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Tusk: No Space for EU Intervention in Spain Crisis

A demonstrator holds an Estelada (Catalan separatist flag) during a gathering in front of the Spanish Central Government headquarters in Barcelona on October 19.A demonstrator holds an Estelada (Catalan separatist flag) during a gathering in front of the Spanish Central Government headquarters in Barcelona on October 19.

European Union leaders sought to minimize Spain’s crisis with Catalonia on Thursday and avoid encouraging separatists across the bloc, describing Barcelona’s secession bid as a domestic issue and declining a mediation role.

Leaders did not hold a discussion of Catalonia’s bid to break away from Spain and judged they had nothing to gain by angering Madrid, diplomats said, Reuters reported.

“It is not on our agenda,” European Council President Donald Tusk told reporters during the EU summit. “All of us have our own emotions, opinions, assessments but formally speaking there is no space for an EU intervention.”

The approach contrasted with EU strategies on almost every other major issue over the past decade, including Greece’s financial crash and mass migration flows from Syria. On countless occasions, EU leaders have used late-night summits to press for a common decision or joint policy statement.

“It’s an internal Spanish matter,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told reporters, a position echoed by French President Emmanuel Macron, who held a private meeting with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on the sidelines of the summit.

“He (Macron) has complete confidence in Rajoy to resolve the situation,” a French diplomat told Reuters.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Friday “people should be abiding by the rule of law and uphold the Spanish constitution”, clearly siding with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in the central government’s standoff with Catalonia.

“I have spoken to Mariano Rajoy this morning as I did earlier this week and made clear that the United Kingdom’s position is very clear,” May told reporters after two days of talks between EU leaders in Brussels.

“We believe that people should be abiding by the rule of law and uphold the Spanish constitution,” May said in Brussels, were EU leaders showed little political support for Catalonia.

Spain’s government is set to suspend Catalonia’s autonomy and impose direct rule after the region’s leader threatened to go ahead with a formal declaration of independence if Madrid refused to hold talks.

Rajoy kept a low profile at the summit while his fellow leaders held news conferences on Thursday. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she hoped there were solutions “on the grounds of the Spanish constitution.”

Despite some disquiet over the way Rajoy handled a Catalan independence referendum on Oct. 1, which Madrid said was illegal and sent in police to disrupt voting, countries fear making any remarks that could embolden separatists at home.

From Scotland to Flanders and Lombardy, the 2007-09 financial crisis, unemployment and migration have allowed separatists, anti-EU and populist parties to feed off discontent with political elites and reopen regional divisions.

As Britain negotiates its exit from the EU, few leaders want to wade into another highly complex negotiation bringing new economic uncertainty and legal disruption.

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