There’s something the Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy is still not saying, not even after being asked three times. On Sunday, El País newspaper published a major interview with Rajoy. It was a wide ranging interview, covering many topics, however naturally Catalonia and Scotland loomed large in the interviewer’s list of questions to ask. The reporter asked Rajoy three times whether he would veto Scottish membership of the EU, and three times Rajoy declined to say that he would.
Most interestingly of all we got a statement to the reverse effect. Rajoy needs a reason to exercise a veto against Scottish membership, but he said he doesn’t have one. Some of us have been saying all along that Rajoy has no intention of vetoing Scottish membership of the EU, contrary to the headlines in some of our national newspapers and broadcasters of late.
But first of all, I’ll let you read for yourselves exactly what Rajoy had to say about Scotland, together with the previous question and answer in the interview, which relates to Catalonia and is linked to his answers on Scotland.
I checked the translation with a couple of native Spanish speakers, because the turgid speechifying of Mariano Rajoy is not noted for its fine rhetoric. There’s a similar difficulty when trying to translate Johann Lamont’s interviews into Spanish. Or there would be, but I’ve never actually been that short of better things to with my time.
The translation is not elegant, I’ve tried to keep it as literal as possible, the better for you to judge for yourselves what Rajoy was trying to say. Here is the relevant part of the interview in the original Spanish followed at the end by my translation.
El País: Hay problemas graves que afronta este país: Cataluña, la crisis de la Monarquía, la crisis del conjunto de las instituciones españolas, en el sistema político. Las tres crisis requerirían acciones decididas por su parte como jefe del Gobierno y en las tres no vemos encima de la mesa ninguna iniciativa clara. ¿Cuál es su idea de actuación respecto al problema de Cataluña?
Rajoy: Cataluña es uno de los temas más importantes que tenemos planteados en este momento y la posición que yo defiendo como dirigente político, como miembro del PP y como español es sobradamente conocida. España es la nación más antigua de Europa, la que consiguió hace más siglos su unidad. Nunca Cataluña y el resto de España han vivido separados. Los lazos que nos unen son de todo tipo, lazos afectivos, históricos, comerciales, personales… y mi posición en ese sentido está clara. Como presidente del Gobierno yo tengo algunas obligaciones, desde luego cumplir y hacer cumplir la ley. Es decir, yo no puedo autorizar un referéndum en Cataluña. No quiero, pero es que además no puedo, yo no podría autorizar un referéndum por ejemplo como el que hay en Escocia por la sencilla razón de que la soberanía nacional le corresponde al pueblo español, según dice la Constitución. Y por tanto, si no hubiera una reforma de la Constitución, nunca podría un Gobierno, ni siquiera el Parlamento, autorizar un referéndum como el que se está planteando en Escocia. Es sorprendente que todavía haya quien no se haya dado cuenta de algo tan simple como eso. Yo lo único que quiero decir es que nunca me he negado a hablar. De hecho lo hice en numerosas ocasiones, pero es evidente que yo tengo que cumplir mis obligaciones como presidente del Gobierno y las cumpliré. Si quieren reformar la Constitución existen procedimientos para ello.
El País: Hablando de Escocia, ¿va a utilizar su veto para impedir que Escocia sea un miembro de la Unión Europea si vota por la independencia?
Rajoy: Los casos de Escocia y de Cataluña son muy distintos. El Reino Unido no tiene Constitución escrita. Pero además el derecho de autodeterminación solo se reconocía, que yo recuerde, en tres constituciones: la de la URSS, la de Yugoslavia y la de Etiopía. Por otra parte es bastante razonable que ningún país se ponga una cláusula de esas características. Yo lo único que quiero decir es que esto es un dato, no es un juicio de valor ni una opinión: Cualquier parte de un país integrado en la UE que se va de ese país, lógicamente queda fuera de la UE, no porque lo diga yo sino porque lo dicen los tratados.
El País: ¿Utilizaría su veto en la UE?
Rajoy: Yo no puedo utilizar mi veto para nada. Solamente podría utilizar el veto para que no se fuera. Porque es que no es un problema de veto. Es que automáticamente se va y por tanto no puedo vetar, es que se va.
El País: Me refiero a vetar su acceso posterior.
Rajoy: Tendría que ponerse a la cola. Estaríamos en otra historia. No vamos a adelantar acontecimientos.
El País: There are serious problems facing this country: Catalonia, the crisis of the monarchy, the crisis of the set of Spanish institutions, in the political system. The three crises would require decisive actions on your part as head of the government, and on the three we do not see any clear initiative on the table. What is your idea of action with respect to the problem of Catalonia?
Rajoy: Catalonia is one of the most important topics we face at the moment, and the position which I defend as a political leader, as a member of the Partido Popular, and as a Spaniard, is abundantly known. Spain is Europe’s most ancient nation, which achieved its unity centuries ago. Catalonia and the rest of Spain have never lived apart. The links which unite us are of every sort, links of affection, history, business, personal… and my position in that sense is clear. As president of the Government I have certain obligations, naturally to comply with and ensure compliance with the law. That is to say, I cannot authorise a referendum in Catalonia. I don’t want to, but that’s beside the point, I can’t, I don’t want to authorise a referendum for example like that in Scotland for the simple reason that national sovereignty corresponds to the Spanish people, according to the Constitution. And therefore, if there were no change to the Constitution, a government, or even a parliament, would never be able to authorise a referendum like that which is planned in Scotland. It is surprising that there are still those who have not realised something as simple as that. For myself, the only thing I want to say is that I have never refused to talk. In fact I have done so on numerous occasions, but it’s obvious that I have to fulfil my obligations as president of the Government, and I will fulfil them. If they want to change the Constitution procedures exist for that.
