Catalan vote was not legal, says European Commission

Commission refuses to condemn Spanish government or police for violent scenes

Spanish Civil Guard police in riot clashed with people gathered outside Catalan President Carles Puigdemon's polling station in Girona minutes before he was due to vote in a referendum on Catalan independence from Spain. Video: Reuters

Despite numerous calls from Catalonia for its intervention or mediation, the European Commission on Monday again refused to be drawn into condemning the Spanish government’s attempt to block Sunday’s Catalan referendum. it also refused to condemn the actions of Spanish police, which saw more than 800 Catalans hospitalised.

Insisting that the referendum was held illegally in breach of the Spanish constitutional order, commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas, in a formal statement on Sunday’s events, also reiterated the repeated contention of President Jean-Claude Juncker that were Catalonia to vote legally to leave Spain it would also “find itself outside the EU”.

The statement called for urgent dialogue between the two sides and said that “violence can never be an instrument in politics”. But Mr Schinas refused repeatedly to confirm whether or not the “violence” referred to was that of the Spanish police.

He suggested it was not up to the commission, which has for several weeks unwaveringly backed Madrid’s position, to offer to intervene, but for the parties to initiate a dialogue.


Responding, Catalonia president Carles Puigdemont said that the EU had a duty to intervene to uphold the EU treaties. “The EU Commission may say that it’s an internal affair but basic rights have been violated,” he said.

Mr Schinas insisted that what made Spain different from Poland and Hungary, where the commission has spoken out to defend the rule of law, is that Madrid is upholding, not undermining, a democratic constitutional order. He said the EU “trusted” Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy to resolve the matter.

He refused to comment on reports that the European People’s Party, to which Mr Rajoy’s Partido Popular and Fine Gael are affiliated, has asked the commission not to intervene in Spain.

Mr Juncker’s contention that Catalonia would leave the EU if it left Spain corresponds with a statement by then commission president Romano Prodi in 2004 during debates on Scottish independence.

Mr Prodi had controversially denied a Scottish nationalist insistence that Scotland would be able to remain part of the EU if it voted to leave the UK. His comments delighted many member states, including Spain, who have long been keen to put any obstacles they can in the path of secessionist movements.

Patrick Smyth

Patrick Smyth

Patrick Smyth is former Europe editor of The Irish Times