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By Jason Michael
Its failure to address the crisis in Catalunya has inflicted a serious blow to the European Union. We can no longer afford to be so naïve concerning the agency of the EU in our affairs. It is not a neutral agent, but it still may have its uses.
Later this morning Prime Minister Rajoy’s extended deadline will expire. He has given the Catalan president Carles Puigdemont until 10am to clarify whether or not he declared independence in his October 10 address to the Generalitat in Barcelona. Despite talk of Spain having softened its position over the past week, nothing fundamental has changed. Spanish troops still stand poised to take control of the north-eastern autonomous community, the threat of the permanent suspension of the Catalan government and a return to direct rule still hangs heavy over Catalunya, and charges of seditions are still being pressed by Madrid.
Puigdemont’s position is precarious to say the least. It looks as though he is clean out of options and so must by ten o’clock make his declaration clear or fall on his sword. Not to put too fine a point on it, Spain’s response to Catalunya and the Catalan people has been deplorable. The open military police repression on October 1, the day of the referendum, was an affront to the idea of democracy and indeed to the notion of modern liberal civilisation.
In another time this boorishness would have been met with the swift condemnation of the international community, forcing this neo-Francoist fascist thug Mariano Rajoy to either engage in moderated dialogue with the Barcelona government or to become a pariah. But this condemnation was not forthcoming. Right now the only actor in this rather disconcerting drama left twisting in the wind is Carles Puigdemont – who, one would imagine, if he ultimately loses this gambit, faces the prospect of a lengthy imprisonment or a lifetime in exile.
The European Union has not, in any meaningful sense, spoken up in the defence of Catalunya. More than this, it has not spoken up in the defence of freedom and democracy – not for the Catalans and not for anyone. The watchword everywhere, even echoed by the Scottish Secretary of State, is that this is a matter for Spain and the Spanish Constitution. Once again power has been justified by the law it wrote for itself and its own preservation.
What no one is saying anywhere save in some corners of the so-called alternative media is that Europe’s silence on Catalunya and its indifference to Spanish repression have sparked a crisis that now poses a serious threat to the totality of the European project. To some extent the EU’s economic siege of Greece, its willingness to allow the subversion of democracy in Portugal, and the disgusting deal it made with Turkey over Syrian refugees can be discounted. Greece and Portugal – like Ireland – were economic liabilities. Everyone is on-side on making the little states “pay their way.” As for Muslim refugees fleeing another Anglo-US imperialist war in the Middle East, no one ever seriously gave a rat’s arse about them.
Catalunya is categorically different. There is no argument that Catalunya pays its way. As the most productive “region” of Spain, it boxes well above its weight. Catalans are Spanish and European citizens – they are one of us. Europe’s silence and indifference could not be ignored in the same way its negligence of human beings from Syria was ignored. There is no media manufactured antipathy towards Catalans in the rest of Europe.
Spain’s assault on Catalunya was a naked and unashamed attack on democracy. That makes all the difference. Europeans could not turn a blind eye to the EU’s silence and indifference on this. If democracy can be supressed in a part of Spain and if the EU can sit back and pretend this is legitimised by Spanish law, then democracy can be supressed – even with military and police violence – in any part of Europe. No way can this be tolerated. No way can an ambitious wannabe super-state that allows this be tolerated by its citizens – all of them no different from any Catalan.
Spain and Europe, clearly operating on anachronistic conceptions of non-negotiated power, may well think they have gotten away with this; that it will be soon forgotten, but this could not be further from the truth. While we have a long way to go before the revolution of direct democracy is complete, thanks to the internet and new and developing modes of communication ordinary people now have access to the Great Library of unlimited memory and instant recall. Nothing of this will be forgotten and already the feeling of discontent is growing. On October 1 Spain let the mask slip, revealing the true nature of state power behind the layers of soft power and apparent civility, but by refusing to do anything to protect the human rights of the Catalans the EU – in an act of almost unparalleled self-harm – lost the trust of ordinary Europeans.
