Rajoy to miss Tallinn summit over unrest in Catalonia

A handout photo made available by the Spanish Government shows Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy disembarking from a plane as he arrives at Andrews Air Base in Washington, DC, USA, 25 September 2017, a day ahead of his meeting with US President Donald J. Trump. [Spanish Government/Diego Crespo/EPA]

Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy will not attend the Tallinn Digital Summit with other EU leaders on Friday (29 September) because of unrest ahead of a controversial independence vote in Catalonia on Sunday, according to media reports.

Rajoy is travelling to the United States for a meeting with President Donald Trump on Tuesday evening (26 September). While Catalonia is not on the agenda, the meeting is meant to strengthen US-Spanish relations and is also widely seen as a chance to issue a warning to the secessionist region’s potential sympathisers.

The main items up for discussion are Spain’s role in the European Union and its commitment to NATO. But several large American companies are big investors in Catalonia, and Trump has previously defended Rajoy’s handling of the secessionist movement.

Catalonia’s regional government, led by President Carles Puigdemont, is planning to hold a referendum on independence this Sunday. If the “Yes” side wins, Puigdemont has vowed to declare independence within 48 hours and set about building a sovereign state.

But the vote has been deemed illegal by Spain’s top court and Rajoy’s conservative government has gone to great lengths to prevent it from taking place.

Spanish police have arrested Catalan government officials and confiscated tens of millions of voting slips, while Madrid has cut off funding for the region. Rajoy has been accused of using heavy-handed tactics and fanning the flames of separatism.

'Adios Spain': Huge rally for Catalan independence before vote

Hundreds of thousands of Catalans rallied yesterday (11 September) to demand their region’s secession from Spain, in a show of strength three weeks ahead of an independence referendum which has been banned by Madrid.

It emerged on Tuesday afternoon that Rajoy will remain in Spain on Friday to deal with the Catalan unrest, rather than attending the Tallinn Digital Summit with the rest of the EU’s leaders.

The summit, organised by the Estonian presidency of the Council of the EU, will “be a platform to launch high-level discussions on further plans for digital innovation with the aim of keeping Europe ahead of the technological curve while becoming a digital leader, globally, in the years to come”.

Catalan referendum: The EU's silence

As Catalonia’s independence referendum crisis deepens, EU officials are staying doggedly tight-lipped even as diplomats privately voice serious concern at a situation some regard as a challenge to fundamental European values.

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