By Marcus Pučnik
Both Catalonia and Scotland are looking towards a referendum on independence later this year, Scotland on September 18 and Catalonia on November 9. If independent, they both would like to join the European Union, yet the official EU stance is that Catalonia and Scotland would be “third countries” in regard to the EU and thus have to go through the full process of accession.
A demonstration for Catalan independence
This is where the similarities between Scotland and Catalonia end. While the Scottish referendum is agreed upon with London, the Catalan one is being blocked as unconstitutional by Madrid. Moreover, the Spanish government is also likely to veto Catalonia’s EU-accession in the case of a unilateral declaration of independence.
“We cannot be punished,” Catalonia’s president Artur Mas said in an interview with Corriere della Sera. Some very competent European experts share this point of view and call a potential Spanish veto of Catalonia a punitive measure that would represent “an abuse of [EU] law”. These experts expect both Catalonia and Scotland to fulfill all the necessary membership requirements, so that their applications could be fast-tracked. “A simplified procedure” should be put in place for countries that have “applied the EU’s policies and legislation for 40 years”, or 28 years in the case of Spain/Catalonia.
But would punishing those pesky Catalans really be Madrid’s motivation? Is Catalonia really fulfilling all EU criteria, and would it thus be that special case for which Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) cannot be interpreted literally? A closer look at the conditions on the ground gives some reason for doubt.
Unlike Scotland, Catalonia does have a language conflict. It is a complex issue, one part of which is a general defense of the Catalan language. The other part is inside Catalonia itself, where the regional government refuses to heed court sentences that over the past years have consistently demanded that Spanish not be excluded as language of instruction in Catalan public schools. Treating Spanish as if it were a foreign language is not in the spirit nor the wording of TEU Article 2, to which Article 49 explicitly refers.
Both Spanish and Catalan are official languages in Catalonia. Over half the Catalan population has Spanish as mother tongue. Skewing public education in favour of Catalan has been necessary to repair past injustices, something that also the courts have recognised, but the exclusion of Spanish is a clear discrimination. Furthermore, based on the present situation we can expect a Catalan state to declare Catalan as the preferred or national language, turning the Spanish speakers into a functional minority. Equality, non-discrimination and minority protection are all values mentioned in Article 2.