I can understand the "Commission does not comment on internal affairs" position as a diplomatic way out of an uncomfortable question. Yet, like in many other cases, not tackling a crisis just makes it worse. We all witnessed that as Commission spokesperson Margaritis Schinas tried to avoid an answer or condemnation of the events that occurred on 1 October. This, to the despair of many journalists who wanted a clearer response from the EU to shocking images and videos cracking down on polling stations in Catalonia.
While I wait for the next Eurobarometer to assess the extent of the damage caused in terms of support for the EU, my hope is that officials at the European Political Strategy Centre or elsewhere in the Berlaymont building are already dealing with the elephant in the room of Catalan independence: how to handle the creation of a new state within a pre-existing EU member state to ensure business continuity and integration within the European system of governance.
As Edinburgh University law professor and MEP Neil MacCormick said in 1998, internal enlargement is something more than regular enlargement and it is not foreseen in the treaties, meaning that it is not explicitly allowed nor forbidden, which gives the European institutions margin for manoeuvre to ensure that a smooth transition can be planned to safeguard the rights of European citizens and businesses. Later in 2010 the think tank Coppieters foundation developed that idea and provided policy solutions in the event of the dissolution or creation of state within the EU.
Should the EU fail to come up with effective solutions for Catalonia, some of our flagship achievements could be significantly imperilled. On the one hand, the euro could enter into new turmoil: an economy of 7.5 million people would still be using the common currency, but outside of the supervision of the Central Bank and not subject to any other EU control mechanisms. Should there not be an agreement for recognition between Catalonia, Spain and the EU. Spain could lose 20% of its GDP, 16% of population but still keep 100% of the public debt if Catalonia refuses to buy its share - unlikely, or Spain to sell it - if this implies de facto recognition. Schengen would also be potentially in danger and this is in nobody's interest since Catalonia receives more than 14 million visitors every year, many of them from within the EU. No one has any interest either in re-establishing border controls, customs or import/export taxes, certainly not Spain, because it transports a significant bulk of goods through the Mediterranean corridor via Catalonia and up to France.
Again, this would be on the table for discussion when negotiating the transition towards EU membership and it is in everyone's interest to solve this issue in the most equitable manner. It's in the common interest of Catalans, Spanish and Europeans to facilitate a smooth transition when it comes to EU membership.
Do you have comments or questions? Reach out at @ignasics
Ignasi Centelles has worked for several international organisations and NGOs. He has expertise in media training for UN agencies and other international organisations. Ignasi joined the EACD in 2014.