A constitutional court declaring the right to vote and self-determination to be unconstitutional. A democratic government using the methods of authoritarian rulers to block citizens from expressing their choice. A populist government pushing its constituency to wipe the other half of the population from the ballot box. A lukewarm European Union too afraid of the minefield that is Catalonia to act as a valuable and balanced mediator. A country thrown back into the searing pain of its Francoist past.

In the events unfolding in Catalonia, everybody loses. All parties have sacrificed a good chunk of their legitimacy and Europeans are, once again, left to try to make sense of the mess. The so-called leaders involved have failed Catalonians, Spaniards and Europeans.

Puigdemont’s irresponsible “sí, pero no” (yes, but no), King Felipe’s readiness to stoke the fire, Rajoy’s deaf ear and eager baton and the supranational leadership in Brussels’ deafening silence have given us a case study on how not to deal with the dangerously growing fragmentation of Europe.

Even if Article 4 of the Lisbon treaty gives solid grounds for the EU leadership to refrain from meddling in Spanish affairs, and lecturing constitutional courts on how to handle separatism is no walk in the park, the implosion of the European project is a price too high to pay for inaction. It may be true that no one will leave Catalonia’s battlefield unharmed, but can Europe recover from absenteeism on this historical moment?

As the threads of diplomacy move behind closed doors, and letters go from Generalitat to Moncloa and back, one can only hope dialogue is not shut out –  and with it, the future. The clock is ticking faster until Thursday and Catalans, Spaniards and Europeans deserve better that what’s been shown so far.


María Isabel Soldevila has been a journalist for 20 years. She is now Director of Communications and Executive Manager at the Institute for European Studies of the Université libre de Bruxelles (www.iee-ulb.eu) and joined the European Association of Communication Directors earlier this year.