Scottish minister: Catalonia should talk to Spain

John Swinney [Simon Kindlen]

On the eve of the regional elections in Catalonia (27 September), nationalist leader Artur Mas has found little sympathy abroad in his quest for secession.

Even the Scottish National Party has recommended that he change course, and avoid a unilateral divorce with Spain.

“I would certainly recommend an agreed process, as the way to enable you to have a vibrant debate about constitutional arrangements, but to do it in a way that all elements of the argument can be heard clearly and fully,” John Swinney, the Deputy First Minister of Scotland, said at a conference organized by the Bruegel think tank in Brussels on Monday (22 September).

Although the SNP lost its independence referendum in September 2014 by a narrow margin, Swinney emphasised that the understanding between Edinburgh and London “made the process very good and very robust, and unimpeachable, because the process was agreed”.

Swinney acknowledged that it is “very much for the people of Catalonia to determine what should be the way to proceed on these questions”. But in hindsight, he recalled the importance of an agreement guaranteeing that Edinburgh would remain a member of the EU.

“We argued very strongly that Scotland, as part of the United Kingdom, was already a member of the EU, and therefore the process of membership adjustment would have taken place from within the EU as a continuing member.”

However, Catalonia’s pro-independence coalition, Junts pel sí- (Together for yes), led by the ruling Convergencia Democrática de Catalunya, is ready to approve a new constitution, and to break up with Spain by March 2017, in the event of an electoral victory on 27 September.

>>Read: Catalonia nationalists plan 2017 secession from Spain

If Barcelona proclaims its independence, the wealthiest of Spain’s 17 semi-autonomous regions would automatically become a non-EU member, the European Commission has said.

>>Read: Dombrovskis, the unexpected Catalan hero?

Although Brussels added that the region could apply for EU membership, during the European elections last year, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker warned that its application “would not be easily solved”. The 28 member states should give their unanimous consent to open the accession talks.

“EU membership relates to specific cases and points,” Swinney explained. “In our case, with an agreed process, and Scotland being member of the EU already, that was an orderly process that we put in place,” he stated.

When Spain returned to democracy in the mid-1970s, regions such as Catalonia and the Basque Country saw a vibrant resurgence of their culture and languages, which had been crushed during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco.

Catalans speak a language similar to, but distinct from, the Castillian Spanish spoken in the rest of Spain. The region accounts for 15% of Spain's population but 20% of its economy.

With Spain's economy in freefall from the eurozone debt crisis, Catalans complain of paying billions of euros more in taxes than they receive back from Madrid.

The European Commission has warned Catalonia that it would no longer be considered an EU member state if it became independent from Spain.

>>Watch the video: Brussels says an independent Catalonia would need to leave EU

Answering to pressing demands from the Catalan government and the Spanish press, a top EU official said that any new independent state would become "a third country".

The Commission reiterated its comments after a group of advisers to the Catalan government published a report saying that an independent Catalonia would be able to stay in the EU.

>>Watch the video: EU insists that an independent Catalonia would leave the EU

27 September: Regional elections in Catalonia

Summer 2016: Conclusion of the drafting of a new Constitution and the structures of a new state.

May 2017: Deadline for the unilateral proclamation of independence

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