Sánchez meets the elected president of the European Commission. (EFE)
Nacho Alarcón. Brussels
Tags: European Union, European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, Catalan, Madrid, Internationalization, Brussels, Josep Borrell, Catalonia, Brexit
08/05/2019 05:00 – Updated: 08/05/2019 07:59
Ursula von der Leyen, who will be from next November 1 the new president of the European Commission, is taking advantage of the last weeks to visit the European capitals. This week it was the turn of Spain, where she met Josep Borrell, who will become the head of European diplomacy from November, and the acting president Pedro Sánchez.
At the meeting, where they discussed the main lines of the next European Commission and the contribution that Spain could make to the next five years of the community project, the Catalan issue was also addressed, as expected.
The Spanish Government took advantage of the visit of the new president of the Commission to deliver her an explanatory dossier of the Catalan question, with a series of factual milestones on the origin of the crisis that has led nine Catalan politicians and activists to the bench of the Supreme Court, accused of crimes such as rebellion, sedition and embezzlement of public money.
During the meeting, Von der Leyen assured the Spanish Executive that the new European Commission will maintain the line defended by the institution during these last five years, according to sources familiar with the meetings held by the German in Spain. Community sources explain that Brussels maintains a firm stance with the so-called ‘Prodi doctrine’, which has been the backbone of the message defended by the EU executive arm: any region that separates from a Member State must request membership in the European Union and follow the arduous process of access to the club.
In addition, the European Commission will maintain the message of firm defense of the Spanish constitutional order, which has been the protagonist of the dozens of responses that the Community Executive has given during the two years following the illegal consultation of October 1.
Ursula von der Leyen, president-elect of the Commission, during her visit to Rome. (Reuters)
Brussels was the key piece of the internationalization strategy of ‘procés’. First, the Catalan independence leaders tried to convince their population that a unilateral independence was possible which would maintain Catalonia in the EU without the approval of Spain. Then they tried to get the EU to somehow validate the illegal referendum on October 1. Carles Puigdemont himself, former president of the Generalitat who moved abruptly to Belgium in October 2017 to avoid charges from the Justice of Spain, came to publicly say that the EU and the United States would recognize the result. Now, the plan focuses on discrediting the Spanish judicial system to convey the image that the trial of the leaders of the ‘procés‘ is a political trial.
Basically, the strategy has always been to try to pressure community institutions to force an intermediation between Madrid and Barcelona. But the central government has flatly opposed this possibility, considering this crisis an internal matter. And Brussels has always respected it.
The 1-O trial
For the European Commission of Jean-Claude Juncker, the most critical moment was the images of the police charges of October 1. Then, all eyes were on the community capital. They were days of enormous tension, but in Madrid everyone knows the crucial role played by the fact that the European Commission closed ranks with Spain and showed its confidence in the Spanish constitutional mechanisms.
The next European Commission will also have some days of political earthquake. It is expected that after the summer the ‘procés’ sentence will come to light, and, again, many eyes will be put back on Brussels. As two years ago, the European Parliament is expected to be a focus where the pro-independence side will be able to find some support and accommodation to their message, and that they achieve that some MEPs from other countries defend the existence of political prisoners in Spain.
Ursula von der Leyen, together with the acting Spanish president. (EFE)
The current Commission did reproach the government for the images of police hardness of October 1, although it quickly closed ranks, with a speech before the European Parliament byf Frans Timmermans, first vice president of the Community Executive, in which he dispelled any doubt that could remain about the position from Brussels regarding the ‘procés‘.
The tension was not easy to manage, and similar levels could possibly recover with the sentence. Even MEPs of the groups closest to the government of the conservative Mariano Rajoy, such as the European People’s Party (PPE) and the Liberals (ALDE), sought explanations from their Spanish colleagues about the images that had been seen on televisions throughout Europe. The subsequent escape of Carles Puigdemont, then president of the Generalitat, once again intensified the media focus on the community capital.
The European Commission had to develop a concrete communication plan to manage the wave of correspondent questions about the position of the Community Executive. Margaritis Schinas, then a spokesman for the institution, came to delegate the answers on the Catalan issue to his number two at that time, the Austrian Alexander Winterstein, who repeated robotically again and again that Brussels defended the Spanish constitutional order.