Puigdemont asks Europe to become involved in the Catalan referendum
ARA – The Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont; vice-president, Oriol Junqueras, and Foreign Minister, Raül Romeva, claim in Brussels that the referendum will take place with or without Spain’s agreement.
The time has arrived for Europe to take a position on the request for a referendum. This was the key message of a conference this Tuesday in Brussels given by the Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont; the vice-president, Oriol Junqueras, and the Foreign Minister, Raül Romeva. The 350-person capacity room in the European Parliament was crammed for a presentation which followed controversy over Partido Popular (the centre-right governing party in Madrid) attempts to boycott the meeting, asking conservative MEPs to stay away.
Puigdemont was tasked with closing the event and he repeated the same arguments that he had already used in the Catalan parliament and in Madrid. He reiterated his wish to reach an agreement with Spain to hold a referendum, but also insisted that the vote will be held in September 2017 at the latest, with or without Spain’s permission. Citizens will make it valid and binding through their participation.
This time, however, Puigdemont took advantage of being in Brussels to address a message to the European institutions, whom he asked to end their neutrality towards the judicialisation of politics being carried out by the Spanish state. The president stated that “it’s not independence, but democracy” that is at stake, and that this is a “European problem”. As such, he warned that “Europe can’t look away, and it will have to be part of the solution”.
Placing special emphasis on the trial against ex-president Artur Mas and ministers Joana Ortega, Francesc Homs and Irene Rigau for the unofficial 2014 independence referendum and the open case against House Speaker Carme Forcadell, Puigdemont stated his opinion that the “conventional notion of democracy” and the notion which “the Spanish state has displayed” are very different. He encouraged those present to judge for themselves if the Spanish government’s attitude “is normal, acceptable and proper of a serious and truly democratic state”.
Puigdemont argued that the referendum is a “pro-Europe” proposal because it is linked to the fundamental principle of democracy and because an independent Catalonia would remain within the framework of the EU. He noted that Europe has seen the emergence of new states in recent decades and stressed that Catalonia “aspires to achieving independence in a peaceful, civil manner”. “Ours is a quiet revolution”, he said before noting Catalonia’s wish to remain European.
The Catalan president’s speech was a review of how Catalonia has ended up in its current situation following the Spanish Constitutional Court’s verdict on the 2006 Statue of Autonomy. He said that this ruling had left Catalans with just two options: “Renounce what we were and stay permanently diluted within Spain as a region without any individual personality and without any ability to get any political power, or start a new stage as a new state within the framework of the European Union to guarantee progress and the well-being of all its citizens”.
Puigdemont was especially critical of the Spanish political system for repeatedly refusing to negotiate a referendum, despite the Catalan government’s offer to agree the conditions under which voting would take place. He also criticised them for not having asked themselves before what had happened to cause the independence movement to grow exponentially in the last few years and to have gained a majority in the Catalan parliament, with 72 of 135 representatives coming from separatist parties.
Romeva warns that Europe is risking its credibility
Raül Romeva, the Catalan Foreign Minister, was first to speak. Swapping between English and French, he underscored Catalonia’s will to become more involved in European affairs and remarked that the Catalan desire to be able to decide on Catalonia’s future is linked with questions and methods “deeply rooted” in European culture. As such, he warned that Europe “can’t shut their eyes” to the demand for an independence referendum because its “credibility” is at stake.
“Europe is lying its own future on the line when dealing with Catalonia. Eventually, Europe will have to take sides, and it is unthinkable that it won’t choose democracy… it would be acting against itself and its fundamental values”, concluded Romeva. Democracy, he said, as represented by a Catalan sovereignty process with a “just, peaceful, democratic [character], based on the respect for all citizens”.
Junqueras speaks in support of Catalonia’s economic capacity
Next to take the floor was vice-president Oriol Junqueras, whose address concentrated on Catalonia’s economic leadership, arguing that this was another area which could make Catalan independence appealing to Europe. He highlighted that while some Eurozone economies are growing slowly, “there are some exceptions, and Catalonia is one of them”, with growth of 3.4% in 2016.
Junqueras, who also holds the Economy portfolio in the Catalan government, highlighted Catalonia’s leading role in exports and industry, but recognised that the competitiveness of Catalan businesses “is limited”, among other factors, by the high cost of electricity in Spain and by the “unjustifiable and embarrassing delays” to the Mediterranean railway corridor. He also underlined that Catalonia is the main tourist destination within Spain, with more than 17 million visitors a year. Statistics which, as Junqueras emphasised, Catalonia has achieved despite the fiscal deficit it has to withstand with Spain and thanks to the effort that the Catalan government has made to reduce the public deficit and debt. He closed his remarks criticising Madrid for taking economic decisions based merely on political criteria.
In this way he justified the desire of a majority of Catalans to be an independent country: “We’re so responsible that we’d like to take on the same level of responsibility as any other state” he said before demanding the right “to vote” and help in constructing a “much better” Europe.
 The 2006 Catalan Statute of Autonomy was a controversial piece of legislation defining Barcelona’s powers and status within Spain which was approved by both the Catalan parliament and a referendum within Catalonia. Four years later, the Spanish Constitutional Court struck down 14 articles and interpreted 27 more in areas including language, the judicial system and the economy.