El País: Talking of Scotland, are you going to use your veto in order to prevent Scotland becoming a member of the EU if it votes for independence?
Rajoy: The cases of Scotland and Catalonia are very different. The United Kingdom doesn’t have a written constitution. But besides the right to self-determination was recognised in, as I recall, only three constitutions: that of the USSR, that of Yugoslavia, and that of Ethiopia. On the other hand it’s quite reasonable that no country should have a clause with those characteristics. The only thing I want to say is that this is a fact, not a court ruling or an opinion: Any part of a country integrated within the EU which leaves that country, logically is left outside the EU, not because I say so but because the treaties say it.
El País: Would you use your veto in the EU?
Rajoy: I can’t use my veto for nothing. I could only use the veto so that it were not out. Because it’s that this is not a problem of veto. It’s that it automatically leaves and therefore I can’t veto it, it’s that it leaves.
El País: I am referring to its later accession.
Rajoy: It would have to put itself in the queue. We would be in another story. We’re not going to get ahead of events.
Mariano Rajoy is Galician. The popular stereotype of Galicians is that they never say quite what they mean, and you have to read between the lines of their answers. This is not true of all Galicians, not by a long chalk, but it is very true of Mariano Rajoy.
Anyway, here’s what I took from Rajoy’s remarks.
The first time in the interview that he was asked whether he would veto Scottish membership of the EU, he embarked upon an explanation of why Scotland and Catalonia were not comparable cases. He also said that it was perfectly reasonable for a state to have a constitution that ruled out the independence of any part of its current territory.
The implication is that the UK is being unreasonable and the odd one out in Europe – again – for allowing Scotland to hold a referendum and opening this whole secesionistas y rupturistas can of worms for him. I get the sense that the recent briefings from the Tories in the UK press that the No campaign is doomed to lose have made their way to Partido Popular ears.
Rajoy then went on to address a set of circumstances that aren’t actually going to arise, saying that a country which declared independence from an EU member state was left outside the EU and asserted it said as much in EU treaties. I’m not entirely certain that is what the EU treaties say. The European Commission has repeatedly said that it will only ever comment on a specific scenario if requested to do so by a member state, an offer Rajoy and Cameron have both declined.
That aside, Scotland won’t be declaring independence from an EU member state without having negotiated with the EU beforehand, while it’s still a part of the UK and the EU, but after a yes vote has made independence a certainty. Rajoy can be accused of many things, but he certainly isn’t ignorant of that fact. He’s just hoping that no one else in Spain has noticed. He’s not about to address Scotland’s particular set of circumstances as he doesn’t want to give the Catalans any ideas.
The noticeable omission from the response was any attempt to answer the question about whether Rajoy would veto Scottish membership of the EU.
So the interviewer tried again. This time the answer was confused, and confusing, because Rajoy was trying to avoid making a clear statement about how Spain will respond in the event of a yes vote in the Scottish referendum, a yes vote that his pal Davie told him just a year ago wasn’t going to happen. But now he’s hearing from his friends in the Tory party that Scotland might go independent after all. He’s acutely aware that Catalonia may well have its independence referendum yet, and his words could come back to haunt him.
However Rajoy pretty much gives us a statement that Scotland gives Spain no reason to exercise a veto on EU membership. “I can’t use my veto for nothing,” he said. Because as he’d already made clear in his own baroquely opaque way, Scotland is a totally different case. Scotland cannot be vetoed for the reason he will veto Catalonia, and Madrid gains nothing but loses some significant advantages if it vetos Scotland’s membership of the EU. He’s preparing Spanish opinion for 19th September 2014, when he could well be explaining to the Spanish papers why Spain will welcome Scotland with open arms, but he’ll still have no truck with those Catalans.
Then he made a statement that got me scratching my wee heid at first. Solamente podría utilizar el veto para que no se fuera translates as “I could only use the veto so that it [Scotland] wasn’t out.” What he meant was that this entire situation could have been avoided if Scotland’s right to an independence referendum could have been vetoed at an EU level.
Thankfully for us, he doesn’t have that power, despite Partido Popular attempts to build a European wide anti-independence alliance. Now Rajoy is trying to make the best of the poor cards he’s got left to play, and he’s feeling very let down by Cameron.
He returned to the assertion that Scotland would have left the EU, because he doesn’t want to discuss what happens at an EU level after a yes vote but before Scottish independence. Again he didn’t answer the question about whether Spain would veto Scotland.
So the interviewer made a third attempt, and explicitly asked whether Rajoy would veto Scottish membership of the EU, even if Scotland were applying for membership from outside the EU. And yet again we got no answer, instead we were told that we’d be in a different set of circumstances. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
There you have it. As clear a statement from Rajoy as we’re going to get that Spain gains nothing by vetoing Scotland, and will create no obstacles to Scottish membership of the EU after a yes vote next September. He’s not about to do Westminster any favours.