‘Fake law’: Professor debunks claims EU legally bound to punish Spain for Catalan violence

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By Katie King on

Nearly 40,000 retweets for #SpainOutOfEU call, but lawyer says Europe constrained to stay out of these disputes

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EU law experts have been forced to rush to the Union’s defence, after a tweet asking the President of the Commission to take action against police violence went viral.

This weekend saw the people of Catalonia, Spain, vote overwhelmingly for independence in a contentious referendum. The Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, has said the vote was illegal, Spain’s constitutional court having banned it.

Shocking images then came to light of police forcefully trying to block voting, including pulling people out of polling stations by their hair. Medical officials say around 850 people have been hurt, though thankfully most of these injuries are believed to be minor.

Author Liz Castro wants to know: where is the EU in all this? In a tweet addressed to Jean Claude Juncker, she said:

And shared it was. At the time of publication, the tweet has garnered nearly 40,000 retweets and 25,000 likes.

But EU law experts aren’t sold on Castro’s reference to Article 7. University of Essex EU law professor Steve Peers went as far as to say this is “fake law”:

A scan of Article 7 shows the EU “may determine”, subject to conditions, that there has been “a clear risk of a serious breach by a Member State of the values referred to in Article 2”. Article 2 says:

The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail.

Neither Article 7 nor Article 2 mentions “military force” at any point.

Peers concedes that, where the Catalan referendum is concerned, the EU is left in a sticky situation. He told Legal Cheek:

Various people have either blamed the EU for the violence or blamed the EU for not stopping it. But this ignores the fact that Member States deliberately wrote into the treaties that the EU should not affect Member States’ national identity or territorial integrity. So the EU is legally constrained to stay out of disputes like these.

Criticism of the police violence should be directed solely at the Spanish government, he concludes, not at the EU.

Peers is not the only person jumping to the Union’s defence.

Steve Bullock, a former negotiator for the UK in Europe, noted the EU has, by some, been blamed “simultaneously for being an all-powerful superstate and for not controlling its Member States”. He told us: “It’s always been the case that, often, Member States take the credit, while the EU takes the blame.”

Senior law lecturer Paul Bernal took a similar line, noting:

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