalonia’s bid for independence. His first response to the declaration by President Carles Puigdemont that the right to independence was won, but would be suspended in order to create space for “dialogue”, was to challenge Mr Puigdemont to clarify his region’s status. Mr Rajoy has made no secret of his readiness to trigger article 155 of the constitution and suspend the region’s autonomy. Now he has flatly rejected Mr Puigdemont’s call for mediation. He must take care: boxing the Catalan leader into a corner would be a high-risk strategy.

Mr Rajoy did not even apologise (though some of his colleagues have) for the police behaviour on the day of the poll, 1 October, when the rest of Spain and Europe watched aghast as voters were met with truncheons and rubber bullets. He has not budged from his refusal to talk, while the Catalan leader’s hopes rest on some international mediation that the EU has so far resisted for fear of appearing to endorse what Spain’s constitutional court has declared an unlawful vote.

Mr Puigdemont’s decision to pause is both tactical and understandable. There is no clear scenario for secession, and certainly no obvious legal path offered by the 1978 constitution, which proclaims Spain’s “indissoluble unity”. Businesses and banks in Catalonia oppose independence. Some are already moving head offices out of the region: independence would certainly be a recipe for economic disruption. Mr Puigdemont, at least in the eyes of outsiders, also lacks a majority for independence. Although 90% voted for it, the turnout was only 43% (although the government says 770,000 votes were lost in the police violence). His own separatist coalition is increasingly strained.

So Mr Puigdemont was right to hit the pause button. Confrontation has been averted, for now. But Mr Rajoy seems determined to win a total victory rather than try to negotiate despite the appeal from the president of the European council, Donald Tusk, who warned that this crisis can only be solved through “the force of argument, not the argument of force”. The sight, during a pro-Madrid demonstration in Barcelona on Sunday, of the national police, the CNP, being greeted as the allies of the protesters, rather than neutral guardians of law and order, should be a warning of how quickly divisions can become entrenched. The smart move now would be to lower the temperature: that means both sides making concessions.

Mr Puigdemont says that independence is in abeyance. So Mr Rajoy could signal a move towards greater federalism that would take the edge off the antagonism. At all costs, he must resist pressure to implement article 155. Any attempt at direct rule from Madrid would risk precipitating the situation from a constitutional crisis into a catastrophe. There may be a model in Madrid’s relationship with the Basque country, which enjoys greater autonomy, for example being able to raise taxes. More symbolic changes, such as an official acceptance of Catalonia as a “nation” within Spain might win hearts and help protect territorial integrity.

The events of the past weeks should be a warning of how quickly and easily matters can slip out of control. Neither side appears to have had a plan B. Each has staked their personal political prospects on conflict over negotiation. If they truly hold their citizens’ interests at heart, they urgently need to seek common ground, not more divisions.

Spain has been an extraordinary success story for more than four decades. It has emerged from the long shadow of the Franco years as a modern European democracy. Catalonia has been an important part of that democratic triumph, and Spain has become a vital member of the EU. Yet history casts a long shadow. There are ghosts from that era which have not been entirely laid to rest. Barcelona and Madrid alike must take care not to let themselves be imprisoned by them.

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Don’t make dialogue impossible, Donald Tusk tells Carles Puigdemont | World news

Donald Tusk, president of the European council, has made a personal appeal to the leader of Catalonia to hold off from announcing independence from Spain or risk making peaceful dialogue impossible.

Addressing regional leaders in Brussels, Tusk, a former prime minister of Poland, who fought for his country’s independence from the Soviet Union, said he understood the “emotions and arguments” of both sides, as someone who was from an ethnic minority, had personally been subject to police brutality and had led a major EU state.

Yet Tusk said that should the Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, unilaterally announce independence for Catalonia it would be a disaster for the region, Spain and the whole of Europe.

Puidgemont is due to reveal his plans for independence on Tuesday evening in his first address to the regional parliament since the referendum on independence earlier this month that provoked the standoff with the Spanish government.

