EU member states have the right to use “proportionate” force to defend the rule of law, Frans Timmermans, European Commission First Vice President, said three days after hundreds were injured by Spanish police trying to stop an independence vote in Catalonia.
“It is a duty for any government to uphold the rule of law, and this sometimes requires the proportionate use of force,” Timmermans told the European Parliament in Strasbourg during a debate on Catalonia.
“Respect for the rule of law is not optional – it’s fundamental,” he said.
An independence referendum was held in the relatively prosperous Spanish region of Catalonia on Sunday, despite Madrid labeling it “unconstitutional.”
A brutal mass police crackdown during the vote saw over 800 people, including women and the elderly, injured in Barcelona and elsewhere across the region.
“If the law does not give you what you want, you can oppose the law, you can work to change the law, but you cannot ignore the law,” Timmermans said.
For the EU, “it is fundamental that the constitutions of every one of our member states are upheld and respected,” he added.
According to Timmermans, the Catalan regional government “has chosen to ignore the law in organizing the referendum of last Sunday.”
The leader of the largest European Parliament group, the European People’s Party, Manfred Weber, has also decried the Catalan referendum as invalid during the debate.
“Who leaves Spain, leaves the European Union,” including the eurozone and the single market, Webber warned the Catalan authorities.
According to preliminary data, 90 percent said “yes” to cutting ties with Spain in the referendum, in which less than half of the Catalan population managed to participate.
The authorities in Catalonia, who haven’t announced the final count yet, said they were going to ask the local parliament to proclaim independence in a matter of days.
It took EU leaders more than a day to come up with comments after police brutality during the Catalan referendum.
On Monday, the European Commission backed the Spanish government’s stance that the referendum was against the law and called the police crackdown an “internal matter” for Spain.
This led to accusations of hypocrisy voiced against the EU, with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, saying: “How come that in the case of Catalonia the referendum on independence is not valid, while in the case of Kosovo, secession [from Serbia in 2008] is allowed even without a referendum?”