EU Commission’s double standards concerning Spain’s abuses against Catalonia are “unjustifiable” says a new European study

The Binding the Guardian report questions the EU Commission’s willingness to protect the rule of law, which condones threats to the rule of law and systematic abuses of power, such as Spain’s assault on political freedoms in Catalonia

The European Commission’s silence concerning Spain’s politically motivated persecution of Catalonia is likely to have a negative effect on the rule of law in the EU. This is one of the conclusions of a new European study that has also analyzed the cases of France and Bulgaria and found that the EU Commission’s double standards and lack of transparency condone threats to the rule of law.

The report denounces that the EU Commission’s 2020 and 2021 rule of law reports are “completely silent on the numerous rule of law infringements the Spanish government has committed in response to the 2017 Independence Referendum in Catalonia”, declaring the matter  “an internal affair  of Spain”, to which the authors of the study reply that “the violations of basic rights and freedoms with impunity cannot be an internal affair of any government” and call the silence of the European Commission “unjustifiable”, as it constitutes an “abrogation of its duty to safeguard the rule of law in the Union”.

In this sense, the report denounces a “full range of breaches of law in Spain-from judicial independence to the politicization of the executive”, from the arbitrary imprisonment of Catalan civic and political leaders, denounced by institutions such as the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions and organizations such as Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch; to a rise of hate speech and aggression against Catalans, as alerted by the UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues.

It also recalls the June 2021 Council of Europe report denouncing the persecution of Catalan leaders for their statements and for calling for peaceful demonstrations, the Court of Auditor’s €5.4M fine for Catalan officials for promoting independence abroad, and the illegal surveillance of Catalan high-ranking representatives via Pegasus spyware, as reported by The Guardian newspaper, among others. In this regard, the report denounces that under the guise of “protecting a democratic Constitution, the Spanish authorities have engaged in a systematic abuse of power”.

The report also mentions a letter sent to the EU Commission by Catalan National Assembly president Elisenda Paluzie in October 2020, in which she questioned “why the imprisonment of the Catalan politicians was left unaddressed in the Commission’s 2020 Rule of Law Report, given that the prison sentences of the Catalan leaders constitute a clear violation of Article 2 of the Treaty of the European Union”. In her letter, Paluzie also underlined the UN working group recommendations on arbitrary detention and underscored the dangers of inaction: “every human rights violation committed by an EU member state erodes the legitimacy of the European institutions to criticize these practices in countries outside the Union and acts as a precedent for countries inside and outside  the Union to justify their own transgressions”. The report mentions that, in his reply to Paluzie’s letter, Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders gave an assessment of “systemic” violations of the rule of law and that they do not comment on “individual cases”. He reiterated that the developments regarding the Catalan referendum are “an internal matter of Spain and the Commission respects its constitutional order and judicial decisions”.

In this respect, in its conclusions, the report states that “when it comes to the Spanish authorities, the Commission has omitted both systematic threats and repeat infringements of the rule of law”, taking a position that many of these issues are “an internal affair of the Spanish state”. Moreover, it highlights that the “deliberate silence of the Commission is likely to have a far-reaching, negative effect on the rule of law in the European Union”, and that “the Commission’s reductive, legalistic analysis of the rule of law in Spain opens the door to its utilization as an instrument of oppression”.

The study Binding the Guardian, commissioned by MEP Clare Daly and drafted by award-winning academic Albena Azmanova, investigates the European Commission’s annual rule of law reports (2020 & 2021). It was motivated by an open letter to European Commission President Juncker and European Council President Tusk published in November 2017 alerting  to the growing tendency of Member States  to use  rule of law as a tool of political oppression, noting that the European Commission itself had  fallen short of its responsibilities, “narrowly reducing the remit of the rule of law to a simple matter of legality—ignoring routine violations of core values, such as the right to peaceful assembly, freedom of speech or even the right to liberty and life itself.”