Belgium's prime minister Charles Michel has deviated from the official European line on the crisis between Catalonia and Spain and has opened a door to “European or international” mediation, affirming that this option would be considered if dialogue between the Catalan and Spanish governments should fail.
This first movement, providing a sliver of an opening to mediation, marks a significant deviation from the official policy expressed by the European institutions, which have repeatedly avoided assuming the role of mediators.
"Only if a clear failure of dialogue is confirmed should the question of international or European mediation be considered", declared Michel in interviews with the French-language newspaper "Le Soir" and the Flemish "De Standaard". In spite of this, he avoided responding to the question of whether Belgium would recognize Catalonia if the latter puts its declaration of independence into effect.
Condemnation of violence
In the interview, Michel roundly condemned the police violence unleashed on October 1st. In fact, he was one of the first to do so, at midday on the referendum day itself, and today he revealed that he received congratulations from other European colleagues for his clear positioning against the repressive action by Spain's Civil Guard and National Police.
In the view of the Belgian prime minister, "it is common sense to call for dialogue". "There is a war of nerves on that must be stopped in order to open the way for political dialogue", he commented, noting that the European Commission itself has requested dialogue to find a solution to the situation.
However, the EU executive has rejected any request to act as a mediator between the Spanish and Catalan leaderships, considering that this situation is an "internal matter" of a Member State and has to be resolved according to the Spanish constitutional order.
Catalonia puts Europe to the test
For the Belgian liberal politician, the crisis in Catalonia "is putting Europe to the test". It "is an institutional and political crisis in a country that brings into play fundamental questions, the right to vote, to express opinions, the use of force," he indicated. In any case, "our diplomatic advisors are in permanent contact to explain our position, in order to avoid erroneous interpretations," he added.
Asked if Belgium would recognize a hypothetical Catalan state if it became independent, Michel said: "There are zero chances that I will answer a question that has not been considered. I will not make things even more complicated".
On the possibility of the situation in Catalonia "contaminating" other regions of Europe, the Belgian Prime Minister said that "dialogue is necessary to release the frustrations". "When frustrations continue for years without being resolved, sooner or later there is a political price to pay", he reflected.