Please find below the reply to your enquiry. Please note that the advice given by Your Europe Advice is an independent advice and cannot be considered to be the opinion of the European Commission, of any other EU institution or its staff nor will this advice be binding upon the European Commission, any other EU or national institution.
Your original enquiry was:
As a UK citizen líving in Spain (over 30 years) I'm wondering whether the residence status of my fellow citizens would change should Catalonia (where I reside) become independent.
Reply from Your Europe Advice
Thank you for getting in touch with Your Europe Advice.
Your question relates to what status under EU law would an independent Catalunia acquire.
Would it be outside the EU, or would it be inside the EU.
Legal opinion is divided at the moment.
The same issues concern Scotland and potentially other regions in Europe (Flanders?).
The E.U. may be seen as a guarantor of economic stability, but can portions of member states secede within the E.U. framework? The simple answer is yes. Formally, states are sovereign, and it is legally possible for substate regions to secede. The E.U. institutional apparatus does not recognize the possibility of secession, but it does not legally preclude it.
Seceding states, however, do not automatically enjoy treaty rights. It is the predecessor state that retains existing rights and memberships. To be admitted to the E.U., a nation must receive unanimous support among member states and be approved by a vote in the European Parliament. Could the seceding states win admission? More to the point, would the rump Spanish State seriously consider vetoing the admission of Catalonia into the EU fold?
If such a case were to arise, the residence status of your fellow citizens (we assume you mean UK citizens?) would be that they would be residing in a third country.
The European treaties provide that the status of E.U. citizenship is afforded to "every person holding the nationality of a member state" albeit that "citizenship of the union shall be additional to and not replace national citizenship." In the case of Ruiz Zambrano, the Court of Justice of the European Union said that national measures cannot deprive E.U. citizens of the "genuine enjoyment of the substance of the rights conferred by virtue of their status as citizens of the union."
If Catalonia's independence cannot deprive its heretofore British national residents of their E.U. citizenship rights, then it makes political and legal sense for an independent Catalonia to be recognized as an E.U. member state.
The question you raise is entirely hypothetical, but we hope this has clarified some of the questions you had.
We hope this answers your query.
We remain at your disposal, should you require further information.
Your Europe Advice.