All of these months, I have been heard saying a thousand times that any position we heard in terms of international policy had to be kept in reserve because when things happen, the game changes straight away; and this weekend, the game effectively changed after a major and key event, Brexit, took place.
On Friday, the President of the Council of the European Union, Donald Tusk, reacted to the delivery of the British official letter invoking article 50, and did so with a speech that showed the European Union faces Brexit with vengeance, which I believe is an enormous mistake but one that is inevitable.
Within this spirit of vengeance, on Friday we found out two things: firstly, that the European Union will encourage the unification of Ireland, and; that it will give Spain the chance to veto anything that might happen in the future with Gibraltar. The two decisions are very harsh and surprising, but have an obvious common background: that we can no longer avoid the United Kingdom leaving and we are trying to ensure that the smallest possible part of the United Kingdom separates from us.
Then on Sunday we awoke with the great and enormous surprise that Spain officially announced that it will do nothing to prevent Scotland’s entry in the Union. It is very difficult, and even impossible, not to relate the subject of Gibraltar with that of Scotland, it’s just a change of flag. And it is very difficult, and even impossible, not to understand with this so important declaration that the European Union is beginning to make it clear that it will try to make sure that an independent Scotland does not leave, thus reducing Brexit to a minimum expression and leaving it reduced only to the two countries that voted to leave, England and Wales.
What is striking, therefore, is the radical change in the Spanish position. Immediately after the referendum, Mariano Rajoy had made famous that phrase according to which ‘if the United Kingdom goes, Scotland goes’ (http://www.europapress.es/nacional/noticia-rajoy-si-reino-unido-va-escocia-tambien-va-20160629144053.html). The Spanish prime minister had affirmed without a shadow of a doubt and with the firmness with which they speak that Scotland had no voice of its own in Brexit, that the Treaties forbade it (which is not true), that the members of the European Union in no case would contemplate any kind of negotiation with Scotland and that if that happened, Spain would veto it. Well, Brexit has been made effective, and suddenly everything has changed, even the Spanish position.
But how will this affect us? There are a few things on this question that we will have to watch very closely.
1 — The change made in just a few hours shows once more the European Union’s flexibility when it seeks solutions. That which was impossible when we were only talking in theory it has now suddenly become possible just as the negotiations start up.
2 — Those who in no way could be a spokesperson have immediately become one, even without yet becoming a state. Scotland was unable to negotiate or play any role in Brexit, but suddenly even Spain comes alongside it, despite the obvious discomfort that it causes.
3 — The main objective of the European Union is clearly to keep the largest possible number of European citizens in the European Union; and if borders have to be broken down to achieve this, then they will be broken down, and not only one, but three together: Ireland, Gibraltar and Scotland. Keep that in mind for the Catalan case: to keep the largest possible number of European citizens in the European Union, even if the current borders have to be broken down.
And yet four more notes on what Spain has just done. Yesterday the Spanish government was euphoric as they already saw the Spanish flag flying over Gibraltar, also believing that they have become a superpower in the EU with the right to do anything they want. Congratulations, because the victory in the case of Gibraltar is clear, but I would recommend a little more caution for several reasons.
1 — The fact is that Gibraltar’s status hasn’t changed at all. The European Union used Spain to put pressure on the United Kingdom, but it neither recognises that Gibraltar is Spanish nor assures more than the fact that the Spanish opinion over Gibraltar will be decisive, as it has always been in all international negotiations. And beware because yesterday the United Kingdom talked even about its ‘commitment to defend’ Gibraltar, insinuating that it would go to war if necessary.
2 — On the other hand, by recognising that it will not veto Scotland, Spain takes an enormously incoherent step for which it will pay dearly. It annoys the British and creates an enormous conflict with London, which could have highly favourable repercussions for us in Catalonia. If up to now, the United Kingdom had been very cautious about Catalonia in order to avoid problems with Scotland, suddenly it has very few reasons to continue being so and the English influence and the Commonwealth are not precisely something of petty weight to have in favour. The British have interpreted the Spanish reaction, despite the overtones given to it, as implicit support to Scottish independence and this has hurt them a lot.
3 — Spain, by recognising that it will not veto Scotland at the present time, when the United Kingdom has chosen not to allow the referendum, is resigning itself to accepting an independent Scotland inside the European Union based on a unilateral referendum, and I do not think I have to explain the precedent that this sets.
4 — And finally: Spain defends, promotes, celebrates and flies the flag for change in a present border, that of Gibraltar, with the argument that it is important that the people of Gibraltar should maintain their European citizenship. After Catalan independence, how will it defend the argument that the Catalans can no longer be European citizens just because we also defend and promote a change in the present border?
The whole situation is becoming very interesting …