Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium | Animated Discussion About Catalonia in Louvain
A diplomat from the Spanish Embassy in Belgium Questions the Event
The Public Diplomacy Council of Catalonia (Diplocat) and L’Institut de Ciénces Politiques Louvain-Europe (ISPOLE) organised an event entitled “Catalonia: A New State in Europe?” at the Catholic University of Louvain (UCL) on 18 October.
Michel Liégeois, President of ISPOLE, and Martí Estruch, Communications Director at Diplocat, welcomed the attendees who filled the room on behalf the organisers.
What’s going on in Catalonia?
Next Amadeu Altafaj, Representative of the Catalan Government to the EU, explained the current status of the independence moviment in Catalonia. Mr. Altafaj detailed the lack of dialogue between Catalonia and the Spanish government, citing as an example the recent talk given by Catalonia’s President in Madrid which was attended by a dozen ambassadors, but not a single representative of the Spanish government or of the governin PP political party. Mr. Altafaj also criticised the Spanish government’s use of the legal system as “the armed wing of the Executive Branch of the Spanish government” with the Spanish Constitution as “their weapon”. He made it clear that “Catalonia does not want to build walls, but rather seeks to carry out the mandate given to the government by Catalonia’s citizens at the ballot box.”
Round table: Catalonia and Scotland: challenges and opportunities for Europe
A roundtable moderated by Vincent Laborderie, Associate Professor at the UCL, allowed various professors from European universities to discuss the challenges and opportunities that are presented to Europe by the Scottish and Catalan cases. Bruno Coppieters, Head of the Political Science Department at the Free University of Brussels (VUB) , lamented that what would be the easiest solution to the Catalan case “would be to ask them what they want, but that isn’t possible.” He presented different approaches to the right to self-determination, from the more classical side to the more pragmàtic ones, concluding that “It is very possible that Catalonia will end up declaring independence, but International recognition is quite another thing, because that depends directly on Spain and the EU will not do it if Spain doesn’t.”
Michael Keating, Professor of Political Science at the University of Aberdeen and Director of the ESRC Centre on Constitutional Change spoke about Scotland and the new scenario there following Brexit. He said that the current situation “is very complex, with problems of democràtic legitimacy, of opportunity, and constitutional as well as econòmic issues.” The fact that a “hard Brexit” now appears to have overtaken the “soft Brexit” approach complicates things even more, for both Scotland as well as Northern Ireland, where there is intensive internal discussion, according to Keating.
The final speaker was Esther Zapater, Professor of Public International Law and International Relations, and Dean of the Law School at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. She discussed the legal approach to the Catalan case, mentioning the conflicte between legality and legitimacy, and explained that “The problema is that in Spain the unionists have a very closed reading of the Constitution, and they don’t accept any other option than refusing a referendum.” She also believes that “at some point the EU will need to take a stance, and it is probable that the EU will be pragmàtic in their approach.
During the question and answer session at the end of the event all attention turned to Ms. Laura Martínez Bocos, who started her supposed question saying she was a student, but shortly thereafter said she was speaking on behalf of the Spanish Embassy in Belgium, where she holds the rank of Counselor. She questioned the acadèmic merit of the event, criticising the data presented, and demanding the same amount of time given to Mr. Altafaj to make her own presentation, since she represents “the Spaniards and Catalans who are not here today” saying she wanted “to defend the minority of citizens who want to study in Spanish in Catalonia.”
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The Université catholique de Louvain (UCL) is Belgium's largest French-speaking university. UCL has satellite campuses in Brussels, Charleroi, Mons and Tournai. In 1968 the Catholic University of Leuven split into the Dutch-language Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, which stayed in Leuven, and the French-language Université catholique de Louvain, which moved to Louvain-la-Neuve in Wallonia, which was expressly built to house the university.
The Institut de sciences politiques Louvain-Europe ISPOLE brings together researchers working on policy issues, both from a Belgian and European and international points of view, and in a multidisciplinary perspective through different themes. Located in Mons and Louvain, the Institute has about sixty people (59 researchers in four research centres and 5 administrative staff).
Last updated: 26 October 2016