SPAIN felt threatened by the peaceful nature of the Catalan pro-independence protests that followed the October 2017 referendum, giving the cause added legitimacy, Catalonia’s vice-president has said.

And, speaking exclusively to The National, Josep Costa added that the indy campaign would not waver from its non-violent strategy.

Some sections of the movement have hinted at more “direct action” to further their cause, but Costa defended the peaceful protests: “When people question if we’ve been effective in what we’ve achieved with this strategy I tend to remind them that the Spanish Supreme Court has nine people in jail and others under persecution for what we did, only because the Spanish establishment felt really threatened by our persistent non-violent mobilisation.

“So I think it’s the way to go. They really felt that this strategy was undermining support for the status quo and adding legitimacy to the Catalan cause inside and outside Catalonia.”

Costa added that he was not surprised that Europe had remained silent on the Catalan issue, insisting that it was a domestic matter.

His remarks came as an adviser to President Quim Torra warned that the stakes for the EU over the Catalan crisis were high.

Writing for the French television network Euronews, Torra’s international affairs coordinator, Aleix Sarri, said: “Despite its actions in Hungary and Poland, Brussels has not dared to move on Spain despite the obvious failings in judiciary independence and a lack of separation of powers.

“One wonders if there is an unwritten rule not to put into question the integrity of Western European democracies.

“This is why the stakes are high for the EU in Catalonia.

“If the existence of political prisoners and the lack of separation of powers is not challenged by Brussels, it sends the message that rules are not applied in a uniform way.

“The abuses that Europe tolerates in Catalonia will be replicated elsewhere.

“At a time of rising authoritarianism, it is a missed opportunity not to set an example on how the EU tackles these issues and how self-determination is a peaceful and democratic road to solve conflicts.”

Sarri said the forthcoming trials of independence leaders over the referendum will have “wide consequences for the EU” and should any be sentenced to severe jail terms, it would be “a huge blow for the democratic credibility of the European project”.

He added: “Authoritarians around the world will be paying attention to the trial of Catalan leaders and the EU’s reactions.

“Defending the rights of the Catalan people is in the self-interest of Europe if it wants to remain a credible and leading democratic power on the world stage.”

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