Catalonia: Why the EU Should Intervene
Tensions between Spain and Catalonia are running high. Catalonia unilaterally declared independence in 2017, and the Spanish government took charge of Catalonia and imposed direct rule. Direct rule has since ended, but the present trials of Catalan separatist leaders for charges such as rebellion, sedition, civil disobedience and misuse of public funds are leading once again to a possible crisis.
To ease this tension, the European Union must intervene. The EU does not need to take a side in the argument. Rather, it should act as an impartial mediator.
The EU needs to offer the parties a way out of the conflict. It could suggest a formal renunciation of the unconstitutional declaration of independence of Catalonia in exchange for a new legal vote on independence. If these terms are not agreeable to both sides, the EU could suggest a better fiscal pact as well as a re-examination of the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia.
Catalonia is an important region for both Spain and the European Union. Catalonia is Spain’s richest region, accounting for a fifth of the country’s GDP. Barcelona is one of the top 20 ports in the EU by weight of goods handled. Two-thirds of Catalonia’s foreign exports go to the EU.
The European Union must intervene to prevent the risk of escalation. If the crisis continues, Catalonians could decide to launch a series of mass protests, strikes, and acts of civil disobedience in order to get their voices heard. These actions would cripple the regional and national economy.
The EU must prevent a domino effect. There is a fear that if Catalonia becomes independent, other sub-national regions will seek to follow. Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, has openly stated this concern. Intervention to resolve this issue will alleviate such fears.
The EU must make a statement about human rights. Human Rights Watch reported on the allegations of unjustified police force during the 2017 referendum in Catalonia. After the investigation, Human Rights Watch concluded that Spain’s Guardia Civil (Civil Guard) and the Cuerpo Nacional de Policia (National Police Corps) at times used excessive force. The European Union’s silence on this matter thus far is damaging to its reputation. This police violence was a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Intervention will show the world that such actions are not tolerated.
Intervention would reduce economic harm to the EU. Sabadell and CaixaBank, two main Spanish banks, have chosen to move their headquarters out of the region. The turmoil has already hurt the Spanish stock exchange and the euro. In addition, if Catalonia separates from Spain, it is unlikely it will become part of the EU because Spain and all EU member states must approve. Trade with Catalonia would become much more difficult. By settling the issue, the EU can diminish these economic costs.
Many argue that the EU lacks a legal mechanism to get involved. They claim that Spain can fix its own political conflicts. Yet Spain has not done so, and its failure to find a solution has implications for the entire EU. Because of police brutality, the EU can no longer ignore the issue. Its silence has opened it up to criticism across the political spectrum.
The European Union must intervene. It can no longer leave the Catalonian crisis untouched. It can encourage more dialogue and offer a mutually beneficial way out of the conflict. Let the European Union help Spain find peace.