The European Commission’s president, Jean-Claude Juncker, has lambasted authorities in Spain’s Catalonia region for launching an independence drive, saying it deeply concerns the European Union.
Juncker told Spanish newspaper El Pais on Sunday that the EU, Spain and Catalonia, a prosperous region northeast of Spain, suffered deeply from a drive for independence that became serious early last month with a controversial referendum in the region.
“Catalonia is an enormous concern … I don’t like the situation it has provoked. It is a disaster in several ways. It has charged the political atmosphere, it has fractured Spanish and Catalan society, it has caused problems inside families, between friends. It’s sad,” said Juncker.
The Spanish government, which had outlawed the October 1 referendum, dismissed Catalonia’s regional government and ordered its parliament dissolved following a declaration of independence on October 27.
Juncker said the EU supported plurality in the bloc and respected the identity and culture of regions within countries. However, he said, the EU would never tolerate regions disintegrating from countries without consent of central governments.
“I am in favor of a Europe of regions, of respecting their identity, of what makes them different … But that does not mean that we are going to support these regions in all their adventures, which sometimes are a tremendous error, and even more so if one declares independence unilaterally based on a referendum that lacked in guarantees,” he said.
The official, who leads the EU’s powerful executive branch, said the bloc of 28 nations was fully behind Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and his efforts to counter Catalonia’s secession. Juncker warned separatist leaders that they “must not underestimate the wide support that Mariano Rajoy has throughout Europe.”
Former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, who led the independence push, is now in Belgium awaiting a court hearing on Spain’s extradition request. Spain says he can contest fresh parliamentary elections called for Catalonia on December 21 but he should stand trial on charges of rebellion and misuse of public funds.