Should the EU mediate in the Catalonia dispute?

The EU is sticking to its principle of not interfering in the domestic affairs of Spain even after Catalonia declared independence last week. Brussels is right not to side with the separatists, commentators say, but also point out that this won't be enough.

Open/close all quotes
Ilta-Sanomat (FI) /

EU must take its head out of the sand

The EU should negotiate a compromise between Madrid and Barcelona in its own interest, Ilta-Sanomat advises:

“Even if Madrid can calm things down in some way, a large number of Catalonians have been bitten by the independence bug. If they feel they're being humiliated by the central government there's no telling what consequences that could have. ... Any escalation of the situation would be bad for the EU. Spain's fledgling economic growth could once again give way to a recession and bring the weak economies of other Mediterranean states down with it. It would be in the interests of the EU if a compromise on the extension of autonomy that allowed everyone to save face could be worked out in Catalonia. That's the goal the EU must now work towards. In any event, your reputation doesn't get any better when you've got your head stuck in the sand.”

Eesti Päevaleht (EE) /

Neutrality could get difficult

Eesti Päevaleht sees the EU's decision not to intervene as justified but also sees the principle of neutrality being stretched beyond its limits:

“Opinions diverge greatly on who the 'good guys' and who the 'baddies' are in this situation. ... At the verbal level the EU leaders have shown remarkable unity so far. Fortunately there has been no more police brutality since the day of the referendum in Catalonia. But it won't be easy to stick to the principle of non-intervention if for example the Spanish prosecutors decide to arrest democratically elected Catalan politicians or if one of them requests asylum. Hopefully Rajoy won't add more fuel to the fire and will focus on convincing everyone to take part in the elections on 21 December.”

La Repubblica (IT) /

Europe's democratic order at stake

The EU must prevent the secession of Catalonia, La Repubblica warns:

“The Balkanisation of Europe is unacceptable and stands little chance of being a peaceful process. We must ask ourselves how we can prevent it, without taboos and with a willingness to compromise. This isn't about interpretations of constitutional law - or worse, of international law - particularly as the latter is so often manipulated or ignored by states for the sake of their own interests. ... The democratic and peaceful order of our continent is at stake, starting with the large Spanish democracy. For too long Spain has downplayed its domestic nationalisms as purely regional movements. And Spain's problem is also a European problem. Those who don't see that are confusing a geopolitical dispute with a legal one. And we will all have to pay for this mistake.”

Der Nordschleswiger (DK) /

EU driving minorities to nationalism

Der Nordschleswiger is deeply disappointed by the behaviour of the EU in the conflict:

“A great opportunity has been missed to show the citizens of Europe that the European Union addresses their concerns and tries to mediate. One thing is crystal clear form the reactions of the member states and EU institutions: the EU is an organisation of states and not a community of Europeans or even regions or minorities. The power of the nation states is to be preserved at all cost. This is pushing the representatives of minorities further and further away from their predominantly pro-European course, directly into the arms of nationalists and extremists.”

Evrensel (TR) /

Europe showing its anti-democratic face

Evrensel also believes the EU is wrong not to support the Catalans:

“The desire for independence of oppressed nations never ends, it is handed down from generation to generation. ... Like other peoples in the heart of Europe, the Catalans want to decide their own destiny. ... It must be stressed that the EU will not fall apart because of this. Because all these regions [seeking independence], and in particular Catalonia say they want to stay in the EU. ... If the EU possesses a truly transnational character then it should hold out its hand to the oppressed and offer them, like others, a lifeline. But by acting in the interests of the sovereign nation states the EU is showing anti-democratic face.”

Irish Examiner (IE) /

EU's lack of unity could prove fatal

The EU's inability to come up with a united response to the Catalonia crisis could prove fatal, the Irish Examiner warns:

“Catalonia could be the tipping point into an existential crisis for the EU. ... So far, we have had uncoordinated responses from individual EU leaders. ... Ramón Luis Valcárcel, vice president of the EU Parliament, described last Sunday’s vote as 'a coup against Europe'. Indeed, the discontent in Catalonia may only be the beginning as tensions are already evident in eastern Europe. That is why a co-ordinated EU response is essential.”

El Punt Avui (ES) /

Willingness for dialogue just for show

The desire to repair its damaged image in the EU is the main factor behind the central government in Madrid's newfound willingness to negotiate, El Punt Avui criticises:

“For this to be a genuine dialogue it must be conducted between equals. And this is the first hurdle in the relations between the governments in Catalonia and Spain - the lack of recognition. ... The offer to reform the constitution is more a gesture towards Europe, where it is interpreted as a sign of political maturity. The Spanish state was forced to make such an offer to signalise the willingness to conduct a dialoge on its relationship with Catalonia.”

Ara (ES) /

The EU has the necessary experience

The Catalonian daily Ara is disappointed at the EU's refusal to act as mediator:

“Whereas the Catalonian government continues to request the aid of an international mediator, Brussels answers that it will continue to treat the Catalonia crisis as a Spanish domestic matter. Madrid is against any form of external supervision, although the European Union has experience in mediation - and not just outside its own territory. It mediated in the Northern Ireland conflict, in which Brussels accompanied the peace process both economically and politically in an effort to overcome geographic and social borders. And it mediated in Cyprus - even before the Republic of Cyprus joined the EU.”

