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.”
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.