The Cable

France Won’t Recognize an Independent Catalonia

The statement comes as Catalonia mulls an independence declaration, spooking companies and emboldening France’s separatists.

Students demonstrate in favor of Catalonian independence in Barcelona (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Students demonstrate in favor of Catalonian independence in Barcelona (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

France will not recognize Catalonia if it declares independence from Spain, according to Nathalie Loiseau, the country’s minister of European affairs.

“If there were a declaration of independence, it would be unilateral [and] it would not be recognized,” Loiseau told French news channel CNEWS. If Catalonia were independent, Loiseau cautioned, “the first consequence is that automatically it would leave the European Union.”

Carles Puigdemont, the president of the wealthy northeastern Spanish region, may declare independence Tuesday when the Catalan Parliament next meets. That threat comes after Spanish government forces cracked down on what they viewed as an illegal independence referendum held Oct. 1.

EU officials have long hinted sotto voce that the laws of the land are those of member states — meaning Spain’s constitution would prevail in the dispute. The country’s Constitutional Court declared Catalonia’s bid unconstitutional. But France’s vocal rejection makes clear the perilous path that any independent Catalonia would have to tread.

Just one “no” vote on recognition would prevent an independent Catalan membership in the EU and NATO.

France’s reaction is easy to understand, as the splintering of centuries-old states in Europe is rekindling France’s own separatist fires. Corsican and Breton nationalists have pushed to leave the third-largest economy in the EU. French President Emmanuel Macron’s coalition handily won the June legislative elections but took no seats in Corsica. Instead, the island chose three members of parliament from a Corsican secessionist alliance.

Corsican separatists went to Catalonia to follow the referendum firsthand, and its leaders hinted at a similar move down the road. “In about 10 years, if the Corsicans are assured of having material and economic stability, we may be in the same conditions as Catalonia today,” said Jean-Guy Talamoni, the president of the Corsican Assembly.

Breton nationalists in Nantes last week demanded that the city leave France’s Pays de la Loire region and then form an independent Brittany. A banner depicting a version of the Catalan flag with the flag of Brittany declared, “In Brittany, as in Catalonia, it is we who decide.”

“Let us recall that the definition of the French nation, around a pact called republican, has never been validated by any referendum in [France],” said Caroline Ollivro, the president of Breizh Europa, a Breton nationalist organization.

On the ground in Catalonia, as separatist rhetoric turns into nationalist action, banks and businesses are increasingly getting spooked. The Catalan business association says capital is fleeing and estimates that hundreds of companies could be pulling up stakes in the region and heading to other parts of Spain.

On Friday, the board of CaixaBank, which makes up roughly half of Catalonia’s banking sector, announced that it would be moving its headquarters to Valencia. There’s a simple reason why: Banks deal in real currencies with existing economies.

The bank wants to “protect the interests of [its] customers, shareholders and employees by ensuring that the entity remains in the euro-zone and under the supervision of the European Central Bank,” it said in a release.

Sabadell, another of Spain’s largest banks, said it would move from Barcelona to Alicante, another city in the Valencia region.

Sabadell emphasized that it would continue to operate “with absolute normality” under the European Central Bank and the European Banking Authority, according to a press release last week.

Toll road management company Abertis and wireless company Cellnex Telecom, each based in Barcelona, were likely to talk about leaving on Monday, according to one BBC report.

Photo credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

John Kester is a Washington, D.C.-based reporter.

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