Sept. 15 (UPI) — The chief of the European Union told Spain’s community of Catalonia, readying an independence referendum, that its decision would be respected by the EU.
Catalonia, in northeastern Spain, plans an Oct. 1 referendum which has not yet been approved by Spain’s Constitutional Court or Parliament. The region includes Barcelona, the seventh-largest EU city.
Despite warnings from the federal government in Madrid that the referendum contravenes the Spanish constitution, the referendum campaign was launched Thursday by pro-independence groups in Tarragona. The rally came hours after Catalonia announced it would no longer sent monthly budget reports to the Spanish government.
The region, with a population of 7.5 million, is regarded by Spain as an autonomous community and its people a nationality, in recognition of the area’s language and cultural distinctions. The movement for independence has not been slowed by decrees from Madrid that referenda and other measures are illegal under Spanish law.
On Thursday, the Spanish government reminded local municipal governments that using public premises for a vote “or any other activity that helps the referendum take place” is a violation of the law.
Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the EU’s European Commission, said Thursday that he would respect the results of a referendum.
A spokesman quickly pointed out that the EU regards the independence movement as an internal Spanish matter, and that any recognition of Catalonia would come only after the Spanish court and parliament approves the secession.
“We have always said that we would respect the rulings of the Spanish Constitutional Court and the Spanish Parliament. If there were to be a yes vote for Catalan independence we would respect that choice,” Juncker said. He added that if an independent Catalonia chose to join the EU, it must follow the usual path to membership. A veto from Spain could end that plan.
Juncker added that he did not fear further splintering of EU counties.
“Europe has a wealth of different regional traditions. This is part of the richness of Europe. But I do not want regional traditions to lead to separatism and the fragmentation of Europe. But who am I to tell people what they should think if they are tempted by independence?”