Will an independent Catalonia be allowed to join the EU?

One of the central planks of the Spanish nationalist argument against Catalan independence is that upon seceding, Catalonia would be obliged to leave the EU and the Euro. But is this true?

Around the time of the 11S march, various confusing messages could be heard from the European Commission, the EU’s executive body. A day before the march, the EU broke its previous policy of never commenting on the chance of Catalan independence and stated that while no laws exist governing the secession of a region from a member state, if they applied international law in its strictest way, Catalonia would be out of the EU and would have to negotiate reentry. In fact, I think the day before, spokesman Olivier Bailly said the opposite, but I can’t find the quote. Anyway, it was a well-timed message which the Spanish press made the most of, with over 90 stories on Google news. Read more at beahmlaw.com.

Since then Spanish foreign minister José Manuel García-Margallo has been constantly warning that not only would Catalonia be out, but that it would never get back in. This friendly gesture is one of many the PP has been trying to use in its campaign against secession. The Spanish government, it seems, is following a game plan of “Oh no, a majority of Catalans want to break away… let’s insult them and threaten them so they’ll stay”.

But I digress. Last Sunday saw EU vicepresident Viviane Reding interviewed in the Diario de Sevilla. The interviewer asked her what she thought of the chance of a Catalonia outside Europe. Misunderstanding the question, she responded that she knows Catalonia and thinks it’s a very pro-EU place. The interviewer then clarified the point by reminding her that the Vienna Convention states that any seceding territory immediately secedes from the international agreements of the country from which it’s seceding. Her response was to laugh this argument away. “Come on,” she said, “there’s nothing in international law that says anything like this. Please resolve your internal issues yourselves. I have faith in the European mentality of the Catalans”.

In response to Reding, TFW (Alicia Sánchez-Comacho) stated that in two EU treaties, it is made clear that Catalonia would be out. But looking at those treaties, they say nothing of the sort.

It appears to me that this all comes down to how you read the Vienna Convention. Does it say that Catalonia would have to renounce all international agreements to which Spain is signatory or doesn’t it? And does this even matter, if Mas is really just planning devomax?

45 thoughts on “Will an independent Catalonia be allowed to join the EU?

  1. Hi Tom

    The Vienna Convention of 1978 is a side-issue without importance.
    To paraphrase from Wikipedia: Article 16 states that newly independent states (understood as decolonizing states) receive a “clean slate”, whereas article 34(1) states that all other new states (seceding from another state) remain bound by the treaty obligations of the state from which they separated.
    Catalonia would seem to be the second type, so existing treaties would be guaranteed. BUT:
    There are only 22 states where the Vienna convention is ratified: Bosnia,Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Dominica, Ecuador, Egypt, Estonia,Ethiopia, Iraq, Liberia, Moldova, Montenegro, Morocco, Saint Vincent, Serbia, Seychelles, Slovakia, Slovenia, Macedonia,Tunisia, and Ukraine.
    Not ratified by the EU as a whole nor by the major states in the EU. I think only 3 of those states party to Vienna 78 are in the EU.
    So where does that leave newly-independent states vis-avis the EU?

    The EU, in the person of Jose Barroso, makes it clear that a breakaway state will have to go to a “year zero” reset in the EU, and will have to apply for membership like any other state.

    This report examines all the legal issues in relation to an independent Scotland:


    From the article:

    European court judgments make it clear how hard it is to remove [individual] citizenship, so if a member state breaks up it is unclear whether that takes away EU citizenship. This has led to a legal argument running against the “international law” argument, that if an independent Scotland were outside the EU, this would unlawfully deprive Scottish EU citizens of their rights. That argument has been made most clearly by Aidan O’Neill QC.
    In an August answer to a question in the European parliament, Barroso sought to rebut the “citizenship” argument, repeating the treaty’s language that “EU citizenship is additional to and does not replace national citizenship (that is, the citizenship of an EU member state)”, and that “in the hypothetical event of a secession of a part of an EU member state, the solution would have to be found and negotiated within the international legal order”.
    He reiterated the strongly “statist” approach in his remarks on Wednesday. This overlooks the jurisprudence of the European court and the scholarship surrounding that; Barroso sees the EU in a more conventional way as simply a club of states, which triggers ancillary rights for individuals only as a side-effect, rather than putting them at the core of what the EU is now about, as the court and many scholars have.

