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Advisory body thinks continued Catalan EU membership will depend on "political, economic interests"

Catalonia's CATN says "thesis saying Catalonia would automatically be left outside the EU does not have solid legal basis", yet admits Spanish veto would complicate prospects · Body argues ad hoc procedure for Catalonia's re-accession could be agreed, recalls that Catalonia could maintain several current benefits by joining EFTA if country was left outside the EU

The Advisory Council for National Transition (CATN, Catalan acronym) believes that political and economic issues will be more important than laws at the time when the EU will need to decide whether to accept an independent Catalonia as a new member or not. This was today said by Carles Viver Pi-Sunyer (left picture), President of this Catalan Government advisory body, as he released the report "Paths for Catalonia's integration in the European Union".

According to Pi-Sunyer, the "thesis that an independent Catalonia would automatically be left outside the EU does not have any solid legal basis". But he conceded that the opposite thesis (Catalonia would automatically remain as a EU member state) does not either. The final decision "will be taken in accordance with political and economic interests, with what arguments will be more important for the EU and its member states".

The report discusses four scenarios: automatic integration, integration after a quick transition, classical integration (that is, integration as followed by non-member states), or permanent exclusion. The CATN admits that a possible veto by a member state (possibly Spain) would be the biggest problem for Catalonia's continued membership in the EU. Even taking that into account, the CATN considers that third and fourth scenarios are unlikely: " It makes no sense to leave outside the EU 7.5 million Europeans and a state [an eventually independent Catalonia] that is fully integrated, just because another state has decided to veto it", Pi-Sunyer said. The report notes that "it is very unlikely that the interests of the Union or of the rest of member states" to have Catalonia within the EU "would not eventually prevail" even if a member state decided to veto the Catalan state "as a deterrent or punishment".

Thus, CATN considers the first and second scenarios are the most plausible. Regarding the first one, the EU should decide that a new state seceding from a member state automatically becomes a new member of the Union. According to the CATN, this procedure should be done following a decision by the Catalan Parliament "making clear the wish to retain membership of the EU" The European Council should then decide the Catalan request, by consensus.

If consensus was not possible, the CATN says the second scenario should be considered, by which "transitional ad hoc simplifying measures aimed at speeding entry" should be adopted. Thus, Catalonia could re-join the EU as a new member in the short term, while retaining full enforcement of European law, freedom of movement and market unity during a transitional period in which it would not be an EU member.

In any case, Pi-Sunyer notes that talks and negotiations between Catalonia and the EU would be needed, in which "it would not be reasonable not take into account that [the independence process] has been conducted democratically and peacefully, and always trying to reach an agreement with Spain".

Bilateral agreements, EFTA as alternatives to EUmembership

But as the report does not exclude that Catalonia could finally be excluded from the EU, it also suggests ways to keep a close relation between both actors after independence. One way would be the signature of trade, association and cooperation agreements between the EU and Catalonia, in which there could be no veto by any state (it is enough that 15 EU members representing 65% of the European population agree). This is the route being followed between the EU and Kosovo: the five states that do not recognize Kosovo independence are unable to block the agreement between the EU and the former Serbian province.

The other way would be to join EFTA, a free trade area made up by Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Iceland. Through EFTA membership, Catalonia could join the European Economic Area (EEA) and the Schengen Area. In this context, Catalans would enjoy freedom of movement of goods, people, services and capitals throughout the EU space. Some common policies and cooperation agreements would also be kept. This is the closest degree of relations with the EU while not being an EU member.