The Brief: Madrid’s heavy-handedness is not a solution

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter.

Spain is slipping into a major crisis, which is also bad news for the EU. The current showdown is hardly unexpected, especially when you’re unlucky enough to have extremists at the helm both in Barcelona and Madrid.

What has been particularly worrying, at least since the 1 October (unconstitutional) referendum, if not before, is the evident lack of dialogue. This is weird for Spain, the country with the famous saying “hablando se entiende la gente”, an elegant invitation to settle conflicts with words.

Moreover, police violence in a country still marked by almost 40 years of Francoism was an extremely unhappy detail of the story. The Commission was also very lenient on the police violence, which shocked many around the world.

This is how the three main EU institutions, all led by EPP-affiliated leaders, thought they were making a favour to their party fellow, Mariano Rajoy: by not interfering in any way.

But they may be wrong. The right to interfere is not sacrosanct. In this case, it stems from Spain’s statute, the statute of a country expected to share certain values, and from being a weak member of the eurozone.

If developments lead to the need to rescue such a big economy, (the eurozone’s fifth largest), it would make Greece look like a piece of cake.

Incidentally, Greece is led by a far-left leader so interference there was never a problem.  Juncker even told the Greeks how they should vote at the referendum, so they were advised to vote the other way.

The only EU tactic so far has been to convey the message to Catalonia’s separatists that an independent Catalonia would find itself outside the EU.  Is this a scary argument? Hard to say, and in any case, they were not impressed.

The Catalonia affair also highlights how useless a European institution like the European Committee of the Regions is. Ideally, it should give regions and cities a real voice in EU law-making and allow a region such as Catalonia to be a strong EU player, through subsidiarity.

But member states never divested powers to the Committee of the Regions. The EU never became a Europe of the regions and it is going to pay a high price now.

Catalonia’s parliament this afternoon voted in favour of independence, which prompted the Spanish Senate to approve stripping the region of its autonomy. Read the full story here.

The Roundup

Minutes after Spanish PM Rajoy urgend senators to halt Catalonia’s independence bid, Commissioner Moedas said the situation is “very difficult on all sides.”

The French law on multinational firms’ “duty of care” builds momentum for a UN legally binding treaty on corporations’ human rights obligations – but the EU is not keen.

Best buddies Juncker and Macron travel to French Guyana to check out the EU’s space agency and to appease inhabitants, angry at the mainland’s abandonment.

Populism is unpopular: V4 countries are no longer looked up to as role models in European integration, due to growing populism and Euroscepticism, and they are losing traction among their neighbours.

It’s budget time. Commissioner Oettinger starts his tour on the EU’s future budget in Bulgaria, who is taking the relay of the EU council’s presidency in January.

Milk farmers are asking for payments in exchange of reducing gallons, as the recent price increase, they say, hasn’t found its way back to them but got stuck somewhere in the production chain.

British farming should “respect science” after Brexit, said British farming boss, citing Brussels’ regulations on glyphosate and GMOs for farmers’ leave vote.

Baltic countries are cashing in on their excellent renewable performance, as Luxembourg pays €10m to be able to say, on paper, that it too met its target. As Poland, France, the UK and Netherlands are far from meeting their own, these trade-in numbers are likely to grow.

Renewable energy surpluses and persisting storage problems could be used to produce gas, a new process known as “power-to-gas”. But is it really that green?

Italy’s pledge to phase-out coal builds momentum to end Europe’s fossil fuels dependency, but coal-bingers like Germany are still not buying in, writes E3G’s Julian Schwartzkopff.

E-cars aren’t everything – we need a radical rethink of mobility, including buses, bikes, taxis, delivery services, and trains. Read our interview with Green MEP Michael Cramer.

Look out for…

Expect more from the Madrid-Barcelona tussle. Icelanders go to the polls in a snap election. Former PM Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson is expected to renter political life after being ousted in the wake of the Panama Papers scandal.

Views are the author’s

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