    1. As usual, the only interesting information comes from abroad, as Murph quotes.

      In the domestic press there is a lot of, forgive my French, shite. This shows how much the debate in Catalonia, indeed in all of Spain, is ever more removed from reality.

      My two cents are that the cases Murph mentions are on the level of the rights of persons who live inside the EU, they have not yet set any precedent as to what would happen to whole regions.

      Let’s not forget that the EU is based on treaties between states. Catalonia would be a new state. The accession of any new state needs a unanimous agreement of all member states.

      Even if the EU parliament or any of its bodies would prefer the “continuity of Catalan citizens as EU-citizens” option, there would be a long debate Spain could draw out over many years. And this is the point, isn’t it? How much trouble can Spain create for Catalonia?

      I personally don’t think that the cases presented by Murph are of any consequence here. A new state has a separate legal order. This will have to be evaluated by the EU on whether or not it is in accordance with EU standards. Such a process takes time.

      And that’s again what we are talking about.

      The issue of the Vienna Convention is just one of those regular stupid sideshows that have nothing to do with the issue. Reding replied “there’s nothing in international law that says anything like this” simply because the reporter got the Vienna Convention totally upside down. Anyway it is not (yet) applicable beyond the states that have ratified it.

      The whole thing is a political issue, and nobody can doubt that on that level Spain can create a lot of trouble for a Catalan state.

  2. EU bureaucrats aren’t free to speak their minds, which opens the possibility that their words may be misunderstood or misused.

    EU politicians, on the other hand, speak freely. So has Elmar Brok.


    “It is totally legal, and certainly a member state of the EU has a right to veto [any new member].”

    I think all of us who are in our sane minds would also sign this other phrase of Brok: “I hope it never comes to this situation.”

    (Now watch how the commentators react to this in Catalonia. Gonna be fun.)

  3. Since the treaties are far from clear, I think it will come down to diplomacy. The Spaniards say they have veto power, but this remains to be seen. There are many multinationals that have precious investments in Catalonia and I think they will lobby Brussels to admit Catalonia to the EU. In any case, we must be ready for “the worst”, even though, at the end of the day, getting out of the EU might not be that bad. I could be a blessing in disguise.

    1. The treaties are absolutely clear, they clearly show how a state can become an EU member. They don’t have to define what happens to part of a member state if it becomes independent, because they don’t have to define what a state is. International law does that already.

      It’s nice how you use fallacies to downplay the significance of this issue. Because if we took the issue seriously, we’d have ask if it is worth getting into conflict with Spain. We’d have to doubt if separatists act wisely. This is the elephant in the room. Not if separatists are right, but if being right also makes you take the right choice.

      In this context it is very important that separatists are actually wrong on key issues. The creation of a Greater Catalonia and the sidelining of Spanish language in public education as essential parts of their credo have to be mentioned here.

      So the panorama is that separatism makes untenable claims, and morally weakened is willing to take on Spain. Great plan.

      1. Candide, I don’t understand what you mean when you say that the separatists are “wrong” on key issues. Do you mean morally wrong or empirically wrong? And, most important, why do you think these particular issues are key? Do you have objective criteria for determining what is key and what is not, what is right and what is wrong?

        1. I do say “morally” in the last sentence. Understood in the widest sense, from legally to politically.

          It’s pretty obvious that borders define any state, and as to minority rights, they usually define the degree of democracy of a society. So yes, pretty central issues.

