Published On: Mon, Oct 21st, 2019

EU news: Catalonia’s independence bid was led by belief bloc ‘gave voice to small nations’ | World | News

Catalonia called an independence referendum in October 2017, and around 90 percent of the votes cast were in favour of becoming a republic. However, the referendum itself had been declared illegal by Spain’s Constitutional Court. Police lined the streets and attempted to prevent the electorate casting their votes with batons and rubber bullets – and only 43 percent of the region’s population even managed to reach the ballot boxes. The pro-independence Catalan president at the time, Carles Puigdemont, said: “The unjustified use of violence by the Spanish state will not stop the will of the Catalan people.”

The ruling separatists declared independence a few weeks later. Consequently, Madrid imposed direct rule upon the north-eastern region.

The Spanish government then dissolved the Catalan parliament. Mr Puigdemont fled and is still residing in Brussels two years after the referendum to avoid arrest.

In June last year, the nationalists regained control and now Quim Torra – an ally of Mr Puigdemont’s – leads the regional government.

Spain’s Supreme Court sentenced nine Catalan separatist politicians earlier this month – some have been jailed for up to 13 years after supposedly implementing an illegal referendum and committing treason. 

The Catalan riots and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker

The Catalan riots and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker (Image: GETTY)

Riots in Catalonia from earlier this month

Riots in Catalonia from earlier this month (Image: GETTY)

This has sparked a resurgence of violence between Spanish police and Catalan citizens, resulting in some of the worst violence Spain has seen in decades.

Throughout the ongoing conflict, separatists have pleaded with the EU to intervene on their behalf. Campaigners would like to exist as an independent state in the trading bloc – but, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said in 2017 that intervention would cause chaos.

The EU has remained relatively quiet ever since.

In a 2009 Telegraph article, reporter Fiona Govan spoke to Spain’s separatists and discovered the region’s rebels’ loyalty lay with the EU rather than Spain, years before the chaotic 2017 referendum.

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Violence started again following the imprisonment of leading figures in the separatist movement

Violence started again following the imprisonment of leading figures in the separatist movement (Image: GETTY)

A leading youth member of Catalonia’s Republican party – the ERC – Pol Pages told the reporter: “We strongly believe in the European Union, because there we have an alliance that potentially gives the same voice to small ‘nations’ like Catalonia, as to bigger countries such as Spain and France.

“And the European Union offers protection. If tomorrow Catalonia voted to break away from Spain, Madrid couldn’t send in the army as it has threatened in the past because we are a part of Europe and protected by its laws.

“Europe to us represents democracy, human rights and a respect for freedom and we hope one day to be recognised as our own state with in it.”

Ms Govan also reported how the separatists believed: “We are Catalans first and Europeans second, but don’t call us Spanish.”

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The EU has refused to help Catalonia

The EU has refused to help Catalonia (Image: GETTY)

Some separatists believed in the independence movement because they wanted to be independent in the EU

Some separatists believed in the independence movement because they wanted to be independent in the EU (Image: GETTY)

In 2017, Jean-Claude Juncker told students in Luxembourg that he had warned the Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy that his government needed to do some damage control in Catalonia. 

He said: “For some time now I asked the Spanish Prime Minister to take initiatives so that Catalonia wouldn’t run amok. A lot of things were not done.

“People have to undertake their responsibility. I would like to explain why the commission doesn’t get involved in that. A lot of people say: ‘Juncker should get involved in that.’ 

“We do not do it because if we do … it will create a lot more chaos in the EU. We cannot do anything. We cannot get involved with that.”

Over the last two years, the EU has maintained that the Catalonia crisis is an internal affair for Spain to resolve.

Former president Carles Puigdemont

Former president Carles Puigdemont (Image: GETTY)

Ms Govan did point out the EU has empowered the region in the past, prior to the referendum.

She said: “The region has had its own ‘embassy’ in Brussels since 2004 and directly lobbies the European Commission and the European Parliament – to secure changes to the law and seek direct regional funding from the EU budget. 

“Such funds, worth billions of euros a year, are directly managed by Catalonia.”

The regional language has been recognised as an “official” language of the EU, but was not granted an equal status with Spanish. Only some documents are translated into Catalan.

Not all of the Catalan population desire independence, but the division within the region has caused Spain’s greatest political crisis since the death of the military dictator General Francisco Franco in 1975, when democracy was restored.

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