In today’s editorial, the director of VilaWeb asks himself if the membership of a future Catalan state in the EU should be rethought. From the interview with the former Slovenian president Milan Kučan, the man who made Slovenia an independent country, the reflection on the alternatives to the community institutions, such as the European Free Trade Association, a bilateral agreement with the EU or trade agreements or custom unions with third states is open. Here all these options and their characteristics are opened.
—What is the EFTA?
—The European Free Trade Association is an organisation that joins Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. It is an alternative block to the European Union but it has got full links with it. Essentially, it is conformed by all states that do not to be a part of the EU but, notwithstanding, they are part of its economic and social space. Before their integration to the EU, Great Britain, Portugal, Austria, Denmark and Sweden had been part of it.
—What is the relation between the EFTA and the EU?
—Three countries of the four that conform the EFTA are a part of the Economic European Space, and thus they are part of the internal market, exactly as any member State. The fourth one, Switzerland, preferred not to join it and sign particular treatises with the EU whenever it would be necessary.
—What is the Economic European Space?
—The Economic European Space is an agreement between twenty-seven EU states (all except for Croatia) and three of the four EFTA states (except for Switzerland) which allows these three states to participate in the internal EU market without being a part of it.
—What does ‘participating in the internal market’ mean?
—The EFTA countries benefit from the four EU circulation freedoms (people, goods, services and capital), as if they were full members. Therefore, these countries work as if they were in the EU because they have all of its advantages. However, they must adopt most of the EU laws, even if they do not need to do so for a small percentage of it. From the communitarian budget, EFTA countries do not receive european funds but they do not have to pay like EU members do. The EFTA as such does, however, contribute to finance the single market.
—Are the citizens of EFTA states able to travel anywhere without restrictions?
—Three out of four EFTA countries are a part of the Schengen space, and therefore, they do not pass border controls within the EU. However, twelve EU member states have not subscribed the Schengen agreement and thus they keep their borders both to EFTA and EU member state citizens.
—Which status do companies with a seat in EFTA states enjoy in the EU?
—These companies are treated equally to those from EU member states.
—Why does the EU allow such privileges to the EFTA?
—They are not privileges. EFTA countries do not want to be a part of the EU. Norway, for instance, has refused twice in a referendum. However, the EU has got an interest in making the single market as large as possible. Because of this, it believes that these countries, clearly European and who comply with communitarian standards deserve this treatment.
—How is the EFTA governed?
—The EFTA has got a supervision authority and its own court of justice, which are the decision organs with a more agile scheme than the EU.
—Has the EFTA got a Parliament or is it a part of the European Parliament?
—It has got neither. And this is its main shortcoming, because in practice it means that a member state of this alliance must adopt legal norms decided by the European Parliament, even if it is not part thereof. The European Parliament, however, must always consult the EFTA over the legislation which develops.
—Could Catalonia become an EFTA member?
—The Articles 56-60 of the EFTA constituent agreement explain that, in order to become a member, you only need to become a state and that the EFTA Council accepts it. Therefore, there are no impediments for Catalonia to become a member except for political will. On this, it must be remembered that one of its officers, Goerge Baur, which takes care of the EU-EFTA relations, is very interested in Catalonia.
—Could Spain block the membership of Catalonia in the EFTA?
—No, because it is not a member of it. As well, it could not veto the current relation between the EU and the EFTA.
—Which other alternatives to the EU are there?
—The Consulting Council for National Transition (CATN), proposed in one of its reports two other alternatives to EU membership, besides the EFTA: a bilateralment agreement with the EU and free trade agreements or custom unions with third states.
—What would a bilateral agreement with the EU be good for?
—This agreement could be established by two ways; firstly, Catalonia and the EU could decide in an unilateral way, but not reciprocally, not to impose duties to goods manufactured in the respective territories; secondly, both entities could sign a bilateral agreement so as to guarantee the free trade of products and services, and also to define a common cooperation framework. The EU has established on the latter decades a great number of bilateral agreements with third states. There are three types of such agreements: Trade, association and cooperation. The EU treatises only referred to the first two but the three have emerged de facto.
—How about free trade agreements and custom unions with third states?
—Supposing that a quick integration with a transition regime in the EU would be hurdled or simply not considered as an option, a trade strategy would be needed regarding the relationship between Catalonia and the EU, since it would be a titular of the competences to countersign bilateral or multilateral trade agreements with those countries that would be interested in doing so. An agile procedure could be adopted to negotiate, close and ratify agreements with third states and set the bases of an active strategy towards those markets an access to which would be interesting.
—Is the Schengen space an alternative?
—All EFTA members are a part of the Schengen space, which conforms a territory in which internal border controls have been eliminated and common norms are implemented for external border control. The compromise between the member states is to adopt, develop and implement the necessary common rules of control, entrance, visa, information exchange and technology creation for the management of external borders, as well as guaranteeing custom, police and judiciary cooperation.
—Who is a part of the Schengen Space?
—The particularly of the Schengen Space is that whereas three EU member states are not part of it (Ireland, the UK, Cyprus and Croatia), the four EFTA members (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland), are. Belonging to the Schengen space can be of interest to Catalonia, but also to other EU member states and for the EU itself since the great interest about surveillance and common management of external borders so as to control irregular immigration, organised crime networks, drug routes and all sorts of corruption practices.
Source: Vilaweb, 20th of April 2017.