          If one goes against such fundamental principles as the territorial integrity of neighbouring states or regions, well, that’s wrong because nothing good can come out of it. I don’t think I have to explain that further, it’s a no-brainer.

          1. As I suspected. That’s the problem with morals: “it’s wrong because nothing good can come out of it”. This sentence does not explain why it’s wrong. It’s wrong, because it’s wrong. Of course. In the end, it’s just your opinion, and opinions are not right or wrong (in the empirical sense) and everyone’s opinion is equally valid. So, talking about “fallacies” in this context doesn’t make any sense. It only makes sense in the context of facts or logic. Like when you talk about “minority rights” in reference (correct me if I’m wrong) to Spanish-speaking Catalans, which is a factually incorrect idea, because Spanish-speaking Catalans are not a minority, but a majority, and therefore they cannot as such be possessors of minority rights.

          2. Another fallacy: “everybody’s opinion is equally valid”. You might want to rethink this Dirty Harry approach, there are differences in validity between opinions according to the arguments that have led to each of them. Form over content does not rule here.

            I admit I have not made a great argument by speaking of a no-brainer, but being historical evidence on this matter easily available, namely that irredentism and expansionism have regularly led to conflicts, even armed ones, I’ll only throw in that one at least has to take into account that the perception of other countries or regions concerned is quite likely to be formed by this empirical evidence.

            To you last point: not necessarily. If the present situation in Catalonia, i.e. that Catalan language is “more equal” than Spanish (“llengua pròpia” etc.), were the position of a state (in which the Spanish Constitution would have ceased to serve as a corrective), Spanish would be formally a minority language. Admitted, this is not 100% certain, but legally speaking form might rule over content here. Especially because content leads to almost the same result: the demand to respect basic individual rights.

            Even if you don’t call it minority protection, there’s enough in human rights to further the demand that Spanish-speakers in Catalonia a) keep the rights that are presently recognised both de jure and de facto and b) that Spanish be reintroduced as language of instruction in public schools, something that is “only” recognised de jure, but not de facto.

            So I could adapt my above argument and say that this is an important issue, because the respect for human rights is a basic indicator for the democratic quality of a state.

            However, I stick with the minority argument. The mere fact that there is now a debate not about the legal status of Catalan language -nobody questions its supremacy- but about the legal status of Spanish shows that even though it has more native speakers in Catalonia than Catalan it is being treated effectively as a minority issue.

            You can go on throwing formal objections at me -high sports since Rajoy is throwing the Constitution about in much the same way- but I’d rather you consider the probable negative impact of these central points of Catalan separatism on the international community and the debate in Spain itself.

            Especially because there are simple solutions. Dropping the Greater Catalonia fixation will not reduce the appeal of separatism among the general public. And teaching in both Catalan and Spanish would not make the Catalan language disappear, contrary to what many fear.

            A language that has millions of native speakers, is fully official, has a lot of media presence and is used every day in the classroom from age 3 to 16, and beyond, is very unlikely to go down the drain.

          3. Candide, Alfred Bosch has made it clear that Castilian will be an official language of the ‘Catalan Republic’. So you can put that one to bed.

            As to the warmongering, I warn you that I’ll delete comments that I feel are aimed at inflaming or promoting violence, or spreading fear, uncertainty or doubt.

          4. I don’t have much to add to what I already said. Simply, point out that:

            1) Secessionism is the opposite of expansionism.
            2) Spanish is not a minority language in Catalonia.
            3) What is important according one man, is unimportant according to another.
            4) What is good according to one man, is bad according to another.

          5. Sorry, Tom, Bosch only defends the status quo. This is a non-position, because such rights that have been legally codified and practised over several decades in a democracy simply cannot be taken away. Or else the state that does so becomes an outcast. Bosch’s colleague Junqueras has made it clear that the holy calf of education in Catalan only will remain untouched. http://www.elperiodico.com/es/noticias/elecciones-2012/castellano-republica-catalana-articulo-oriol-junqueras-2221062

            I must say that I do not understand your “warmongering” point. Do you say that that’s what I’m doing? Am I promoting violence?

