Catalonia is not an EU member state, but refers to the most prosperous region of Spain and the French portion known by Catalan nationalists as Northern Catalonia that was ceded to France by Spain in 1659, which is largely coterminous with the French department of Pyrenees-Orientales. To many residents of (Spanish) Catalonia and (French) Northern Catalonia it is a nation. The Spanish government will not countenance self-determination for Catalonia (or the Basque Country), but is keen to claim Gibraltar back from Britain, which was granted in the 1713 Treat of Utrecht to Britain, although not to reclaim Northern Catalonia from France. That unclear position on the territorial integrity led Spain to reject out of hand Nicola Sturgeon's attempts to open negotiations between Scotland and the European Commission. Catalonia became centre-stage in understanding the mindset of the European Commission.

On 1 October 2017 Catalonia proceeded with an independence referendum despite the opposition of the Spanish government and Spanish police brutally suppressed attempts to hold the referendum. The only member of the European Council to condemn the police violence was the prime minister of Belgium, Charles Michel, and the only senior EU figure to condemn it was the former Belgium prime minister and European Parliament lead on Brexit, Guy Verhofstadt. It was not surprising that there was a firm response from Belgium as it is a state that is very careful about the autonomy of its regions and wary of a return to the political violence of its past. The only response from the European Commission was to say that it would not comment until Monday (the following day).

The initial silence of the European Commission stood in contrast to its readiness to twice wade in on behalf of revolutionary protests in Ukraine (2004-2005 and 2014-2015) and in 2017 on behalf of popular protests in EU member states in Romania and Poland. The difficulty for the European Commission is that its federalist stance makes it dismissive of national self-determination. Especially since the British vote to leave the bloc senior EU figures (both politicians and European Commission members) have spoken of the UK harking back to the past when the current way was to move away from the nation state towards European integration. This places the commission in opposition to the aspirations of many of its members, such as former communist states, former Soviet Union provinces, and Nordic countries with a history of fierce independence (although Denmark and Sweden have their own history of taking over their neighbours). The European Commission is the EU's bureaucracy and it should begin to act as such and stop trying to impose a vision that only a minority of its member states support.

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