Roger Casale is the founder and CEO of New Europeans, a pan-European organisation promoting the rights of European citizens.​ In this powerful piece, Roger defends Catalonia’s right to seek independence and asks the question – where is the EU voice right when it is needed the most?

The last two weeks has seen a sea of colour on the streets and squares of Barcelona. One day it’s the yellow and red of Catalonia, next the yellow and orange of Spain. Nowhere have we seen the yellow and blue of the EU flag.

A freedom to express 

And yet modern Europe is the context in which both Spanish and Catalonian identities reside. If we are building a Europe of Citizens, then why shouldn’t citizens be free to express themselves as Catalonian, Spanish, European or any combination of these identities including all three?

Or to put it another way, what is so “dangerous” about Catalonian identity as to threaten to push Catalonia not just out of Spain but out of the EU as well?

Before the referendum the EU masqueraded as a neutral observer. In fact it was powerless to do anything. It wasn’t impartial. It was impotent.

Silent support

On the eve of the referendum, EU leaders should have spoken to Mariano Rajoy at the EU council in Estonia. He was quietly given leave of absence to attend to matters in Spain so the opportunity was lost. On the day after the referendum, the EU abandoned neutrality and started to take the side of Spain.

Donald Tusk belatedly called for “no further escalation”. But what “further escalation” did he have in mind after 900 European citizens had just been assaulted by the police?

soteu 2017

President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker

Jean-Claude Juncker gave a sterile defence of the rule of law. Yet the the referendum was an act of peaceful civil disobedience. That is not the same as contempt for the rule of law as civil rights struggles since Gandhi have shown. Angela Merkel “affirmed her backing for “the unity of Spain”. Macron let his Europe Minister, Nathalie Loiseau do the talking. “A declaration of independence by Catalonia would not be recognised”, she said.

Apart from Charles Michel, Prime Minister of Belgium, no one has spoken out against the disproportionate and repugnant actions of the Spanish police.

I don’t have a view on Catalonian separatism. Catalonians appear to be as divided on this issue as they are about their relationship with Spain.

A foundation of freedom, law and human rights

What I do know is that the European Union is built on three pillars, the rule of law, democracy and human rights. And I am a citizen of Europe.

Take away any of these pillars and our common European home will fall down.

Governments must obey the rule of law or face the consequences and the Generalitat de Catalunya is no exception. Equally, European member states do not have a licence to breach human rights in the name of the rule of law (as in Spain) any more than they have a licence to breach human rights (and the rule of law) in the name of democracy (as in Poland and Hungary). Yet the European Union defends the actions of the Spanish government , whilst condemning the governments of Poland and Hungary.

To a committed European citizen like me, this looks like hypocrisy. If I am right, it will fuel division not just in Spain and in Catalonia but in the rest of Europe at a time when the European Union should be working for stability, unity and peace.

From a civil society perspective, the EU’s first duty should be to the citizens of Europe and not to the Governments of the member states. That is why New Europeans sent a monitor to Catalonia for the referendum and why we are continuning to gather evidence and to observe events there on the ground.

We want to understand the situation from the perspective of the squares and the streets of Catalonia, and not just from the perspective of ministerial offices and company boardrooms in Barcleona and Madrid.

We call on the EU to speak up for the human rights of all Catalonians (including those who want Catalonia to remain part of Spain). We say that it is time now for the EU to push for a democratic outcome to the crisis that respects the human rights of all concerned within the law.

Next week, the European Council meets in Brussels. This time Rajoy will be present. A legal referendum on Catalonian independence may prove to be the only way forward. EU leaders should now say so.