Tusk said: “I appeal to you not only as the president of the European council, but also as a strong believer in the motto of the EU: ‘United in diversity’, as a member of an ethnic minority and a regionalist, as a man who knows what it feels like to be hit by a police baton.

“And as a former prime minister of a big European country. In brief, as someone who understands and feels the arguments and emotions of all sides.”

He added: “A few days ago, I asked [Spain’s] Prime Minister [Mariano] Rajoy to look for a solution to the problem without the use of force. To look for dialogue. Because the force of arguments is always better than the argument of force.

“Today I ask you [Puidgemont] to respect – in your intentions – the constitutional order and not to announce a decision that would make such a dialogue impossible.

“Diversity should not, and need not, lead to conflict, whose consequences would obviously be bad: for the Catalans, for Spain and for the whole of Europe. Let us always look for what unites us and not for what divides us. This is what will decide the future of our continent.”

The EU has taken a tough line on the referendum, calling it illegal, and defending the Spanish government’s right to uphold the rule of law.

Spain is an important member state to the bloc, but Brussels is also allergic to any suggestion of a fracturing of the current order. Its most senior figures have repeatedly insisted that even if Catalonia’s referendum had been legal it would no longer be a member of the EU as an independent entity.

However, after the scenes of police brutality during the independence vote on 1 October, Brussels tempered its language, while it was criticised for defending a government that appears to have badly mishandled a potentially dangerous situation.

On Tuesday, a European commission spokesman was left once again at risk of accusations that Brussels was failing to show leadership, by calling for dialogue rather than intervening. “We called on all those concerned to get out of this confrontation as quickly as possible and to start dialogue,” the spokesman said. “Violence, as we said, can never be a political tool.”

I am Catalan: ‘Families are broken, people have fallen out’ – video

The spokesman added that Brussels had “confidence in the capacity of Prime Minister Rajoy to manage this delicate process in full respect of the Spanish constitution and the basic fundamental rights of the citizens”.

Earlier the committee of the regions, an assembly of European regional leaders based in Brussels, had heard a passionate attack on both the Spanish government and the EU’s response from a representative of Catalonia, Amadeu Altafaj, who said Spain had acted like an “authoritarian regime”.

The police had brutally treated people “going about their peaceful business” and seeking to vote in the referendum, Altafaj told the committee of regions in Brussels. “This is not an internal matter for Spain,” he said. “This a European issue. Rights have been undermined.”

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An independent Catalonia: practicalities of leaving Spain | World news

The immediate practical consequences of Catalan independence – like those of the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal – would have far-reaching implications for the region, its businesses and its people.

As with warnings of City firms fleeing a hard Brexit, industry is already alarmed: half a dozen Spanish companies, including major banks, are moving their registered head offices to guarantee access to their domestic and wider EU markets.

Despite claims by pro-independence campaigners that the EU would not want to lose a wealthy region that would rank 15th or 16th in the bloc in terms of GDP, Brussels has made clear that the region will not automatically become a member.

It would have to apply, and acceptance would require the agreement of every other EU member state – including Spain, which in 2014 threatened to veto an eventual Scottish accession bid precisely to discourage Catalan independence.


The Spanish government argues that any referendum on Catalan independence would be illegal because the country’s 1978 constitution makes no provision for a vote on self-determination.

The Spanish constitutional court, which has suspended the referendum law pushed through the Catalan parliament earlier this month, is looking into whether the law breaches the constitution.

In March this year, the former Catalan president Artur Mas was banned from holding public office for two years after being found guilty of disobeying the constitutional court by holding a symbolic independence referendum three years ago.

Catalonia has much of the paraphernalia of statehood: it has a flag, a parliament, its own police force and broadcast regulator, and it provides some of its own public services such as healthcare and education.

But an independent Catalonia would need to establish its own central bank, inland revenue, air traffic control and defence force, all of which are currently run from Madrid – as are electricity and gas transportation and distribution.

The region’s telephone networks are run by major Spanish and foreign operators and also regulated from Madrid. Its airports are 51% owned by the Spanish state, and its railway tracks and rolling stock are operated by the state.

