Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Catalan Boss Says ‘Brexit’ Deal Sign EU Can Flex for Separatists

Donald Tusk’s proposal for avoiding a so-called Brexit shows the European Union can accommodate major shifts in the continent’s political situation, said Carles Puigdemont, who as regional president aims to lead Catalonia to independence next year.
The EU president’s plan to limit benefits for Europeans who move to Britain and shield the City of London from bank regulators in Frankfurt aims to help Prime Minister David Cameron win a vote on staying in the 28-nation bloc. It also illustrates the continent’s leaders are ultimately pragmatists when push comes to shove, Puigdemont, 53, said in an interview in Barcelona Thursday.
“The European Union is displaying a healthy adaptation to its environment,” Puigdemont said from his office in the heart of Barcelona’s medieval center. “This is a good precedent in the light of what could happen in Catalonia.”
Tusk is trying to broker a deal for Cameron that the EU’s other 27 members can live with just as Catalonia’s separatist government tries to find a way to escape from Spain. One major hurdle for the Catalans has been the insistence from officials across Europe that leaving would mean re-applying for membership of the EU and, perhaps more importantly, the euro region.
“Both sides have shown that they want the U.K. to continue in the European Union,” said Puigdemont, a journalist by training. The EU “has the capacity to come up with proposals so that political reality can be accommodated, and that’s encouraging for Catalonia.”


Catalonia’s independence movement is trying to regain its momentum after the main separatist group fell short of a majority in September’s election, leading to a three-month standoff with a smaller anarchist party.
Puigdemont emerged as a last-minute alternative to the incumbent, Artur Mas, as fighting between two factions threatened to force new elections, jeopardizing their majority in the regional assembly. He was previously mayor of Girona in northern Catalonia.
With the Catalan government finally up and running, it’s the Spanish administration that is hamstrung now. That puts Acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in an awkward as Cameron prepares to take his proposals to a summit of European leaders in Brussels on Feb. 18.
Puigdemont is backing Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez’s call for Rajoy to negotiate the Spanish position with other political parties ahead of that gathering since he no longer a majority in parliament. Sanchez is seeking allies to help oust Rajoy who has admitted he doesn’t have enough support to win a confidence vote after losing a third of his seats in December’s national election.
“It’s obvious that it should be done that way,” said Puigdemont. “Not only political groups but also relevant institutions such as the Catalan government should have the chance to express their opinion about what the Spanish position should be.”

Final Push

The Catalan government is aiming to build the institutions for an independent state over the next eighteen months and then hold a definitive vote on secession. Rajoy says the plan is illegal and has asked the constitutional court to shut the program down.
Sanchez has taken a more conciliatory approach and wants to address the Catalans’ concerns with a constitutional reform, though he’s ruled out giving them a referendum.
While almost half of Catalan voters backed parties supporting independence in September’s regional election, most separatists want to remain part of the EU.
Cameron himself, who defeated a Scottish bid to break away from the U.K. in 2014, has said that Catalonia will be excluded from the EU if Puigdemont’s government makes good on its plans. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker backed him up.
“In the tradition of the European Union’s political realism, as has just been demonstrated, it would be smart to allow a serious, trustworthy partner and a net contributor like Catalonia to remain a member,” said Puigdemont. There isn’t a binding opinion about the consequences of Catalan independence, he said.

The Ebro warns Europe of the danger to the Delta

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Mr. ROMEVA: Statehood is Catalonia's 'only option'


Statehood is Catalonia's 'only option'

  • Romeva: Potential problems arising from Catalonia becoming independent would continue to be "a European issue". (Photo: Junts pel Si)

The new Catalan government installed last month under Carles Puigdemont has promised to adopt a constitution and organise a referendum on independence in about 18 months.
One part of this strategy is to boost the region’s profile and influence in Europe. To this end, a foreign affairs department has been created in Barcelona to replace the previous secretariat.
The new portfolio was entrusted to Raul Romeva, a former Green MEP who led the separatist coalition in the last election in September 2015.
“We aspire to become a state and an ally of the states in Europe and in the world,” Romeva told EUobserver in an interview.
“We want to explain in Europe that we want to bring solutions. We have the will and the intention to continue contributing to the European project, being an asset and not a problem.”

