While senior EU lawmakers are warning that the Catalan crisis poses a bigger threat to the European Union than Brexit, Kristian Steinnes, Professor of modern European history with the Department of historical studies at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, does not see it as a potential danger to the EU.
Earlier, the head of the Green fraction in the EU parliament Philippe Lamberts said that the Catalan standoff undermines the spirit of European integration.
Another lawmaker — Esteban Gonzalez Pon from the Spanish Popular Party — warned that the break-up of Spain would spark a domino effect that will spread across the region.
“The UK is a strong military power and its population is ten times bigger than Catalonia’s. The Catalan referendum is a way back to the interwar years and, more recently, to 2006, but I don’t think this will be a major problem in the long run,” Kristian Steinnes told Radio Sputnik.
“The Catalan crisis is not as big a challenge for the EU as Brexit,” Steinnes added.
Regarding the impact the Catalan referendum could have on the EU, he said it could pose a threat to the “internal agreement and cohesion” in the EU and, most importantly, it could encourage secessionist movements elsewhere in the world.
Experts warn that the referendum could have a domino effect across Europe.
When asked what other countries could follow Catalonia’s example, Dr. Steinnes mentioned Scotland which had a similar referendum in 2014, the Basque Country, Flanders in Belgium, Northern Ireland which could potentially break away, but said that none of them was likely to do so in the foreseeable future.
Steinnes said that the EU has no provision to allow a region that has recently gained independence from an EU member-state to join the Union. There is also the possibility that an EU member-state could veto such a region’s entry into the EU.
“There is a great uncertainty concerning this whole issue and how it should be handled. This doesn’t make it dangerous, but still very challenging, I should say,” Steinnes noted.
When queried about Madrid’s possible response if Catalonia indeed declares independence, he said that it would handle the situation in line with its constitution, even though the EU has underlined that the use of force is not the way to handle this situation.
Mentioning the Norwegian position on this issue, Dr. Steinnes said that it would very much like to stay in step with the EU, which he said has a lot on consistency regarding this whole process.
“Norway has underlined that it is a Spanish question and it is up to the Spanish authorities to handle it,” he said.
He added that Brussels and the Spanish parliament should be very careful to solve the problem in a peaceful and diplomatic manner and that the EU should encourage Madrid to handle the situation “in a decent way.”
On Monday, Catalan authorities announced that 90 percent of the region’s population voted in favor of independence from Spain during Sunday’s referendum. Madrid refused to recognize the vote as legitimate and Spanish police moved in to shut down polling stations, prompting clashes with protesters and voters.
The Catalan Health Department said that nearly 1,000 people sought medical help after the clashes.
Catalonia’s search for independence from Spain is a long-standing issue. On November 9, 2014, about 80 percent of the Catalans who took part in a non-binding referendum on the region’s status as part of Spain voted in favor of Catalonia becoming an independent state.
The vote was, however, ruled unconstitutional by the authorities in Madrid.
On June 23, 2016 a nationwide referendum on EU membership was held in the United Kingdom, in which 51.9 percent of voters said the country should leave the bloc.
In early October 2016, UK Prime Minister Theresa May promised to start the process of leaving the European Union in March 2017.