German Views on Catalonia

An additional challenge to the European crisis*
Adam Casals

Several German think-tanks and analysts are starting to draw their attention to Catalonia. In their opinion, the question of Catalan independence adds more complexity to day-to-day European crisis management, opening at the same time new opportunities and potential risks on the way back to recovery.


Europe is standing at a crossroads, thus facing some of the most critical challenges in its recent history. Gideon Rachman, FT chief foreign affairs, defined in a few words the current situation at a recent CIDOB/CCME event in Barcelona: “Germany is running the show”. Interestingly enough, the mainstream German public debate does not focus on the crisis as being a part of its own problem and looks instead with increasing disregard to the so-called Südländer-countries; an everything-but-nice word that has come back to the political agenda. Catalan citizens and their corporate organizations generally fall into the category Spaniards, therefore Südländer. The “brand Spain” is well-known these days in Germany, mainly because of the several corruption scandals affecting the country, which the German press has explained to its public with all kinds of details. Recent polls show how Germans feel, as if they had been paying the bill for nothing for the past decades. An example of German austerity values is embodied in the Bund der Steuerzahler, the powerful taxpayers’ lobby association, which is not only systematically against European bailout policies, but promotes initiatives like the launching of a campaign to punish those who waste German tax payers’ money by putting them in jail.


Even the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, the foundation linked to the Social Democrats, recently published  a study in March 2013 called “Future Scenarios for the Eurozone 2020: Perspectives on the Euro Crisis”, which after a series of workshops in 14 European cities, including Berlin, Brussels and Barcelona, describes what most of the consulted analysts perceived as “the, not exactly desirable, but probably second best outcome of the current crisis” before the ideally “completion of the Eurozone by a fiscal and political Union”. This scenario being an intermediate stage, featuring a two-speed Europe where a core group of vanguard states “might serve in the long run as a locomotive, pulling the crisis-ridden nations out of the mess”. Indeed, the study mentions Catalonia while foreseeing “some wealthy regions within (southern European) states that would join a core integration zone”, thus becoming independent within the core of the European Union. Nevertheless, the authors take into consideration the power of massive citizenship movements, acting as a “trigger” in order to move decision-makers in one direction or the other.


A different article, called “The return of movable boundaries? Secession and independence movements in the European Union”, part of a larger study called “Unplanned is the normal case: situations that deserve attention”, was published in 2011 by SWP, the biggest Federal Chancellery sponsored think-tank in Berlin. The study addresses the situation in Scotland, Flanders and Catalonia, issuing some recommendations under the perspective of German interests. Thus should Germany “react in a flexible way to separatist movements. (…) If everything indicates that an EU-country is threatened by paralysis, then it makes sense to accept the secession”. Germany should not encourage the separation, but insist in the fact that “this shall happen in agreement and cooperation between the motherland and the new state, or between the new states”. Additionally, “the begining or the end of statehood within the EU does not necessarily mean destabilization, as it can actually create a new balance”. Nevertheless, uncontrolled or hostile divorce must be avoided, as it puts European integration in jeopardy.


The study also warns of undesired secondary effects of breaking the taboos of moving borders, i.e. regarding the relationship between Hungary and some of its neighbors, the problems of Wallonia not fulfilling the required criteria to enter the Eurozone or the difficulties that might arise if the consequent EU-membership renegotiation with a UK without Scotland would end up within British insistence to become additional opt-outs. Finally, the authors reveal what could seem to be one of the biggest German concerns: the image damage towards other European countries, suspicious about the fact that the “bigger and united Germany” would have unilaterally chosen to promote separation again, as it did once in the case of Yugoslavia. To avoid this, it strongly recommends the coordination between EU-member states, regarding the recognition of a new state and the establishment of diplomatic relations.


Finally, a recent article called “Wings – and then” from Prof. Dr. Bardo Fassbender, published at the F.A.Z.-paper edition from April 5th, 2013, describes the rights of the Catalan and Scottish People with regard to EU-citizenship and EU-membership. Catalonia and Scotland are closely economically intertwined with the EU. The recent sovereignty declaration of the Catalan Parliament is explicitly committed to the EU and its founding principles. Although it seems that, after becoming a new state they should apply for new EU-membership, Prof. James Crawford and Prof. Alan Boyle assume that the EU would adapt the candidacy-process to that of a country whose legal system already belonged to the Union. Additionally, the European Court in Luxembourg could stop an automatic, initial expulsion from Scotland from the EU if that expulsion would mean the Scottish citizens would lose their former rights as EU-citizens.


Barroso’s affirmations concerning Catalonia and Scotland having to apply for EU-membership “as any other state” are wrong, as art. 49 of the EU-treaties did not consider the eventuality of the candidacy of a third state arising from another member state. Concerning a hypothetical veto by Spain or the UK, this would be a clear case of abuse of rights, if the reason for this attitude was the “punishment” of the concerning population due to their decision to secede from the former state entity. There is no legal base to this situation, as secession is not forbidden by EU-treaties. Art. 4 and Art. 21 guarantee the external integrity of EU-boundaries and the integrity of each state, but only regarding other states or foreign threads; in any case towards their own People and citizens, those who live inside the Union and its borders.


Prof. Fassbender quotes the EU-court case van Geld & Loos from 1963, which establishes jurisprudence in terms of the Union rights and law being aligned in order to protect the legal status and rights of all those who once were EU-citizens, as “the subjects of EU-law are not only its member states, but also its individuals”.


All member states have specifically showed their commitment to the EU-treaty, including its preamble, when it asserts “the process of the creation of an ever closer Union among the peoples of Europe”. This preamble is clearly incompatible with the punishment through exclusion of the People of Catalonia or Scotland, just because of their democratic will to decide in a legal process about their independence from their former states. The preamble also proclaims the “calling upon the other peoples of Europe” to join the Union. This final sentence is especially addressed to those People like Scots or Catalans.

Adam Casals is a Senior Corporate Advisor with 20 years experience in German-speaking markets.

(*) An extended version of this article will appear on the next issue of Catalan International View.

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