Divided left-wingers

The new foreign department, Romeva explained, would maintain and nurture the economic, social, political and cultural ties that Catalonia already has with the rest of Europe.
“We will also explain that we are preparing a series of structures and laws that at a certain time will be put to a vote to the citizens,” he said.
The Catalan government, run by Romeva and Puigdemont’s Junts pel Si (Together for Yes) coalition with the support of the left-wing separatist CUP, plans to implement judicial and tax laws as well as a social policy reform.
The objective is that the laws will be adopted by parliament within 18 months, and then Catalans will vote on a new constitution.
For now, however, the government in Madrid and most Spanish political parties say the Catalan push for independence contravenes the constitution, which describes Spain as the "indivisible homeland".
The Catalan question is also one of the reasons why the Spanish left is having a hard time agreeing to form a government. The populist Podemos party has promised to back a legal referendum on independence but the socialist PSOE is opposed to such a promise.
“It is in no way useful for Europe that we for years have stagnant problems like this one,” Romeva told EUobserver. “We have an electoral mandate that we presented in an election with a road-map towards independence and as we have the majority in the parliament, we are implementing this program.”

'Different sensibilities'

Romeva’s role is, among other things, to give the regional authorities’ views on the situation abroad and give Barcelona more weight in the showdown with Madrid.
Catalonia has a permanent representation in Brussels and government delegations in Austria, France, Germany and Portugal, as well as in Australia and the US.
“We want to have a normal relationship with Europe – Europe is our natural environment,” said Romeva. “However, we have a series of difficulties with the Spanish state, which prevents us from having this normal relationship with Europe.”
But Romeva accepts that there are "very different sensibilities" outside of the region about the possibility of Catalan statehood.
“There are people and states that understand it from a democratic point of view and there are other states where the government keeps a more rigid line,” he explained.
“We are an ally, but the states obviously have a certain caution because of their state relations with Spain.”
He admitted that this caution was logical.
“It is difficult for a state to have non-state relations against the wishes of another state, especially if that state is a partner in other spheres,” he said.

Scottish role model

After many years of claims and stalled negotiations with Madrid, the “only option now is to become a normal state and have a normal relation with the world”, the foreign minister said.
“We’re not a normal state, and we’re not what Spain wants us to be. We have a bit of a strange situation and we want to resolve that,” he said.
If a new Spanish government, when it is formed in Madrid, puts an agreed and legal referendum on the table now, it would be welcomed in Barcelona, said Romeva.
“A perfect situation would be like the referendum in Scotland,” he said.
“But it won’t happen. We have asked for a referendum 17 times. What is the limit for how many times you can ask for a referendum? Seventeen times more or should we look for an alternative solution?
“We have for decades now tried to find solutions within the framework of the Spanish constitution to take account of the different realities that there are in Spain. It hasn’t been possible and it has now reached an exhausted dimension where enough is enough.
“In order for Catalonia to be useful for Spain and for Europe we have to resolve this issue.”
Romeva added that his government wanted “to resolve this in a constant dialogue with all parts, although to have a dialogue, you need someone who will talk to you”.

EU citizenship question

The foreign minister also complained about the “difficulties” put by the Spanish government when Catalan officials try to do business abroad.
“When you move to find foreign investors, you constantly have a Spanish representative looking over your shoulder to see whether it is in favour not of economic interests but of the unity of Spain,” he said.
“This criterion is absolutely irrational because they prefer losing economic opportunities that are also beneficial for the rest of Spain.”
Romeva mentioned the Mediterranean corridor - an EU railway project to link the South of Spain to the Hungarian Ukraine border - where he said that Spain had continuously played down the importance of Catalonia’s role.
Although he assured that Catalan authorities “do not want a situation of chaos”, Romeva admitted the separatist drive could create a problematic situation for Europe.
“Catalonia is part of the European Union and the 7.5 million Catalans have the nationality of a member state of the European Union and therefore also EU citizenship,” he said. “One cannot take that away.”
Potential problems arising from Catalonia becoming independent would continue to be “a European issue,” he said.

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