French president Emmanuel Macron has sided with the Spanish government in its dispute with the Catalan independence movement, condemning what he called Catalan "irredentism" and a coup de force or attempted takeover.
Speaking in a debate at Goethe University in Frankfurt on Tuesday, Mr Macron firmly rejected a plea by his political ally Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the former Green MEP, for France or Europe to mediate between Madrid and Barcelona.
Other French officials, including the former prime minister Manuel Valls, a Catalan speaker who was born in Barcelona, and Anne Hidalgo, the Spanish-born mayor of Paris, have also criticised the Catalan bid for independence.
“If I intervened in the Catalan case, I would be interfering in Spanish domestic affairs, which would be intolerable for the prime minister and king,” Mr Macron said.
Saying that regardless of the way prime minister Mariano Rajoy handled the situation: "It's not up to a neighbouring state to intervene in his affairs, to say, 'Let me tell you how to do it, I'm going to mediate.' It's not up to Europe to do it either."
If France or Europe intervened, “We’d be encouraging those who disrespect the law,” Mr Macron said. “It would be contrary to European institutions to treat [Catalan] president [Carles] Puigdemont and prime minister Rajoy as equals.”
Mr Rajoy was the legitimately elected representative of the Spanish people, Mr Macron continued. "There's a coup de force by the Catalans . . . I cannot, as the head of a neighbouring, friendly state, give equal recognition to the Spanish prime minister and the president of the region of Catalonia. European institutions cannot do that either."
EU engagement with Catalonia would set a dangerous precedent, Mr Macron said. “Tomorrow a German Land or a French region could say, ‘I’m going to hold a referendum. I’ll show you. I demand to be received by European institutions’. The EU would be asked to arbitrate everything.”
Mr Macron said “a form of irredentism is playing out in Catalonia”. He respected “sincere, cultural, profound” aspects, but the same irredentism was sometimes based on “economic egotism, which scares me”.
Greater recognition of Catalan culture and identity was perhaps the answer. “But I don’t have the impression they are oppressed,” Mr Macron said. “I stick to this line, because otherwise, things fall apart.”
Mr Macron often evokes the importance of European sovereignty. “I don’t think European sovereignty comes from reducing or subtracting from national sovereignty,” he said. “I think they complement each other.”
Jean-Guy Talamoni, the president of the Corsican assembly, went to Barcelona to observe the Catalan referendum on October 1st. The Mediterranean island is home to France’s strongest regional independence movement.
Mr Talamoni told France Info radio, “Catalonia is way ahead of us. On the institutional level, they’ve had [autonomous] status and significant powers for years, which is not the case for Corsica. On the economic level, Corsica is not flourishing like Catalonia.”
If a majority of Corsicans want independence a decade from now, they will seek it through democratic means, Mr Talamoni said.