Catalonia putting Europe in disarray

One week after the Catalan referendum was held, uncertainty should be of interest to the whole Europe.

From a European perspective, the referendum was recognised by no one, as it has been declared illegal by the Spanish national authorities. No European country welcomed the result (about 90% of the voters officially supported “independence”), which actually politically makes sense although it could not be ignored on the long-term.

The European Commission condemned the violence in general and said the Catalan issue lied within Spanish constitutional internal law, without explicitly condemning the police violence used by the Spanish national authorities against the Catalan people. Questioned several times on it, last Monday during a press conference, the chief spokesperson of the European Commission, Margaritis Schinas, stayed stuck on the EC’s statement and added no comment on the police violence. But if the Catalan President, Carles Puigdemont, officially declares Catalonia as an independent country on Tuesday, the European Commission should accept a role of mediator, as the violence and conflicts between both parties will probably continue for months. If there is no mediation or dialogue, it indeed could make all the pro-independence political movements stronger and more radical across Europe.

Belgium adopted a sui generis position over the last days with regard to the Catalan crisis. The national government includes pro-autonomy/pro-independence members, as N-VA is part of if, which makes the governmental official position quite ambiguous. Although the Belgian Prime Minister, Charles Michel did not recognise the result of the referendum, he was one of the few European leaders to condemn the violence used by the Spanish authorities against the Catalan people. Bart de Wever, who runs the N-VA party, was also not very clear. He stated that Catalonia should be taken into account but he did not urge  for independence in the coming months. Nevertheless, he called the European Commission to play a role in this political crisis. The N-VA representatives seem not to be in the same political line, while some of them were in Barcelona last week to support the Catalan initiative.

In a nutshell, the Belgian parties and government are looking at the Catalan situation with forethought as they all know the coming weeks could be important for Belgium. If the independence really happens, the N-VA and the Vlaams Belang could be tempted by a Flemish referendum or an initiative to make Flanders stronger, but they also could crash if Catalan economy collapses. If there is no independence and the police violence continues, their position will probably be supported by a larger part of the Flemish population. Would it make the 2006 RTBF fake report real?

Although the pro-independence political movements are not as influential in the whole Europe, all the political developments in Catalonia will really be of interest to them. You can agree or disagree with regionalism and independence, there is no point not to have a debate on it. People’s life is however at stake now in Spain, in Belgium and in the EU, and everyone should deal with it to make the political conflict as soft as possible.