Look at our group name and it’s clear we are pro-EU. But that does not mean we do not recognise that the EU is not infallible. Today in particular, the shortcomings of the EU are more obvious than usual. The lack of EU response so far in respect of the actions of the Spanish state against citizens of Catalonia is more than disappointing. It is distressing.
While arguments are made that the holding of a referendum is illegal under the Spanish constitution, it is not illegal under international law. We have seen arguments that the actions of the Guardia Civil are just and that the people attempting to cast their votes, or maintain access for others to cast their vote are deserving of the full force of Spanish law enforcement.
I make no apologies in what I’m about to say. If this is your line of argument then you are complicit in every injury sustained by civilians in this event.
It is absolutely understandable to be against the holding of the referendum, and it is absolutely understandable to believe that the organisers of the referendum should be prosecuted. But to believe that civilians participating in the act of voting, the hallmark of democracy, should be subject to violence, is unforgivably authoritarian.
Remember, not all of those who want this referendum are pro-independence. Indeed, polling suggests that had Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy let the referendum go ahead without interference, there would be a clear NO vote. The more the Spanish government has pushed against this, the more citizens of Catalonia have found reason to cast their vote in favour of independence. After all, who wants to be part of a state that treats its citizens this way?
Had the vote gone ahead without this interference the result could have once again been ignored by Rajoy’s government, and those involved with organising it could have been peacefully subjected to prosecution through Spanish courts. Yes, international courts may have become involved, and the whole thing could have been a long drawn out event, but the upholding of peace and civility would have been commendable. Instead, we see physical and violent oppression of peaceful dissent. We see civilians on both sides of the debate subjected to state-sanctioned police cruelty.
So where does the EU come into this? Well, while we believe it is reasonable that the EU remain neutral on domestic policy of member states, we do not believe this entitles it to remain silent on the kind of violent oppression we have witnessed today.
We have seen some internet chatter citing Articles 2 & 7 of the Treaty of the European Union, which while we believe to be applicable in this instance, we understand that there may be other legal arguments against its validity in this specific instance.
It is this kind of ambiguity that highlights a deficit in citizen representation in the EU.
The EU recognises member states, not citizens. And while we as citizens elect MEPs to represent us in the EU Parliament on EU matters, it is the governments of our member states who carry most weight.
Given that in the UK, our government in Westminster was elected with only 42% of the vote, it leaves almost 58% of voters (plus a great many more of the electorate who did not vote, not to mention those not entitled to vote, such as non-UK nationals resident/working in the UK) in a position where that member-state government does not represent them.
Similarly, Mariano Rajoy’s “Peoples’ Party” is a minority government, elected on just 33% of the vote in 2016.
While we as citizens of course must address democratic process in our constituent countries, we must warn the EU to take heed of disgruntled citizens among their member states. Brexit seems the perfect example in this instance. Arguably a protest vote against successive UK governments’ failure to listen to swathes of its own citizens, and against the years of austerity resulting in little or no improvement to the average family, the EU referendum put power into the hands of “the people” in a way they had not experienced in generations. While we as a group are of course disappointed with the result of the Brexit vote (as well as the way the Leave vote was encouraged by right wing media and politicians), we recognise that for many, this was the first time they felt they could make the EU listen to them…even if they were not quite sure what they were saying.
In the aftermath of the UK’s EU referendum, we saw right wing and ultra left elements across Europe trying to capitalise on the UK’s vote to leave, pushing for similar votes to be held in their own countries. We can only be thankful that the ineptitude of the UK’s negotiating team seems to have quietened such voices for now, but rest assured, they have not been silenced.
Many of us see the EU as a buffer against our national governments. To citizens like us, the EU is so much more than a trading bloc. We see a big part of the EU’s role as keeping a level playing field among member states, and protecting our rights when national governments may be inclined to diminish them.
If the EU forgets or sidelines this role when citizens need their support most, we can see support for EU membership declining fast.
The EU must acknowledge that governments come and go; It is citizens who hold the power to change regimes, and as demonstrated by the UK’s vote to leave, it is citizens who are key to the future of the EU.