Europe stands by Spain over breakaway Catalonia

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Paris (AFP) – Spain’s allies in Europe and the United States rallied behind Madrid on Friday after Catalonia’s regional parliament declared independence in a escalating constitutional crisis.

Catalan MPs passed the motion by 70 votes to 10 — in a ballot boycotted by the opposition — in a move that threatens the stability of Spain and the European Union.

After the vote, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said he had dissolved the Catalan parliament, formally removed separatist leader Carles Puigdemont from office and called regional elections on December 21 as part of measures to “restore normality”.

Here are some of the key reactions:

– EU: ‘Argument not force’ –

European Council President Donald Tusk said Madrid “remains our only interlocutor” following the independence vote.

“I hope the Spanish government favours force of argument, not argument of force,” he tweeted.

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker also warned of the danger of “more cracks” opening up in the 28-member bloc.

“We shouldn’t insert ourselves into what is an internal debate for Spain, but I wouldn’t want the European Union to consist of 95 member states in the future.”

Brussels has insisted the standoff is an internal matter, resisting Catalan efforts for international mediation and backing Madrid’s position that the referendum was illegal.

– US: ‘Keep Spain strong and united’ –

The United States considers Catalonia an “integral part of Spain” and supports Madrid’s measures to keep Spain “strong and united,” the State Department said.

“The United States enjoys a great friendship and an enduring partnership with our NATO ally Spain,” spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

– UN: ‘An internal matter’ –

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said any discusstions about the allocation of power remained an internal matter, spokesman Farhan Haq said.

But he added: “The secretary-general encourages all concerned to seek solutions within the framework of the Spanish constitutional and through established political and legal channels.”

– Germany: ‘Dialogue and de-escalation’ –

Germany “does not recognise” Catalonia’s unilateral declaration of independence, a government spokesman said, calling for dialogue between the two sides.

“The sovereignty and territorial integrity of Spain are and always will be inviolable,” spokesman Steffen Seibert said on Twitter.

– France: ‘one partner in Spain’ –

French President Emmanuel Macron said Rajoy had his full support.

“I have one partner in Spain, that’s Prime Minister Rajoy… the rule of law prevails in Spain, with constitutional rules. He wants to ensure they are respected and he has my full support.”

– UK: ‘Unity preserved’ –

Britain “does not and will not” recognise the unilateral declaration of independence, Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesman said.

“It is based on a vote that was declared illegal by the Spanish courts. We continue to want to see the rule of law upheld, the Spanish Constitution respected, and Spanish unity preserved.”

However, a minister in Scotland’s independence-minded devolved government said it respected the Catalan government action.

“While Spain has the right to oppose independence, the people of Catalonia must have the ability to determine their own future.” said Fiona Hyslop, Scottish Cabinet Secretary for External Affairs.

“Today’s declaration of independence came about only after repeated calls for dialogue were refused.”

– NATO: ‘Resolved within Spain’ –

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said the “Catalonia issue must be resolved within Spain’s constitutional order”.

“Spain is a committed ally, with important contributions to our security,” he said on Twitter.

– Portugal: ‘Total solidarity’ –

Prime Minister Antonio Costa of neighbouring Portugal expressed his “total solidarity in the defence of the constitutional principle of Spanish unity,” and said he considered the declaration of independence “a disruption of Spanish political life”.

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