Outside the EU, Catalonia would also have to establish its own border controls and customs service. The borders between Catalonia, Spain and France would become external borders of both the EU and the passport-free Schengen zone.

Britain’s apparent inability to devise a solution to precisely this problem for the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic that is practicable and that the EU will accept shows how complex such issues can rapidly become.

An independent Catalonia would need to set up its own trading standards regulators and to start negotiating its own trade agreements. Unlike Britain, it is not a member of the World Trade Organisation, putting it at an instant disadvantage.

Like British nationals, Catalans would lose their EU citizenship – but also their Spanish citizenship: if Madrid really plays it tough, they could conceivably find themselves having to apply for visas to visit not just the EU but also Spain.

As Britain’s experience with Brexit shows, leaving the EU is not a straightforward process. An independent Catalonia, however, would face an altogether greater problem: it would also have to exit the eurozone, at least temporarily.

A number of small states, including Andorra, Monaco, San Marino and Vatican City, have signed agreements with the EU to use the euro, but their economies are minuscule compared with Catalonia’s, which is nearly the size of Ireland’s.

The region’s main business lobby, Cercle d’Economia, last week said a unilateral declaration of independence “would plunge the country into an extraordinarily complex situation, with unknown, but very serious, consequences”: Brexit, but with bells on.

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A dangerous time for Catalonia, Spain and the rest of Europe | Letters | World news

Tuesday promises to be a historic day for the future of Catalonia. On that day, the president of the regional community, Carles Puigdemont, will have to bow to the most radical sector of the parliament and unilaterally declare the independence of Catalonia, or suspend this serious decision and open a process of negotiation with the central government of Madrid.

Declaring independence will definitively close the door on negotiations and allow the Spanish president, Mariano Rajoy, to apply article 155 of the constitution, under which Madrid assumes control of the regional government (Generalitat) and puts its leaders outside the law, starting with Puigdemont.

Article 155, if applied, will open a situation of great tension in Barcelona. Some even speak of the first step towards a civil war, as happened in 1936 with General Franco’s uprising.

Throughout Spain, large demonstrations have been held in favour of the unity of the country and against independence. Catalonia was never an independent country. In the 1930s a popular uprising took place in favour of a republic, but the army put it down with force. The president of Catalonia at that time, Lluís Companys, was imprisoned, and then, at the end of the civil war, was shot dead by Franco in October 1940.

If Catalonia lives in a pre-civil-war climate this is due to the mistakes of the two parties in conflict. The outbreak came in June 2010 when the central government obtained from the constitutional court the rejection of a new statute of autonomy voted for by the Catalans in September 2005. If Madrid had had the wisdom of not repressing that statute of 2005, it is very possible that we would not be in this pre-war situation now.

But Catalan nationalists also have their share of responsibility from their imposition of independence through an illegal referendum, without minimum guarantees of credibility. On 1 October, more than 2 million voters (43% of the electorate) voted for independence, but that consultation was not held in regular conditions. And 57% of voters abstained from going to the polls.

Madrid made a serious mistake when it denied a new statute of autonomy granting more powers to the Generalitat.

Only negotiation can resolve the conflict. But for that it would be necessary for Puigdemont not to declare independence on Tuesday. The risk is enormous.
Manuel Ostos
Benicarló, Spain

Greens in the European parliament share a group with the European Free Alliance (EFA), which includes a number of Catalan politicians. We share common values, particularly a commitment to the principle of self-determination. We are also committed to the peaceful resolution of conflict and have therefore been appalled by the action of the Spanish Guardia Civil. We are equally aghast by the absence of any sort of intervention by the EU (Analysis: EU must act before it is too late, 6 October).

The Greens-EFA group pressed for and secured a debate on the issue in the European parliament. In this debate we will make clear that the people of Catalonia must be able to peacefully assert their wishes for their future without being subjected to repression and attacks.

If our foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, is still capable of making any comment without inflaming an international crisis, he should also condemn unequivocally the police and state brutality meted out against peaceful protesters.

The EU has a proud history of spreading democracy across Europe. It is absolutely vital that European leaders – and the EU institutions – continue to champion and defend the principles of democratic engagement and self-determination.

