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In an open letter to EU chiefs Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk some of the continent’s most prominent experts branded Madrid’s response an “undisputable abuse of power” that must be tackled.
They said PM Mariano Rajoy’s actions in suppressing the referendum and disbanding the Catalan parliament “constitute a violation of the Rule of Law” that needs to be probed by authorities.
And they warned a failure to act would look hypocritical given Brussels’ active stance on Poland and Hungary’s transgressions and that this would “risk causing long-term damage to the Union”.
The EU has largely stuck to the line that the violence in Catalonia is an internal Spanish matter, but senior eurocrats have also offered open support for Mr Rajoy's controversial actions.
The letter, obtained by Politico, is signed by a slew of high profile academics from across the European Union, as well as the Italian socialist MEP and former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis.
It states: “We are deeply concerned that the EU’s governing bodies are condoning the systematic violation of the Rule of Law in Spain regarding the Spanish central authorities’ approach to the referendum on Catalan independence.
“The manner in which the Spanish authorities have been handling the claims to independence expressed by a significant part of the population of Catalonia constitutes a violation of the Rule of Law.
“The violation of basic rights and freedoms protected by international and EU law cannot be an internal affair of any government. The silence of the EU and its rejection of inventive mediation is unjustifiable.
“We therefore call on the Commission to examine the situation in Spain under the Rule of Law framework, as it has done previously for other Member States.”
On October 1 Catalan authorities, led by their president Carles Puigdemont, went ahead with holding an independence referendum in the region that had been declared illegal by the constitutional court.
Madrid responded by sending in riot police with batons and rubber bullets to try and stop people voting, with shocking scenes of brutality against defenceless civilians being beamed across the globe.
Despite their efforts the referendum went ahead and the result was eventually declared as 92 per cent in favour of independence, although turnout was just 43 per cent as unionists stayed home in protest.
Last week the Catalan parliament voted to formally declare secession from Spain, prompting Mr Rajoy to take drastic measures including sacking the region’s entire Government and its chief of police.
Mr Puigdemont, who along with his senior ministers is facing 30 years in jail on rebellion and sedition charges, fled to Brussels where he has vowed to continue his independence bid whilst fighting extradition charges.
The academics said Spain’s actions had “severe consequences on exercising freedom of expression” and it was “a travesty of justice to enforce one constitutional provision by violating fundamental rights”.
They wrote: “The Spanish government, in its efforts to safeguard the sovereignty of the state and indivisibility of the nation, has violated basic rights and freedoms guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as by Articles 2 and 6 of the basic law of the EU.”
The experts also warned EU leaders that they risked “maiming” the very concept of the Rule of Law they are so staunchly defending in Poland and Hungary and in doing so undermining the entire European project.
They said: “The EU leadership has reiterated that violence cannot be an instrument in politics, yet it has implicitly condoned the actions of the Spanish police and has deemed the actions of the Spanish government to be in line with the Rule of Law. Such a reductionist, maimed version of the Rule of Law should not become Europe’s new political common sense.
“It is dangerous and risks causing long-term damage to the Union. We therefore call on the European Council and Commission to do all that is necessary to restore the Rule of Law principle to its status as a foundation of liberal democracy in Europe by countering any form of abuse of power committed by Member States. Without this, and without a serious effort of political mediation, the EU risks losing its citizens’ trust and commitment.”