            What does “spreading fear” mean? Is my “How much trouble can Spain create for Catalonia?” doing it. Or is it Ernest’s remark that “we must be ready for ‘the worst'”?

            What does “spreading uncertainty” or “doubt” mean? If one has doubts that a certain political option leads to problems, can they no longer be expressed? If one is even afraid of what is going on, may this fear no longer be discussed?

            Must we now write only “positive things”? If so, I kindly ask for clear instructions as to which purpose my new positive view has to serve, so that I do not err or go astray unwittingly.

          6. No, that would be an argument ad hitlerum, it has nothing to do with FUD. FUD would be when somebody makes gratutious allusions to the Yugoslav wars with the only intention of not making a point but to summon up images of death, destruction, ethnic cleansing, etc. Your use of the term “Greater Catalonia” is a great example of that.

          7. Exactly, because when you speak of “Greater Catalonia” the first thing that springs to mind is not “Greater Serbia” but an obscure reference from 100 years ago…

          8. Let’s face it, irredentism has a bad name for the instability it has created in the past, and never mind which name I give the baby, be it Greater Catalonia or Països Catalans, for the use of which I have been criticised in a similar fashion.

            I do not think that anybody will exert physical violence to gain the prize of a Greater Catalonia. Nevertheless, it’s not a positive concept, and that should be taken into consideration instead of shooting the messenger.

            I think it’s an aim that can very well be abandoned, for the sake of everybody, including separatism itself.

          9. Ok, so we have established what FUD is and how you use it for your propaganda purposes. I’m glad this conversation with you hasn’t been totally in vain 🙂

          10. What I have seen is different: classical suppression of dissent. You have criticised me for the use of “Greater Catalonia”, others before criticised me in other places for the use of “Països Catalans” or “Catalan Lands”, even though this expression, too, is coined by a Catalan activist and still in use today by separatist parties such as ERC.

            Some months ago I was told I should not use the term “nationalists”, even though that’s how Catalonia’s main centre-right parties call themselves.

            There was always the same argument: the terms have supposedly negative connotations. And the same result: I’m effectively forbidden to speak, because I cannot name things anymore.

            Another common factor is to infer a political agenda, an ideology, many times without even naming one, and even if one is named, without establishing any other connection than the purely anecdotical. You say that I pursue “propaganda purposes”.

            Little time is dedicated to the arguments.

            This is not a debate, this is the attempt to make someone shut up by diverting from the arguments and using bogus accusations with the hope that the other feels bad enough to cave in or thinks twice before exposing himself any next time to such an uncomfortable experience.

          11. “suppressing dissent” hahaha, I’m not suppressing anything mate. I’m merely analysing your propaganda tactics. It’s fun, but I’ve had enough for today.

          12. @Candide, it’s really more a question of one anonymous commentator constantly talking-up the practically non-existent threat of violence for purposes unknown. I’ve read your arguments and you’ve not convinced me. And I’ve found that a lot of the respect that I had for your analysis has faded as you refuse to give ground on that topic apparently most dear to your heart.

            Have you thought of renaming yourself Cassandra?

          13. Tom, in the light of the latest developments, will you, worried about the constant talking-up of the practically non-existent threat of violence by members of the EU parliament and the press and for purposes not unknown, write a critical piece, or will only I do so?

