Democracy and dialogue. Two words that sum up the key message of the talk on the Catalan process that Raül Romeva, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Institutional Relations, and Transparency, gave yesterday evening and the demand by the majority of the Catalan people to exercise the right to decide their future. "The Catalan government is committed to holding a referendum on independence this year, which requires a vote; we want to win this referendum but we are also prepared to lose it", he said.
Wearing a tie and using a formal tone, in full harmony with the sober setting in which he appeared --a Committee Room full to overflowing--, the Foreign Minister headlined the first session of the newly-created All-Party Parliamentary Group on Catalonia. The Catalan government has always said that it understands that countries don't want to take a stand on the Catalan question, but yesterday Romeva warned British democracy: "The democratic rights of Catalans will eventually become a question on which all European countries will have to take a stand". However, having a good understanding of the balancing act necessary in diplomacy, and of the current situation in Europe and the United Kingdom, he added that Brexit "affects everything".
The gathering, which was attended by almost two dozen representatives from the Houses of Commons and Lords, and also of members of the diplomatic community in London, consisted of a thirty-minute presentation followed by almost an hour of question-and-answer with those present.
Lord Wigley, member of the House of Lords for the pro-independence Welsh party Playd Cymru and ex-leader of the group, made his position on the Catalan affair clear. "We know that laws and constitutional systems have to serve the people, and not vice-versa". In the first of his statements, Dafydd Wigley referred to a discussion over the constitutional architecture of Spain which took place during the Q&A. It is a system that as of now, according to Wigley, is restrictive and gives the Spanish government the excuse to bar the way to any possibility of a referendum in Catalonia. To strengthen his argument, Romeva made reference to the ordeal of the Catalan Statute, the brainchild of former Catalan president Pasqual Maragall, approved by the people in a referendum in 2006, then passed by the Spanish Parliament, and which was later reduced in scope by the Constitutional Court “prompted by the Partido Popular".
"We detest nationalism based on race or language", said Wigley on reminding of the civic nature of both Welsh and Scottish nationalism. The reference to Scotland was especially appropriate the day after its First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, announced that she would put into motion the mechanism to call a second referendum on independence, words which nowadays also have special resonance in Catalonia.
A discussion group is not official
The parliamentary committee on Catalonia created in Westminster consists of some twenty MPs and Lords, and includes representatives from six parties from the British political scene plus an independent MP from Scotland. Although the committee does not have official status with the organizational structure of Parliament, the aim of a body like this --there are hundreds, related to both countries and topics-- is to establish a link thorough which Westminster can track, in this case, the reality of the Catalan situation.
In addition, however, as noted by Baroness Gloria Hooper, a friend of Catalonia who has summered in Cadaqués for 30 years, "the committee can propose questions on specific topics both in the House of Lords and in the Commons".
Part of the audience was also concerned as to whether the Catalan government would promote civil disobedience as a means of applying pressure for a referendum, and Minister Romeva explained the official arguments of the Catalan administration: "What we want is to broaden the social base through government policies" so as to address the demands of Catalan society.
The event was one more grain of sand in the international case being built for Catalonia. There can never be enough friends or supporters.
Other discussion groups on Catalonia in European Parliaments
The Intergroup on friendship with Catalonia in the Finnish parliament was the first to be created, in November 2015. On October 26, 2016, Foreign Minister Raül Romeva and the General Secretary of Diplocat, Albert Royo, visited the Finnish Parliament and presented a seminar before its members, with representatives from all parties.
In April 2016 the Parliament of Estonia created its own intergroup for friendship with Catalonia. In the Baltic countries, due to their relatively recent independence from the USSR —in the early 90s--, there is great interest in the evolution of the process in Catalonia. For this reason, in June of last year Albert Royo and Jordi Solé, then secretary of Foreign Affairs, travelled to Tallinn to update members of the intergroup.
Switzerland, the quintessential neutral European country, created its intergroup on Catalonia in July of 2016. Two months earlier, a group of Swiss MPs had visited Catalonia in one of Diplocat's programs for international visitors. The co-president of the intergroup, Socialist Mathias Reynard, explained that they support the right to decide, but remain non-committal on the subject of independence.
Spain would veto Scotland in the EU
Alfonso Dastis, the Spanish Foreign Minister, warned yesterday that if Scotland, by mutual agreement with the United Kingdom, were to become independent, the Spanish administration's point of view "is that it could not remain in the EU because it is not a member, unless it is a part of the United Kingdom". And he added that "it would have to get in line, and meet the requirements for accession". Dastis affirmed that Spain supports the integrity of the United Kingdom and "does not encourage secession or divisions in any member states", in a clear reference to Catalonia.