Catalan lawmakers warn of Spanish 'military threat'
(MADRID) - European Union MPs from Catalonia sparked an uproar in Spain on Wednesday by warning of a military threat from Madrid and seeking EU intervention.
Four members of the European parliament warned in a letter to Brussels of a military menace against the northeastern region of Catalonia, where demands are growing for independence from the rest of Spain.
"We are writing to you to convey our deep concern over a series of threats of the use of military force against the Catalan population," they wrote to European Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding.
The MPs recalled that hundreds of thousands of people had taken to the streets of Barcelona on September 11 this year, the Catalan national day, calling for independence.
The popular protest helped to convince the powerful region's president, Artur Mas, to call snap elections on November 25 with the aim of organizing a referendum on "self-determination".
But the MPs said many people including senior members of the military had since said that Spanish armed forces had a constitutional duty to guarantee the territorial integrity of Spain.
Such threats limit Catalan and Spanish democracy as well as freedom of expression and protest for people in Catalonia, they said in the letter dated October 22.
"In these circumstances, the European Union should intervene preventatively to guarantee that the resolution of the Catalan conflict be resolved in a peaceful, democratic manner."
They noted that the European Union had been conferred the Nobel Peace Prize this year.
It was therefore essential that Brussels "make a public statement insisting on the withdrawal from the public debate of any military threat or use of force as a way of resolving this political conflict".
And the MPs requested an assessment of the "real risk of a possible military intervention in Catalonia" and of the tone being used by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's right-leaning Popular Party government.
The Catalan government believes it gets a raw deal from Madrid, which levies far more taxes in the region than it returns to the region.
At the same time, many Catalans resent deep cuts to health and education spending aimed at curbing a large public debt built up in the region, and across Spain.
But Spanish policymakers scoffed at the idea of a military conflict breaking out.
"It is an insult to all Spaniards because it is a letter that supposes Spain is not a democracy," Rosa Diez, head of the small centrist Union, Progress and Democracy Party, told reporters.
The letter "does not bear any relation to reality," said opposition Socialist Party leader Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba.
The missive was signed by Ramon Tremosa of Catalan nationalist alliance Convergence and Union; Maria Badia of the Socialist Party, and two Greens; Raul Romeva i Rueda and Ana Miranda.
Badia later handed in her resignation as the Socialist Party number two in the European parliament but kept her seat. Her resignation was accepted, Rubalcaba said, because the letter was "completely wrong".