Saturday, March 31, 2018

Spain: The Catalan Independence Referendum and the EU

Having voted reluctantly, to "Remain" in the UK referendum about Brexit I have now swung round to the view that leaving the EU in as orderly fashion as possible is correct.

Financially Brexit is unlikely to be beneficial for the UK for some years. However freedom of the individual  is ultimately far more important than economic prowess however beneficial the latter may be for those same individuals.

The above point is amply illustrated by the Spanish position on Catalan leaders who promoted successfully, the independence for Catalonia during that region of Spain's referendum, on whether the  region should remain part of Spain or become an independent nation. 

The not too dissimilar referendum in Scotland resulted in the majority of Scots voting to remain part of the UK. Though Scots nationalists will doubtless continue to seek an Independent Scotland, the referendum result has taken the wind out of their sails.

The Spanish authorities however have taken what in my humble opinion are really dreadful actions against Catalonian politicians, such that if another referendum were held there today the risk for the Spanish authorities is that of a landslide majority in favour of independence.

If the EU is sincere about the welfare of its component states which presumably it seeks eventually  to weld together as a unified whole to mirror its full  name altered a few years ago to "The European Union", then one would expect the Spanish government to be given EU advice to keep matters as cool  as possible. One would also expect  European countries to take action to protect freedoms of EU individuals even those with whom many strongly disagree politically.

In practice what is happening appears to be the complete opposite of the expectations set out above. The Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont was arrested near the German border a few days ago. According to The Times today, although local Catalan police accompanying Carles had travelled to Belgium to protect him, unbeknown to them, the national Spanish governmental authorities had used the secret service to install a tracking device in his car. 

Thus after travelling to Helsinki for a holiday (Finland still seems to give priority to the freedom of the individual) he had intended to return to Brussels by plane. Instead however The Times reports he decided to go overland by car. Thus he was secretly tracked by the Spanish authorities traveling from Finland, Sweden and Denmark until he crossed the German border on the way back to Belgium, where at the instigation of Spain  he was arrested by the German authorities.

Of course the German courts might and hopefully will, ensure that he is released soon on freedom of the individual grounds but if Carles is  dispatched to Spain by the Germans the picture painted for rights of individual people in the EU would be bleak indeed.

Interestingly another Catalan leader Clara Ponsatic who is a university professor living in Scotland voluntarily handed herself in at an Edinburgh police station. Bail was not opposed and the BBC reports that she will now fight her extradition to Spain. 

Meanwhile it could be  said that whereas the Scottish independence referendum was held under the law and authorised by the whole UK government,  the Catalan referendum was not authorised by the Spanish national authorities. That surely is a detail. If the Scots had held an independence referendum against the wishes of the UK government,  would those involved  have faced criminal charges? EG if an unauthorised Scots referendum had been won by say the SNP, their members would not be facing  rebellion charges; rather the UK government would probably have set up a full independence referendum or otherwise have acted peacefully to resolve matters.

The outcomes of the German and Scots EU extradition cases will in my view signal the way in which the EU under whose auspices  the international arrest warrants have really been issued, will regard the freedom of the European individual  under the law. My expectation though is that the Scots courts will support the individual whereas the Germans will support the Spanish state but perhaps the freedom of the individual will be given precedence in all EU countries - I certainly hope so,

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