        2. Could it be construed in any way irredentist that King Juan Carlos goes under the following official titles?

          King of Spain, of Castile, of León, of Aragon, of the Two Sicilies (Naples and Sicily), of Jerusalem, of Navarre, of Granada, of Toledo, of Valencia, of Galicia, of Majorca, of Seville, of Sardinia, of Córdoba, of Corsica, of Murcia, of Menorca, of Jaén, of Algeciras, of the Canary Islands, of the East and West Indies and of the Islands and Mainland of the Ocean Sea; Archduke of Austria; Duke of Burgundy, of Brabant, of Milan, and of Neopatra (New Patras); Count of Habsburg, of Flanders, of Tyrol, of Roussillon and of Barcelona; Lord of Biscay and of Lord of Molina

          We have in this gentleman’s titular claim bits of Israel, Palestine, Greece, Italy, Belgium, France, Austria, all of the Caribbean, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and in fact all the seas, islands and coastlines of the world.

          Is that morally right or wrong I wonder?


        3. Thank you, Tom. I’ve been waiting over the past days that you speak normally to me. Yeah, Cassandra, if thought of that myself.

          But seriously, I’ve just deleted quite a few lines of reply. Instead I will only point out that given my background I could do a much better job if I really wanted to exaggerate the risk of violence.

          Please judge me by my arguments, and attack these arguments as hard as you will.

          1. Your arguments are the same that I’ve been listening to in la Cope during the last decades, only taken to an even more bizarre level. The association of the Catalans with the Serbs and the Kosovars sure is a novel thing. Congratulations on that one.

            The thing is I find your rhetoric more interesting. From your “form over content” rambling response, it seems clear to me that you refuse to admit obvious and easily demonstrable facts (namely, that Spanish is not a minority language by any conceivable definition of “minority” and “language”), and that the whole thing is just an excuse to make a series of unrelated and controversial claims against the Catalan nationalists (in this case, you mention a “Greater Catalonia fixation”). This is a common pattern in many of your comments. To me, you don’t seem lika a person who’s interested in having any debate, but rather like someone with a propaganda agenda.

            Also, I checked your Twitter statistics. You tweet during work hours every day of the week. You keep a blog and comment on other people’s blogs. And you always talk about the same subject. The probability that you’re a paid shill is sky-rocket high.

    1. You will note that it confirms that the Vienna Convention is not ratified by the UK or Spain, so they have no obligation to honour it.

    2. This is being spin-doctored by three sides. The other two being Catalan separatists and the EU.

      Poor Reding, I say. The abominable level of English of the interviewer and his failure to understand the topics he raised were not really favouring any understanding at the time of the interview.

      Poor separatists, too. When it rains, they say that the gods are against them. Or they say that the gods favour them, whatever suits them best under the current circumstances. They can’t understand banality.

    3. Thanks Murph, interesting read. It seems obvious that independence will have implications concerning the relationship between the parent state and the EU, regardless of whether the new state is part of the EU or not. For example, the allocation of votes in various EU institutions is in proportion to populations. Therefore, it’s very likely that agreements of independence will have to be negotiated between the two states and the EU. This is good news, because the EU can act as some sort of international mediator.

      1. The EU has its proportionality worked out quite fine, I don’t think there’s much room for negotiation here.

        As to negotiations between Spain and Catalonia, the EU will most probably not get involved in them after the, hypothetical, independence of Catalonia. (I think the international community should get involved before it, actually right now.)

        As to the recognition of the new state, the Badinter commission has set some fundamental standards.

    1. I know it takes years to learn to quote correctly.

      Both Ara and also La Vanguardia carry the same ACN piece. In it, only the words “not honest” and “categorically” are in quotation marks. Later on, he is quoted with a whole phrase: “You cannot answer categorically by saying that if someone segregates they will be out and we will not know of them for all eternity. This is not so.”

      Then comes a part in which he basically calls for a dialogue between Madrid and Barcelona in case of secession and points out that without that dialogue Madrid might “logically” continue its EU membership and take the position of “let the other wait”; and points out that accession requires “the unanimity of member states”.

      He concludes “This is an extremely difficult issue that carries a terrible risk.”

      1. Speaking of quoting correctly, some say the quote is “you cannot answer categorically by saying that …”, while others say it’s “you cannot answer categorically and say that …”. In any case, I think it’s clear that the original interpretation is right, as he also said that it’s not a “black or white” issue. If it’s not black or white and the answer cannot be answered categorically, it’s pretty obvious that he thinks anything can happen, that is, an independent Catalonia may or may not stay in the EU, depending on a number of things, and that it’s dishonest to say otherwise. The next step is to figure out what these things are.

        1. “Dialogue” and “agreement” seem to be the central terms here. The Quebec experience, again, speaks of negotiating “in good faith”, (I quote from memory).

          Almunia being a socialist, I understand that he is criticising, in a veiled fashion, both Madrid and Barcelona.

        2. Since we seem to have a professional misinformant here, I think it’s important to know the exact words of this memeber of the European Comission. This is a transcription of Almunia’s words as have been aired today morning on Catalunya Radio (audio files available for download at catradio.com):

          When a debate begins, like the one that we have here in Catalonia, or the one in Flandes or the one in Scotland, things must be debated with all elements on the table. Nothing can be left below the table. You must put everything on the table. In this respect, like on so many other occasions, the British have just taught us a lesson in democracy.

          On the EU permanency issue:

          You cannot give, like so many times in constitutional law or in legal issues, you cannot give a categorical answer. It’s not honest to give a categorical answer like saying, look, if someone secedes they will be left out and we won’t know anything about them for the rest of eternity. It’s not like this, among other reasons, because we all are European citizens and once you are a European citizen you have some rights as a citizen.

          Later on, according to presenter Manel Fuentes, he said that in the event of a negotiated independence, the new state would remain in the EU, whereas otherwise the new state would be left out and would need to apply for membership.

          1. I’m simply providing an accurate and verifiable quotation, in order to make it really hard for a manipulator to tamper with the words that have been said.

            After the Reding incident, it’s the least I could have done.

          2. That settled now, we can interpret. I understand that Almunia would prefer a negotiated settlement. I think he represents the EU with this. I agree, because this is a political issue, in which Spain, too, can get under much pressure to negotiate in good faith. The alternative, the “terrible risk”, is both the untenable situation of ruling over a region that does not want to belong to Spain, and Catalonia’s economy crashing for being totally blocked by Spain; which would affect not only Spain but the whole of Europe.

            On the other hand, Catalonia, too, would have to negotiate in good faith. For the same reasons.

            If the moment of having to negotiate secession arrives, I am quite sure that both sides will perceive the common interest.

            And if not, they will be gently nudged in the right direction.

            I guess we can all agree on this. So here comes my criticism: the last time a Catalan premier was supposed to negotiate, he put an ultimatum instead. And the last time a Spanish premier had to listen to his Catalan citizens and make politics, he just moped instead of coming up with a sensible alternative to the letter of the law.

  4. After some thought I must admit a flaw in my take on the issue. One possible scenario is that of a unilateral declaration of independence. This would indeed lead to Catalonia being a new state outside of the EU. However, this is not the most likely scenario. I (and others) have pointed out that negotiations between Madrid and Barcelona would be the preferred way of resolving Catalonia’s status, for a variety of reasons, but I forgot to consider the fact that a certain time would pass between the referendum and the declaration of independence. The negotiations would have to be conducted in this period.

    Meanwhile, Catalonia would retain its present status within Spain, and once the negotiations (and other, parallel ones with the EU) would have concluded successfully, Catalonia would indeed be able to leave Spain and join the EU simultaneously. So the answer to the question put before us is yes.

    Certainly, this yes is conditioned on the negotiations, but with the issue of a unilateral declaration off the table, and with the EU most likely to urge Spain to enter into negotiations, I do not doubt that there would be such, and that this would be the only remaining alternative.

    Even under the best of conditions, such negotiations could last a year or two. If there is ill will on the part of Madrid -and in the light of its behaviour in the past weeks we can expect a certain dose of it- this could protract the negotiations another couple of years.

    So I have a new question: What would it be like to live in such a situation?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.