As Greens we urge heads of state and the European commission to call on both sides to step back from the brink and play a mediating role in negotiating a solution that works for the people of Catalonia and the people of Spain.
Molly Scott Cato MEP
Green, South West England

Under the escalating circumstances that your recent reports on Catalonia describe, readers may be interested in the following statement by a group of academic philosophers who work there but hold diverse views about the desirability of Catalan independence.

1. We reject the police violence against non-violent citizens used in Catalonia on 1 October 2017. Such violence is unjustified, even given the Spanish constitutional court’s judgment about the referendum’s illegality. We call on all Spanish and Catalan politicians to abstain from violence, unilateral action, provocation and manipulation. Free speech and respectful dialogue, guided by reasoned arguments and facts, must be the means by which to solve political disputes.

2. As a step towards tension reduction, we propose to the Spanish and Catalan governments that a commission be formed consisting of expert representatives of all major parties, including the opposition parties of both parliaments, with the task of building a consensus for the procedural and substantive norms for conflict reduction in this case. The commission should include experts in law, political philosophy, and conflict resolution.

3. While it is unlikely that a single set of norms will achieve universal agreement within the commission, the majority required should not merely exceed 50%. For political decisions with momentous long-term effects, agreements should require clear and significant majorities.
Victoria Camps, Jaume Casals, José Luis Martí, Teresa Marques, JJ Moreso, Genoveva Martí, Thomas Sturm, Joan Vergés Gifra, Andrew Williams
For full statement and list of co-supporters, see

Irish peace negotiators played a useful role in talks that led to the disarmament and political inclusion of Eta, the armed Basque separatist group. Is there scope now for Anglo-Scottish assistance in the current impasse between Barcelona and Madrid – a joint visit by Alex Salmond and David Cameron, perhaps? Arguably the breakdown in Catalonia is more serious for European cohesion than the Brexit process, and if the UK is to be a serious post-Brexit partner then Brits must start showing some statesmanship.
Richard Bourne

Since Nato illegally bombed Serbia in 1999 to wrest control of Kosovo from the Balkan nation, we have witnessed a significant increase in the number of secessionist efforts around the world as borders have unravelled in Ukraine and elsewhere (Catalan president vows to press on with independence, 5 October). Western leaders should be ashamed at having encouraged the hopes of terrorists worldwide that borders can be changed and national sovereignty and international laws are meaningless if they can get Nato to support their cause. Get ready for a lot more trouble ahead.  
Dr Michael Pravica
Henderson, Nevada, USA

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Endlessly refighting old wars does nothing to heal a fractured present | Will Hutton | Opinion

There is too much remembering. Whether it’s Catalonia or Scotland, Serbia or Saxony – not to mention Brexiters invoking the memory of Trafalgar, Agincourt and Elizabeth I – Europe is plunging ever deeper into an orgy of unforgiving remembrance.

A collective curse has settled over our continent, in which past triumphs are contrasted with present grievances. Only independence, taking back control and avenging a continuum of injustice can restore justice, prosperity and lost glory, even if, in Catalonia, there could be a slide to civil war, as EU commissioner Günther Oettinger warns. It is not that the rest of the world is immune from this contagion: witness the passions over the Confederate flag in Charlottesville, Japanese politicians genuflecting at their war shrine or jihadists avenging the Crusades. But Europe, with so many tribes boasting so much history in so many countries, is the memory capital of the globe, where too many states are so vulnerable to the agonies of secession and fragmentation.

The latest manifestation is in Catalonia. Here is one of the most prosperous regions in Europe boasting one of the most dynamic cities, Barcelona, invoking tribal memories of a glorious past to insist on independence from the Castilian yoke. For Catalan nationalists, Spain has not changed its spots: it remains the autocratic, oppressive state it always was, with Franco’s falangism only just beneath the surface. Catalonia must restore ancient glories and regain control of its destiny, not least over its taxes. This week, the Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, is to address Catalonia’s parliament, following the controversial independence referendum with a 90% yes vote. But it was won from less than half the electorate, following the legitimate if crude attempt by the Spanish government to suppress it on the day.