Where does this leave us in Scotland? In no small part the working plan for Scottish independence depends on our continued membership of or re-entry into the European Union. At top this is a machination of Realpolitik. In the real world we know that our national journey back to autonomy and statehood requires negotiation with other powers. Our closeness to Europe, it is understood, gives us leverage against Westminster and so it is thought our continued closeness to Europe will oil the wheels of political independence and international recognition.
Yet we are already aware of one of the unhelpful by-products of this practical politicking; throughout Scottish society an idea of European messianianism has developed. Europe as saviour is a not uncommon belief in Scotland’s independence movement. It was evident also in Catalonia in the days, weeks, and months leading to the October 1 referendum. This is delusional. It is a false hope. Europe is no messiah and it is never benign. Europe will act to preserve and increase its own power, and it will support its members as they do the same. When Catalunya went to the polls it challenged the Westphalian notion of the right of states to defend themselves, putting it at odds not only with Madrid but also with Brussels.
Doing business with Europe, as we reflect on these events in Catalunya, may now no longer be possible for Scotland. True, England qua the United Kingdom might not be a member of the club, but it is still a state. Scottish and Catalan independence undermine the operational fiction of the EU that states are inviolable. We may already have Europe’s answer to Scottish independence.
Still, history is contingent. Without going further down the road of apotheosising Europe it might still be possible, if we are prepared to be realistic, to work with the EU towards our independence – and the same goes for Catalunya. But this will require some ingenious manoeuvring, aligning our objectives and interests with those of Brussels. As it stands Britain is the state and Scotland is not. This is the status quo we must work to change by making it to Europe’s advantage to see Scotland a state and the union we have with England dissolved. No business is possible with Europe until this shift in the statist arrangement is made. All this is, of course, assuming Europe survives.
Help Catalonia. Save Europe.
5 thoughts on “The European Union after Catalunya”
“Aligning our objectives and interests with those of Brussels”, you say? But if those objects and interests are as you describe them, up to an including supporting the barely-disguised fascist government in Madrid, then to be quite honest, Scotland should have none of it. The price would be just too high, and the whole exercise in any case counterproductive. I used to scoff at those who said, “Why claim independence from the UK only to come under the control of the EU”, and so forth. Now I’m not so sure. The EU’s turning a blind eye to Catalonia has severely shaken my faith in the institution. At least it’s comforting to see I’m not alone.
An equal surprise though, is the apparent absence of any condemnation of Spain from Europe’s many small nation states, mostly now full EU members, but many of whom have hardly been independent for much more than a generation if that. Have they somehow been threatened or gagged?
The irony of all this is surely that the existence of overarching pan-European agreements and institutions etc. should make the break-up of multi-national post-imperial states like Spain and the UK so much simpler and easier, virtually painless in fact. We probably need an EU, but maybe not quite the one we have at present?
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I gave up on the EU after doing a student internship at a bank and reading in a book how widely known it was in sovereign bond circles that the Euro was a ticking time bomb. It was designed to fail, rather like a bridge missing a keystone will fail. The failure was supposed to force the Euro states into closer union as the only way to protect their economies from the fallout.
The whole Euro project shows the EU has an abject contempt for democratic electorates and a willingness to lie, dupe and use economic coercion to extract more power for itself. That’s why I voted Leave. The EEA is a great idea: the benefits free trade and free movement are beyond rational doubt.
But the EU is rotten to the core. It’s a different kind of rotten from the prancing toffs in Westminster, but just as malevolent.
No offense to Catalonia but was it ever really a country?
Scotland was a country when England was still separate factions scrabbling around in the dirt, offering his kingdom for a horse on the battlefield. England was part of France at one point during that era. Germany was made up of 300 feuding states, France was in an unstable flux. And Scotland was never conquered, their king being the first of the British kingdom. For all these reasons Scotland has the right to kick little-england out of our ancient country, and demand the nouveau countries of EU step up to the plate.
Yes, Catalonia was an independent state.