'We need to act in an exemplary way'
The newly appointed EU government representative argues that continuing the process by peaceful democratic means is the secret to selling the sovereignty process in Brussels
He is Catalan diplomacy's star signing. Altafaj was spokesman for the European Commission with the euro at breakpoint and is now the Generalitat's permanent representative to the European Union.
Your are an ambassador but at the same you're not.
–We want to give the post a more political profile. Part of the work will be day-to-day management of Catalonia's affairs in the EU, but we also want to strengthen the political dialogue with the community's institutions.
The PP says the post is “ridiculous and unnecessary”.
–I respect all opinions but a reaction like that confirms that it is a sensitive point. It is not a waste of resources but rather an investment in an area in which all Catalans, including those who vote PP, are implicated. Catalonia has vital interests in Brussels: 80% of the policies that the Generalitat administers are covered by European legislation. It is in our interests to be well-represented, to be active and project our influence. We want to speak for ourselves.
You were a spokesman for the European Commission. Representing Catalonia must seem easy in comparison.
–No, it is difficult and complex. But the concepts are easy to understand, especially in Brussels, the home of European democracy. It is about explaining that a lot of Catalans want to decide their future in a democratic way. What is more complicated is explaining why we have not done it so far, despite the existing legal paths. But they have been exhausted and in the end a vote was needed, such as 9-N, with the hope that on September 27 the public will democratically say what country it wants.
But don't member states just see this as yet another headache among so many?
–When you look at the 28 member states, you realise that many, and not so long ago, were not only not members of the EU but were not even states. Think about the three Baltic states or Croatia or Slovenia, for example. It is true that there is a feeling not to add to the problems on the European agenda, but at the same time there is wide understanding of the principles and values that have inspired this process. And above all there is a certain admiration for the exemplary way this process is being conducted, without confrontation, without violence.
Yet so far the EU has washed its hands. When does Brussels get involved?
–It hasn't washed its hands; it's a problem of jurisdiction. The European Commission is bound by treaties that do not allow intervention unless a member state explicitly asks for it. It has not come out in favour, but nor has it against. We are talking about a case without precedents, of internal expansion, of the independence of a group of citizens that are already in the EU with a whole series of rights. The EU is a union of states, but also of citizens.
In Brussels, Junqueras threatened to bring the Catalan economy to a halt.
–We have to resort to those sort of arguments to force external intervention. I would steer clear of that type of tactic. It is true that finance has an important role, it is true that what could happen in the future with the management of the Spanish debt is a sensitive matter, for institutions and for investors. However, I do not think we need to use this type of threat. What we have to do is what we are doing: carry out the process in an exemplary manner and in-line with democratic European standards. This is the language that is best understood in Brussels.
Does García-Margallo's warning that “an independent Catalonia would drift in space” have any basis?
–No. There are many studies and reports, even parliamentary ones, about how to go about the process in an orderly manner so that there is no discontinuity between a 'yes' in a referendum and maintaining all of the rights, privileges and duties of the citizens. These are arguments aimed at causing uncertainty and concern rather than being based on any serious study. I don't think anyone can honestly say what would happen. The European legal basis has evolved, with expansions and the widening of jurisdictions, and changes have been made to the legal foundations. And that is a good thing. The EU has shown itself capable of making political decisions when faced with challenges.
What would you improve about our foreign policy?
–Applying the lessons we have learned in the past few years to continue reforming and reinforcing all foreign action. There is no doubt that foreign policy is one of the fundamental state structures that the government wants to promote.
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