Rubber bullets are never a good idea. Yet Spain’s constitutional court ruled the referendum unconstitutional and has now ruled that the proposed session of the Catalan parliament to act on the result should be suspended as illegal, being outside Spain’s 1978 settlement setting out the terms on which its regions’ parliaments can meet. It is right. Hence this week’s parliamentary meeting will be a rebellious gathering if Puigdemont goes ahead. Insiders believe he will call for independence. There will be no recognition by any member of the EU; no legal recognition in Spain or Europe’s courts; no membership of any international intergovernmental grouping. There won’t even be agreement on what currency it can use.

Catalan president Carles Puigdemont could declare independence within days.

Catalan president Carles Puigdemont could declare independence within days. Photograph: Lluis Gene/AFP/Getty Images

The Catalan government knows all this, even courting the arrests that will follow and the imposition of direct rule by Madrid. But there is a powerful faction that wants to set in train a dynamic that will lead to real independence, at whatever economic and social cost. Already, half-a-dozen companies have left Catalonia, with the Spanish government offering assistance. That movement will turn into a rush. This is a gathering calamity.

The best justification for what is happening is that these inflated memories are but froth on a deeper and natural yearning of every subnational, culturally united minority to enjoy civic self-determination. The worst interpretation is to see Catalonia as an expression of a destructive populist appeal to its citizens’ worst instincts – puffed-up hatred of the other, driven by false grievances and impossible hopes – while cloaking those unappetising instincts in the language of self-government and democracy.

The complicated truth is that, while there is a proper appetite for more self-government, we should be more clear eyed about all this remembering of old injustices as the source of the passion. It leads nowhere but to enmity and an inflaming of nonexistent differences – Catalans and Castilians are both inheritors of Europe’s Enlightenment traditions and, above all, respecters of the rule of law. Now there are tensions bordering on conflict.

As American writer David Rieff argues in his subtle and important book In Praise of Forgetting, we are living in an era of the cult of the memory, which is phenomenally destructive. Yes, it is proper to remember, but just as it becomes psychotic for individuals to live in the past, wanting to avenge injustices from childhood, so obsession with memory is psychotic for communities. Be aware of what is going on, writes Rieff, when the French Front National celebrates Joan of Arc, the SNP William Wallace or, as happened yesterday, when tens of thousands of Polish Catholics prayed for Europe on the anniversary of the battle of Lepanto, a Christian routing of Muslims.

History is being manipulated to serve an agenda of closure and a justification for ethnically based superiority, the worst example of which was the atrocities committed in Bosnia. Respect the past, argues Rieff, but distrust its deification for partisan ends. We should do more forgiving and forgetting and, in an era of globalisation, try to create governance structures better able to sustain fair societies.

Spain is tottering on the brink. A Catalan declaration of independence followed by direct rule from Madrid would be a trigger for civic mayhem and colossal economic dislocation. There are some optimistic signs. Over the weekend, there have been apologies from both sides for the violence: Madrid suggests elections – and maybe Puigdemont will draw back. Yet the atmosphere is suffocatingly cloaked with too much remembering.

The right response, as Catalonia’s Socialist party argues, is for Spain to recreate itself as a republican, federal state rather than attempt to sustain itself as a monarchially legitimised unitary state. The only way to avoid disaster and give the mainstream parties in Catalonia the political ammunition to argue against secession, which neither they nor the majority of Catalans want, is to offer the prospect of an autonomous Catalonia within a federal Spain. It is through political creativity that historical myth can be relegated to where it belongs, along with much more determined and imaginative activism to address inequalities and neglect.

Similarly in Britain. If the unfolding disaster of Brexit is to be stopped in its tracks, and the over-remembered, over-deified past restored to its proper place, we need parallel creativity – a constitutional settlement with Europe and, at home, a real assault on the injustices that fed what was at bottom a protest vote against a status quo too many found intolerable. Too much remembering has become toxic. It is time to forget and move on.

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