Postimees (EE) /

Double standards

For Postimees the behaviour of the EU in the Catalonia crisis is a further example of its double standards:

“The European Commission is worried about what is happening in Poland and Hungary but very lenient when it comes to Madrid. Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker attacks Turkey while more than 10,000 people have been killed in Ukraine. This is grist to the mill of those who think there is no such thing as European values and that human rights are all very well and good as long as you live in a convent.”

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (DE) /

Why Spain isn't (yet) Hungary or Poland

The EU's insistence on viewing the conflict as a domestic matter is in principle correct because Madrid can cite legislation that is currently in force, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung argues:

“That's the difference between Spain and Poland, Hungary or Romania, where Brussels became active because the governments are the ones chipping away at the constitutional state. But the more the Spanish government persists in hindering the independence movement with police methods, the greater the risk becomes that it will violate its citizens' basic rights - which would then be a case for the EU. ... The movement is so strong that the conflict must be resolved politically. As a result the Spanish government must also be flexible. If Brussels is forced to bring that point home, not only Spain's unity but also the EU's would be in danger.”

De Morgen (BE) /

Ask the Belgians!

A Belgian perspective would be welcome in the Catalonia conflict, De Morgen is sure:

“The Belgian state structure is frustratingly complex and anything but perfect. But it makes it possible for large communities to coexist peacefully. ... Even with its expensive confusion of imperfections the Belgian model is still preferable to the risk conflict model that is now pushing the Spanish and Catalan politicians to extremes. Each day brings more reasons for pessimism and a peaceful solution seems less and less likely. ... If we prize our freedom in Europe an outsider must step in to guide the dialogue - and bring along a Belgian. We know the way out of this misery, even if it's costly. Peace has its price.”

Wiener Zeitung (AT) /

Can't ignore the "Causa Catalana"

The EU must mediate in Catalonia in its own interest, the Wiener Zeitung urges:

“A further reason why the EU's current behaviour concerning Catalonia is counterproductive is that it harms its own image. Because Spain's disgrace is now also Europe's. The only result can be a type of Euroscepticism that will quickly spread among Catalonians - and Europeans. If Brussels continues to ignore the Catalonian people - which is widely considered pro-EU - and the 'Catalan cause', the EU could soon be portrayed as endorsing police brutality and anti-democratic tendencies. At a time when EU-critical parties are becoming increasingly popular, are being voted into parliament and even leading governments, that is not good news for Project Europe.”

Les Echos (FR) /

Brussels must act fast

Barcelona's Mayor Ada Colau has called on the EU to act as a mediator in the conflict with Madrid. Les Echos concurs:

“True, the EU is not at the heart of this matter, which first and foremost concerns the leaders in Spain. Nevertheless it can't be satisfied just to call on 'all those immediately concerned to say no to conflict and yes to dialogue.' ... Nor can Brussels afford to let a new crisis, this time political and not financial or economic like that in Greece, develop in the heart of Europe. There's not much room to manoeuvre, but there is a little: the Catalonian government doesn't really know what to do with its 'victory'. The time to act is now. Because otherwise other European regions may well take the same route as Catalonia.”

Die Welt (DE) /

Pathetic display from EU

The EU allowing Spain's prime minister to get away with this could prove to be a grave mistake, writes Die Welt:

“The EU is paying the price for taking more and more control in areas that were matters of national sovereignty like border security, the currency and justice but sticking to the principle of non-intervention in the face of anarchistic or centrifugal developments. ... More than a few meagre words about preserving the rule of law weren't to be heard from Angela Merkel, no doubt because she doesn't want to discredit her loyal defender Rajoy. ... Unless the broken bridges are patched up quickly and - also with help from abroad - the reasonableness of the democratic centre regains the upper hand, a prosperous region in the middle of a peaceful Europe could become the scene of a civil war.”

Público (PT) /

Intervention would be dangerous

EU intervention in the conflict would be morally desirable but politically hazardous, Público fears:

“We must remember that the EU is based on constitutional treaties. ... Any intervention on the part of the EU that is not requested or accepted by Spain would be interference in the domestic affairs of the Spanish state. Worse still, from a legal point of view it could be interpreted as a violation of the EU treaty. Such intervention would lead to deep divisions within the EU and intensify the conflict [between Madrid and Catalonia].”

Duma (BG) /

Blatant double standards

The EU supports independence movements across the globe but when they develop in its own territory it considers them illegal, the leftist daily Duma criticises:

“What better example of double standards? ... When it's time to defend law and justice in Syria or Kosovo Brussels can do whatever it wants: instigate conflicts, arm and finance the opposition, back separatist movements, recognise new states, etc. All of that on the pretext of respecting human rights and peoples' right to self-determination. But when there's a fire in its own backyard all of a sudden that's all illegal.”