Friday 20 July 2018

European Council's 'conspicuous silence' during debate on civil rights in Spain condemned - MEPs

Independence supporters gather in Barcelona's main square. (AP Photo/Santi Palacios)
Independence supporters gather in Barcelona's main square. (AP Photo/Santi Palacios)

Shona Murray

MEPs condemned the “conspicuous silence” of the European Council - the institution in which all EU prime minister's sit - during a debate on civil rights in Spain in light of the unofficial referendum in Catalonia last Sunday.

Polish MEP, Antoni Legutko Ryszard criticised the EU, as a “union of selective values.”

He also accused the European Commission of having a “double standard” where “all are equal but some are more equal than others” in its refusal to condemn the Spanish government for its undemocratic behaviour towards Catalonian separatists.

During the specially timetabled debate yesterday, Belgian MEP and the European Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator, Guy Verhofstadt said the violence last Sunday was “deplorable” and that divisions could not be mended with the law alone, but with dialogue, understanding and a “renewed political vision.”

Mr. Verhofstadt also addressed the Catalonian authorities saying the poll, which was thwarted using heavy force from 17,000 members of Spanish police “wasn’t in the interests of your citizens” to pursue independence “at all costs”. 

Read More: Top EU officials rally behind Spanish PM over Catalan poll

German MEP, Marcus Weber said while nobody can remain “indifferent” to the worrisome violence; the “legitimacy of a member state” was at stake.

Weber warned the Catalan authorities not to take “irreversible” steps and that any separatist movement which leaves Spain, automatically then leaves the European Union: “this means leaving the internal market including the eurozone and single market.”

Such a remark will be strongly heard by the Irish government who fear the Spanish government will now become more hostile to any special arrangement for the status of Northern Ireland after Brexit, as Madrid may feel it will initiate a “precedent for Catalonia”, a senior government source told The Irish Independent.

Read More: Former Taoisigh, Brian Cowen and Enda Kenny, cited as potential mediators in Spanish-Catalan stand-off

Dublin will argue that the situation is not the same because Northern Ireland does not want to leave the EU – it is being forcibly taken out because of Britain.

The Irish government needs to tread carefully, as any hint of sympathy with Catalonian leaders may backfire when Ireland seeks support for the Northern Irish settlement.

The European Parliament's chief Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt in Belfast at the start of a two day fact-finding mission
The European Parliament's chief Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt in Belfast at the start of a two day fact-finding mission

In response, EU Commissioner for the Rule of Law and Charter of Fundamental Rights Frans Timmerman said “respect for the rule of law is not optional it is fundamental.”

He told the European Parliament that in Europe after the Second World War and then after the end of dictatorships in Spain, Portugal and Greece, “we have shaped” our democratic societies based on the “principles of democracy, respect for the rule of law and human rights.”

The Catalan regional government “has chosen to ignore the law when organising the referendum last Sunday”, he said. That does not change the fact that we have all seen “saddening” but “violence is never a solution”, he said.

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