The huge rally for Catalan independence on Monday did not go unnoticed in Brussels and in Strasbourg, where most of the EU talking heads are right now.
Catalonia has called its independence vote for 1 October, although the authorities in Madrid dismiss the plan as illegal. Symbolic referendums held so far were widely boycotted by Catalan voters who oppose independence.
The Commission says the constitutional order of any member state is its own business. But the stakes are high for the bloc.
Those in Catalonia who seek a divorce from Spain want to stay in the EU. But this is not possible – according to EU law, if Catalonia becomes independent, 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 the opening of such an accession process.
Scotland is another region of Europe where a second independence referendum is “back on the table” against the Brexit background. Unlike in the case of Catalonia, the Commission is delighted by such a prospect.
And while Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont was snubbed by the Commission officials, President Juncker himself treated Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon as a head of state when she visited him just after the Brexit referendum.
Germany’s position is similar to that of the Commission. It endorses Madrid’s position vis-à-vis Catalonia but keeps its options open with respect to Scotland. Spain, of course, is strongly opposing any talks with Scotland on EU membership.
Experts say one way in which Scotland could remain in the EU would be if it became independent and then applied to be a “successor state”, effectively inheriting Britain’s EU membership. The EU would be happy because it would be proof that it remains attractive, and the number of EU member countries would remain unchanged.
Only this seems likely to encourage the Scots to vote for independence, raising the question:
Can the EU encourage Scotland to break away and tell the Catalans to forget about it? Of course, it makes no sense, but this is how things are.
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