Separatist victory in Catalan regional election raises question of EU membership

Prospect of an independent Catalonia prompts mixed response from the EU.

By William Louch

29 Sep 2015

Regional elections held in Catalonia this weekend delivered a clear result in favour of pro-independence parties. Catalan President Artus Mas described the elections  as "a plebiscite on the future of Catalonia."

Billed by Spanish national newspaper El Mundo, as, "the most important election since Spain's return to democracy," the vote is seen as a decisive moment in the future of Catalonia, Spain and Europe.  The importance of the vote was underlined by record-breaking turnouts, with 76 per cent of eligible voters participating.

Catalonia's continued membership of the EU and the Euro would be a key issue in any referendum, potentially setting a precedent for other countries and regions seeking to secede, such as Scotland and Flanders.


Last week, Amadeu Altafac, the Catalan government's representative to the EU, made the case for Catalan membership saying, "we have a viable economy, with 112 per cent of the EU's average economic output, and we are a regular contributor to EU funds."

Alyn Smith, a Scottish National Party MEP, speaking after the Catalan elections, called for the EU to be pragmatic, though acknowledging that, "the EU has not exactly been forthcoming on the question of independence and EU membership, and I fully expect this chilly neutrality will continue."

The EU Commission has so far refused to comment on the issue, saying, "the European Commission as a matter of principle does not comment on regional elections"

However, former European justice Commissioner and current centre-right European People's Party MEP Viviane Reding made her position quite clear in a statement released by the Commission in February 2014.

She said, "to put it bluntly: a few seconds after a vote for independence, Catalonia would be out of the Union. You would be out of the euro system. The process to come back into our Union would not be a quick one."

She added, "it would require long negotiations and the unanimous approval of all EU countries. It would be a project of a generation."

However, whether a referendum on the issue will even happen is open to dispute.

The pro-independence party, Junts pel Sí, won 62 seats in the 135-seat regional parliament, just short of a clear majority of 68. They are expected to form an uneasy coalition with the far-left pro-secession party the Candidatura d'Unitat Popular (CUP).  

Artur Mas has committed to continue campaigning for independence, claiming the victory has given pro-independence supporters the "legitimacy to push this project ahead."

While pro-independence parties have enough seats to form a majority, they failed to secure 50 per cent of the overall vote.  

Opponents have used this to question the legitimacy of their mandate.  Pedro Sanchez, secretary-general of the Spanish Socialists Workers' Party, claimed the 47 per cent won by the secessionists showed that "a majority of Catalans do not want independence."

The government in Madrid remain strongly opposed to any plans for Catalonia to declare unilateral independence from Spain.  

Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish Prime Minister, has repeatedly called independence "impossible." Speaking last year, he said of Artus Mas, "never in history has a leader wasted so much time, generated so much confusion and provoked such instability."

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