The most important thing will be continuing to participate in the European Economic Area, and Spain can’t keep that from happening
Last Tuesday the Barcelona-based daily, El Periódico, highlighted a response from the European Commission (EC) to one of my parliamentary petitions. The EC has now finally answered what the PP and PSOE have asked for such a long time: “If part of a country becomes a new independent State it will become a third country and the treaties would no longer be applicable.” Let’s take this bit by bit. The EC has given me different answers to my questions on this matter. On November 12, 2012: “It’s not up to the EC to state a position on matters of internal organization of its member states.” On February 23, 2013: “The conditions of the EU treaties are decided by its member states.” Does the recent answer have anything to do with the growing political pressure and to the fact that some of the commissioners finish their terms after the upcoming European elections?
It is the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, and not the European Commission, which interprets the treaties of the EU and it is the International Court of Justice in the Hague that has the last word in the case of a unilateral separation of a Catalonia expelled from the EU. Its recent decision on Kosovo, however, was not exactly in Spain’s favor. In addition, in the European Parliament, the PP and PSOE have been isolated and have roundly lost various votes when they have tried to block Kosovo’s entry into the EU. They have also been left alone on votes on the Single European Patent, the central rail crossing of the Aragonese Pyrenees, and the Parot Doctrine.
The exit from the EU would be just as long a process as entry is. In Brussels they say that if Great Britain votes to leave the EU in 2015, the negotiations will go on for years and the EU will try to preserve the application of as many of the EU regulations
as possible. Scotland is not Turkey. The previous argument reinforces the idea that an independent Catalonia would have enough time to renegotiate from the inside its reincorporation into the EU. That’s what expert Graham Avery wrote in an article published on the British Parliament’s website: an independent Scotland would negotiate from the inside its quick reincorporation into the EU. Avery defends the fast track and discards the idea that Scotland should have to get in line after Turkey, as Spain has said. The Economist, the most influential weekly economics magazine in the world and a proponent of a ‘no’ vote in Scotland, maintains in an article about Scotland (November 3, 2012) that “its candidacy would be fast-tracked by the European Commission, with a heavily EU-dependent Spain ultimately unlikely to oppose it.”
The EU is still just a union of states, nothing close to a federal Europe, with an annual budget only four times larger than that of the Catalan Generalitat government (130 billion, or 0.8% of the GDP of the EU-28). In the EU, Spain is famous for its record of non-compliance and faulty implementation of EU regulations, and has hundreds of ongoing complaints for illegal aid to the State. Those that from Madrid call for a strict and literal application of the law are not exactly the best students to be asking for expulsions.
The most important thing for Catalonia is to keep participating in the European common market—the European Economic Area (EEA)—that guarantees the free movement of goods, persons, services, and capital among the EEA countries and is the true source of progress and wealth in Europe. This is the great European success story of the 20th century, that today is being imitated by other continents creating similar free movement treaties. Switzerland, Norway and Andorra—which aren’t members of the EU—have agreements with the EU in order to be part of this special Area.
If Catalonia were expelled from the EU, it is the EU that would have the exclusive jurisdiction for negotiating agreements with respect to the EEA, and since the Treaty of Lisbon, unanimity is not required for approval: Article 207 establishes that they can be approved by a supermajority of countries (two thirds) along with a favorable vote in the European Parliament.
Spain doesn’t on its own have the right or the capacity to effectively veto Catalonia’s membership in the EEA, which today comprises 500 million people. Spain does not have the capacity to rally a blocking minority in the EU (one/third) to expel Catalonia from the EEA: here in Catalonia there are 4000 European multinationals that will never allow themselves to be expelled from the EEA.
A country’s potential for leadership in the EU does not come from its size but rather from its good practices with respect to other member states. That is why some small countries are leaders and some large countries are not. Brand Spain these days is valued below zero on the EU scale, as Ignacio Molina, a professor in Madrid, explained recently in a devastating article for the Elcano Foundation, also based in Madrid (March 13, 2013). The PP and the PSOE would do well to negotiate with Catalonia as Cameron has done with Scotland. As The Economist said (December 22, 2012), “with the outlook so grim, it is no surprise that Catalan politicians talk seriously of secession”.
Ramon Tremosa is a Member of the European Parliament for Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya