As Catalonia approaches the date of its final binding referendum on independence from Spain, Manfred Weber, a member of the European Parliament from Germany and a member of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU party, said Europe “cannot accept” Catalan independence.
“Europe cannot accept actions at the margin of the constitution,” Weber said in an interview with El Pais.
This year could be a turning point in the question of Catalan independence. A “binding” referendum on the issue has been scheduled for 2017, and tensions surrounding it are growing stronger.
Former Catalan president Artur Mas and two of his cabinet members will face trial in Barcelona, accused of disobeying of Spain’s Constitutional Court by staging a 2014 non-binding referendum.
In 2014, the Constitutional Court of Spain ruled that the independence vote was not constitutional. It was the second time the Constitutional Court had intervened in the independence process, as the court also ruled that a 2006 agreement between Madrid and Barcelona known as the Statute of Autonomy was partially unconstitutional.
“Europe is a state of laws,” Weber said in an interview. “That is what we talk about when we talk about European values: about respect for the laws, for the judges.”
About 30,000 people are expected to protest near the court in Barcelona on Monday. Four civil organizations have called for demonstrations against the trial under the motto “we are all being judged,” according to Politico.
“This year, the citizens of Catalonia will have the opportunity to finally decide on their future,” Carles Puigdemont, leader of the Catalan pro-independence movement that won the elections with 48% of votes in 2015, said before the European Parliament one month ago.
Pro-independence activists believe the Spanish central government intends to sabotage and criminalize the referendum and its leaders. They intend to push the fight for independence despite resistance from a majority of Spanish political parties and despite the ban of the Constitutional Court.
In general, Catalan leaders insist Spain has a “low-quality” democracy, since it does not allow Catalans to get independence legally. Thus, they do not perceive themselves to be bound by the Constitutional Court.
Catalonia is an autonomous community of Spain, located on the northeastern extremity of the Iberian Peninsula. It is designated as a nationality by its Statute of Autonomy. Catalonia consists of four provinces: Barcelona, Girona, Lleida, and Tarragona.
Catalonia comprises most of the territory of the former Principality of Catalonia (with the remainder Roussillon now part of France’s Pyrénées-Orientales). It is bordered by France and Andorra to the north, the Mediterranean Sea to the east, and the Spanish autonomous communities of Aragon to the west and Valencia to the south. The official languages are Catalan, Spanish, and the Aranese dialect of Occitan.
In the second half of the century Catalonia experienced industrialisation. As wealth from the industrial expansion grew, Catalonia saw a cultural renaissance coupled with incipient nationalism while several workers movements appeared. In 1914, the four Catalan provinces formed a Commonwealth, and with the return of democracy during the Second Spanish Republic (1931–1939), the Generalitat of Catalonia was restored as an autonomous government.
After the Spanish Civil War, the Francoist dictatorship enacted repressive measures, abolishing Catalan institutions and banning the official use of the Catalan language again. From the late 1950s through to the early 1970s, Catalonia saw rapid economic growth, drawing many workers from across Spain, making Barcelona one of Europe’s largest industrial metropolitan areas and turning Catalonia into a major tourist destination. Since the Spanish transition to democracy (1975–1982), Catalonia has regained some political and cultural autonomy and is now one of the most economically dynamic communities of Spain.