Commission cautious on Catalonia violence, UN urges ‘thorough investigation’

Spanish National riot policemen evict a young woman during clashes between the people gathered outside the Ramon Llull school and police forces during the referendum' in Barcelona, Catalonia, on 1 October 2017. [Alberto Estevez/EPA]

In a carefully worded statement, the European Commission branded as “illegal” Catalonia’s independence referendum held on Sunday (1 October), only shyly mentioning the police violence that left some 800 people wounded.

Catalonia’s regional government said that 90% of the voters had backed independence in the referendum, marred by violent police attacks on peaceful citizens. Spain’s constitutional court declared the referendum illegal, a view shared by the EU executive.

“Under the Spanish Constitution, yesterday’s vote in Catalonia was not legal”, the Commission said in a statement on Monday (2 October).

It also warned that if Catalonia were to proclaim independence, it would find itself outside the European Union. Catalonia’s leader Carles Puigdemont said the region had  now won the right to quit Spain.

Commission: Independent Catalonia ‘would find itself outside of EU’

The Commission called today Catalonia’s independence referendum “illegal”, while the Catalan government said Sunday’s vote had given it the right to declare independence from Spain.

According to EU law, if Catalonia became independent and wanted to join the EU, it should apply for membership and go through a lengthy process of negotiations. EU enlargement requires unanimity and under current EU treaties, Madrid would never agree to even open such an accession process.

Eyes on EU as Catalonia leader threatens independence

Catalonia’s leader, Carles Puigdemont, said the region won the right to break away from Spain, with his government claiming on Monday (2 October) that 90% of voters backed independence in a banned referendum marred by violent clashes.

“Beyond the purely legal aspects of this matter, the Commission believes that these are times for unity and stability, not divisiveness and fragmentation”, the Commission statement said, calling on “all relevant players” to move swiftly “from confrontation to dialogue”.

“Violence can never be an instrument in politics”, the statement said.

The Commission’s chief spokesperson, Margaritis Schinas, was pressed to answer if this was a clear condemnation of police violence and if Spain was infringing on people’s fundamental right of expression. He declined to elaborate beyond the text of the statement.

Sunday’s video footage from Catalonia showed protestors being fired at with rubber bullets and police stamping on independence supporters at one polling station.

Fundamental rights were actually mentioned in the Commission’s statement, in a sentence expressing trust in the leadership of the Spanish prime minister, considered by many as responsible for mishandling and exacerbating the relation with Catalonia’s secessionist leaders.

“We trust the leadership of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to manage this difficult process in full respect of the Spanish Constitution and of the fundamental rights of citizens enshrined therein”, the statement ends.

Schinas said Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was going to speak to Rajoy during the afternoon. It was earlier reported that German Chancellor Angela Merkel phoned Rajoy yesterday after scenes of police brutality were aired around the world.

The UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn urged PM Theresa May to appeal directly to Rajoy to end police violence.

The Spanish government said police had not used disproportionate force and actions had been taken against electoral material such as ballots and ballot boxes and not against people.

Spain’s justice minister Rafael Catalá warned that any declaration of independence could lead to invoking article 155 of the country’s constitution being, which allows the national government to intervene in the running of an autonomous region.

UN urges investigation

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called for a thorough, independent and impartial investigation into the violence during the Catalan referendum.

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in a statement he was “very disturbed” by the violence in Catalonia, and that the police response needed to be proportionate and necessary.