“In the EU nobody has any doubt about the feasibility of an independent Catalonia’, Roger Albinyana, Catalonia´s FA Secretary

Source: Vilaweb (26.04.2013)
Author: Josep Casulleras i Nualart
Just three months ago Mr. Roger Albinyana was appointed as Catalonia’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs. He has had enough time to see the obstacles that Spain diplomacy is setting against the external action of Catalan government, and against government’s desire to internationalize the Catalan process. In this interview he talks about it, and also about the general impression that the Catalan process raises in EU institutions and European governments. And how we should earn international empathy.
-President Mas says Europe is concerned about the independence of Catalonia. This means it will be more difficult?
-Europe is concerned about Spain stability. Not so much for its integrity, but for the crisis and the economic situation. Some political actors can come to understand the process as a factor that hinders Spain economic recovery. This explains President´s words.
-The process is seen as a nuisance?
-Yes, as a problem.
-How can we change the point of view of those who see it that way?
-We act on several fronts. The current situation is complex from the point of view of government management of the economic and social situation. We explain that we have not chosen this time, there has been an evolution to reach to the consultation process. And it should be understood that the consultation is not the result of economic and social situation in the country, although it has been accelerated by it, but there are a number of reasons and events that explain why it happened. We try to communicate these important European players that the Catalan case is unique, unique and will not have repercussions in other complex countries that may have complicated situations with minorities.
-Who are these players?
-National Governments and EU institutions. In fact, European Commission positions are consolidated in accordance with the opinion of the member states.
-Have you talked with these member states? -We have had conversations with European governments, with Prime Ministers and also with  the European Commission.
-What response have you had? 
-In general, the answer is cold. There is a catalan process, lead by the people of Catalonia, which must go forward. We have not yet even called for the referendum. When this happens, there will be the need for them to take a clear position. Publicly or not, they should consider the issue more clearly. And the Spanish government claims that it is an internal process of Spain and that it will not carry on to the end. The advice that the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs is conveying is that they should not take side because there will not be any referendum.
-The Spanish Diplomacy is acting to stop the process and to influence the European Commission’s opinion.
-It should be noted, however, that the positions in the European Commission are set by written communication, and that the hustle of declarations and counterdeclaracions of recent months continues to be the result of a situation that finds the Commission by surprise, and they try to reply question on the spot. The Commission’s position on this issue is that there is no official position, that is, they act only if a Member State requests it and puts it circumscribed to a specific case in a temporary specific situation.
-Is the EU more afraid of the impossibility of a Spain without Catalonia than of the feasibility of Catalonia as an independent state?
-Absolutely. The problem is not whether Catalonia is feasible. Nobody has any doubt about it: we have an industrial base, an economic structure, a culture of performance of public institutions which do not allow for any doubt that Catalonia can exist as an independent state.
-Does anyone in Europe doubt it?
-Nobody. Yes there are some core questions, one of which is the viability of Spain if a significant part of the state, such as Catalonia, emancipates. It is obvious that people in and outside Spain and Catalonia wonder about the viability of the future Spain.
-Should we claim the viability of Spain?
-We have to do a lot of explaining about the viability of Spain without Catalonia. In this transition process, during the consultation, and if the result is positive for the emancipation of Catalonia, we shall have to face issues that may surface during the negotiation between Catalonia and the rest of Spain, that is, how does Spain settle down after the emancipation of Catalonia.
- How must it be explained?
-It must be explained with data. Obviously Spain is a hindrance for Catalonia, a dead weight that prevents us from being more competitive in many areas. Yet it must be said that Spain is not only Catalonia: Spain has economical and entrepreneurial potential to succeed in several fields. We believe that Spain will also be better dealing with Catalonia in equal terms instead of ruling Catalonia.
-If the Spanish government closes all doors to the consultation, which kind of protection can be asked to the EU?
-To start, the president said that the consultation should be done. It will be made with or without Spanish consent. The legal coverage exists as the statute, in some of its articles, awards the Catalan Government the right to consult citizens without asking the state’s approval. Now this right is being legislated. There are more ways to consult the citizens such as the powers transfers. And if we always find a refusal to the process it will legitimize it in the eyes of the international community. Therefore, the consultation can be conducted under Catalan and Spanish laws.
- What we mean when we mention international protection?
-European treaties do not leave room to find a shelter. Obviously, Article 2 is breached, which lists the principles of the EU, if the principle of democracy is not respected, or if Spanish authorities decided to shut down home rule and self-government, or if the President the Catalan Government was imprisoned, which I do not expect to happen, there is an article in the European treaties, the seventh, allowing to activate an European system of correction of these activities through the suspension of voting rights of Spain within the EU. Yet I think it is complex to activate these mechanisms, as it was seen in the case of Hungary. I do not see it very feasible the path of European protection in this regard.
-Another issue is whether we should remain in the EU. Some people talk about the need to get out, like Norway or Switzerland. What is your opinion?

-The government-examines all possibilities, because, at the time of the consultation the obligation is to provide the public with as much information as possible and do it with the utmost transparency. Now, the government is strongly pledging for the continuity of Catalonia within the EU and EMU. This despite the difficulties now facing the EU, I think we should not consider the possibility of leaving the EU because we are very attached to it emotionally and economically integrated with the EU. Having said so, it is evident that the government must act with full transparency on all possible scenarios, giving the public impartial information in order to decide.

-Which Foreign Policy should Catalonia follow according to the new law you are preparing? 
-We are considering an ambitious law which should be included in the “Estatut” which will arrange the granted powers. We will not go any further. When a change in legislation should come, we will go further. And we shall protect it from any outside interference.
-You claim obstacles from Spanish Embassies against the Generalitat’s foreign action.
-Yes but, this has little to do with the regulatory framework. We understand that Spanish Foreign Service Law does have an expansive view of Article 149.1.2, which regulates the competence of exclusive international relations by the Spanish state. Catalonia has exclusive jurisdiction in many matters, has the right to conduct foreign projects in those areas where it is competent. The Spanish government has no right to coordinate foreign policy on areas where Catalonia is competent, and this is precisely what the actual bill from Spanish Administration pretends.
Barcelona. Política.-Which are the obstacles from Spanish diplomacy?
 -The obstacles are part of a strategy that the Spanish Government who does not accept in any way not even to negotiate the right of the Catalans to freely decide their future. For example, we know that the CNI (Spanish National Intelligence Center) has been instructed to track both here and abroad everything the Catalan Government is doing. This tracking covers not only the Catalan Government but also any element of civil society or parties involved in the process and in the right to decide.
-Do you know it beyond the published reports in the press?
-I do not know if some other government departments know more, but personally I know what I have read in press reports.
-And, in front of this, what can the government do?
-I do not think we should complain all the time. When we ask for an appointment for a Secretary, for our President or for myself with some international personality and the Spanish Embassy calls them several times before and after to tell them the “Absolute Truth”, what they can or cannot do, bullying them, recommending them not to receive anyone from Catalonia, they discredit themselves well enough. I do not think we should keep complaining, abroad, in Diplomatic entourage everybody is aware that Spain is making foreign relations very difficult for Catalonia. Everybody knows it and everyone has to calibrate if receiving us or not implies a problem in bilateral relations with Spain and if this may become a serious problem.

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