The European Union has blamed “human error” for a major intervention in the Catalan elections, but says it will investigate.
The European Union has said that “human error” resulted in an entire paragraph being added to the official response to a question on the Catalan elections.
Catalans will vote for their regional parliament, the Generalitat, this Sunday in elections the current president and civil society groups have tried to turn into a plebiscite on independence.
Pro-independence politicians and other well-known faces, including former FC Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola, have joined together as candidates for the Junts pel Sí coalition, after the Spanish government in Madrid blocked all other attempts for a referendum on independence. Junts pel Sí have promised to issue a unilateral declaration of independence within 18 months if they win on Sunday.
Madrid have refused to recognise Sunday’s election as a plebiscite, although the Catalan branch of the ruling Partido Popular, and various members of the government including Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, have been campaigning on the benefits of a united Spain.
One of the Partido Popular members of the European Parliament, Santiago Fisas Ayxelà, even tabled a question to the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, asking:
Would the Commission recognise this unilateral declaration of independence, or would it respect Spain’s territorial integrity and the Spanish State’s competence to manage its internal affairs and essential functions as a State?
It was, as with most political questions, very loaded. The EU is, supposedly, committed to not interfering with the internal affairs of member states, where they do not impact directly on the EU. During the Scottish referendum, the EU’s input only stretched to membership of the EU if it became independent.
The official answer given by President Juncker, in English, was a standard response:
It is not for the Commission to express a position on questions of internal organisation related to the constitutional arrangements of a particular Member State.
However, the Spanish translation of the answer includes an additional paragraph which represents a major intervention, roughly translated as:
The Commission recalls in this context that, in accordance with what is ordered in Article 4, Part 2, of the Treaty on European Union (the Maastricht Treaty), the Union must respect the “national identity [of Member States], inherent in their fundamental political and constitutional structures, also with reference to local and regional autonomy. It will respect the essential functions of the state, especially those whose object is to guarantee their territorial integrity.” The determination of a Member State’s territory is uniquely established by the national constitutional law and not by a decision of an autonomous parliament contrary to the constitution of the said state.
This additional paragraph was immediately seized upon by the Partido Popular and others opposed to independence, but the EU insists it is not an official position, as the only official answer was that given in English. The EU has put the additional paragraph down to “human error”, a result of having 35,000 employees, but that excuse simply does not wash.
Whether official or not, President Juncker’s response has been manipulated and is now embedded in the minds of many Catalan voters just days before the crucial election.
What is at stake in this case is not just the future of Catalunya and Spain, but the integrity of the EU as a whole. An organisation that purports to represent more than 500,000,000 people cannot simply bat away such a large manipulation as mere “human error”, otherwise it cannot and will not be trusted on similar matters in future.
The EU must investigate exactly how this was allowed to happen, and either update the official response or publicly declare that this is not the view of the Commission. Trust in the EU project, for those who do still trust it, is on the line.