Weak EU breeds re­gional re­volts

The Pak Banker - - Front Page - Ana Pala­cio

IN both Cat­alo­nia and Scot­land, calls for in­de­pen­dence are grow­ing once again an in­di­ca­tion of con­di­tions not only in Spain and the United King­dom, but in the Euro­pean Union as a whole. In­deed, the EU's weak­ness in con­fronting its fi­nan­cial cri­sis both re­flects and re­in­forces the ero­sion of its rai­son d'être po­lit­i­cal in­te­gra­tion. What­ever its roots in old griev­ances, se­ces­sion­ism, it seems, is a painful symp­tom of this de­gen­er­a­tive process.

The per­verse irony here is that Europe's shrewdest se­ces­sion­minded par­ties are dress­ing up their pro­grammes in Euro­pean garb, promis­ing that the new states will have au­to­matic EU mem­ber­ship. The Scot­tish Na­tion­al­ist Party (SNP) and Con­vergèn­cia i Unió (CiU) in Cat­alo­nia are both ex­ploit­ing the con­cept of Euro­pean cos­mopoli­tanism to re­vive nar­row na­tion­al­ist ends and, ul­ti­mately, to break up the coun­tries of which they are now a part. No pro­vi­sions of EU law ad­dress the dis­in­te­gra­tion of a mem­ber state, as se­ces­sion con­tra­dicts the core prin­ci­ple of "ever closer Union". That is why there are in­creas­ing calls to send a mes­sage to elec­torates in would-be se­ces­sion­ist re­gions that EU mem­ber­ship would not be guar­an­teed in the event of in­de­pen­dence.

Alex Sal­mond, Scot­land's first min­is­ter and the SNP's leader, pro­claimed that the guar­an­tee of EU mem­ber­ship was a mat­ter of law; be­cause it is not, he and his party now face their big­gest cri­sis since com­ing to power in 2007.

This le­gal void ex­plains why, in the run-up to Cat­alo­nia's elec­tions on Novem­ber 25, the CiU's lead­ers are so ea­ger to con­vert an in­for­mal ref­er­en­dum on in­de­pen­dence into a plebiscite on Cata­lans' de­sire for EU mem­ber­ship (which is nei­ther at is­sue nor up to the elec­torate in Cat­alo­nia to de­cide). Ra­tio­nally, if not legally, the only co­her­ent ques­tion that the CiU gov­ern­ment could pose is whether Cata­lans wish to be part of Spain.

The United Nations frame­work gov­ern­ing se­ces­sion es­tab­lishes a clear dis­tinc­tion be­tween ' in­ter­nal self-de­ter­mi­na­tion' and ' ex­ter­nal self-de­ter­mi­na­tion'. The for­mer sanc­tions a peo­ple's pur­suit of its po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic, so­cial, and cul­tural de­vel­op­ment within the frame­work of an ex­ist­ing state; the lat­ter could po­ten­tially take the form of uni­lat­eral se­ces­sion, but only un­der an ex­treme set of cir­cum­stances. Nei­ther def­i­ni­tion ap­plies in the case of Cat­alo­nia or Scot­land.

No one in Cat­alo­nia or Scot­land can le­git­i­mately claim the sup­pres­sion of cul­tural iden­tity, which en­joys strong pro­tec­tion in Spain where one of the main goals of the Span­ish Con­sti­tu­tion, af­ter Fran­cisco Franco's death, was to pro­tect the Cata­lan and Basque lan­guages and cul­tures and the UK. Per­haps this helps to ex­plain why the for­mal Scot­tish claim to in­de­pen­dence does not rest on a dis­tinct her­itage, but on the shaky no­tion of dis­tinct po­lit­i­cal and so­cial val­ues an ar­gu­ment so vague that it could be used to jus­tify dis­man­tling ev­ery Euro­pean coun­try.

As is of­ten the case with na­tion­al­ism ir­re­spec­tive of its dress the emo­tional dis­course that sur­rounds calls for in­de­pen­dence is merely a mask for naked po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tion and eco­nomic self-in­ter­est. In Cat­alo­nia, vic­tim­i­sa­tion has be­come a cam­paign strat­egy, with CiU lead­ers openly cit­ing imag­i­nary threats from the cen­tral gov­ern­ment in Madrid.

Rhetoric aside, the loom­ing Cata­lan ref­er­en­dum emerged as a re­sult of the po­lit­i­cal bar­gain­ing sur­round­ing bailout dis­cus­sions be­tween Spain's re­gions and the cen­tral gov­ern­ment. The cri­sis has stoked de­mands for in­de­pen­dence by adding fer­vor to many Cata­lans' anger at fi­nan­cial trans­fers to Spain's poorer re­gions through the much-ma­ligned Ter­ri­to­rial Sol­i­dar­ity Fund.

The ques­tion of in­de­pen­dence has turned into a pow­er­ful bar­gain­ing tool vis-à-vis the cen­tral gov­ern­ment. It also con­ve­niently sweeps ex­ist­ing prob­lems un­der the rug for ex­am­ple, Cata­lan debt makes up close to 30 per cent of the to­tal debt of Spain's re­gions and de­flects at­ten­tion from the CiU re­gional gov­ern­ment's poor eco­nomic man­age­ment.

Con­di­tions could be­come much worse with in­de­pen­dence. Con­ser­va­tive es­ti­mates sug­gest that ex­it­ing from Spain, the euro, and the EU would cause a 20-25 per cent drop in Cat­alo­nia's GDP, as 68 per cent of Cat­alo­nia's in­ter­na­tional ex­ports go to the EU (ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial 2010 data) and 50 per cent of its to­tal out­put goes to the rest of Spain.

A sim­i­lar pat­tern holds true for Scot­land. More­over, in the wake of the euro cri­sis, SNP lead­ers have dropped their old plan to em­brace the euro and now say that they will keep the pound. But crit­i­cis­ing the op­por­tunists who are stok­ing the fires of se­ces­sion in Barcelona and Ed­in­burgh is not enough.

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