Tag Archives: European Union

Voting Remain to build a better European Union

The EU is a beast that's difficult to love at the best of times. And these certainly are not its best times. The weakness of its institutions over the last decade has meant that it has found it difficult to deal with a series of crises. But it has not been the abject failure that some would have you think. While I disagree with much of the fiscal policy pushed by the Troika, it must be remembered that the EU managed to prevent a Euro collapse that really was on the cards for a year or two. It's easy to forget now that when the EU faces a serious challenge, it has the pragmatism and determination needed to find a solution. This spirit is what has saved the EU in the past and will help it move forward from its current stasis.

For months, I've been discussing disconnection, alone and with friends. I've been in Catalonia for fourteen years now, and my infrequent trips to England have left me worried about what's happening there. Increasingly, I've felt disconnected from England. I don't understand why there are Union Jacks everywhere, or why cool people I get along with suddenly shriek at me about the country being "full". I don't understand how people close to me can describe the EU as "horrible", while they simultaneously contemplate handing power to people like Boris Johnson, Michael Gove or Nigel Farage. Victory for Brexit will be a victory for nasty right-wing populism – the repetition of old lies and the fabrication of new ones. Look how UKIP supporters pushed an ever louder, ever nastier anti-migrant message and then went into overdrive trying to claim that Jo Cox's assassination wasn't political. That party thrives on people's fears, and has managed to poison debate in England in a way I never thought possible. And Brexit will hand Farage a huge amount of political capital.

Not wanting to empower Britain's populist right wing isn't enough of an argument for the EU, though. The other half of this narrative must be logic and fact – the LSE's Nicholas Barr is as good a source as any for a sensible, evidence-based approach to remaining in the EU. How telling it is that some Brexiters are even calling on their countrymen to 'Ignore the numbers!', as though that were somehow a noble way to approach this debate. It isn't: it's the very definition of small-minded ignorance, a quality which exemplifies the Brexit campaign. The numbers are, of course, vitally important. Which is no doubt why we're encouraged to ignore them. "You can prove anything with facts!", as Stewart Lee reminds us. Whether it's trade, security, democracy or the economy, all the evidence and research points to remaining in the EU as the sensible choice.

If Brexit ends up winning on Thursday, the sky will not fall. But things will change. Britain's democracy will have been dealt a major blow by arguably the most dishonest and hate-filled political campaign in our history – certainly since the Blackshirts. Voters will have sided with ignorance and demagoguery. Britain will, for perhaps the first time in its history, take a step backwards and explicitly reject progress and modernity.

This referendum will likely be my last chance to vote in the UK. It's also by far the most important vote I've ever cast. If you have a vote, please use it to vote to keep Britain in the European Union and reject UKIP's vile, populist propaganda. Vote for the hope that Europe represents for so many millions of people, and for the aim that together we can build a better Europe and a better Union. Vote Remain.

Where is Catalonia's Rubicon on the road to independence?

So the gradual creep towards independence continues in Catalonia. A referendum remains highly unlikely as the only remote possibility of one being held is it being approved in the Congreso in Madrid, which won't happen because the PP has an absolute majority (and anyway, the PSOE is in total disarray, and so can't be relied on, except to be unreliable). Duran i Lleida – 'king troll' – warns frequently of the risks and possibilities of a unilateral declaration of independence. CiU is trying to slow the process, probably at least partly so it can carry on privatising everything in Catalonia, and ERC is chomping at the bit.

Legal consequences

All of this has me thinking: if we know, more or less, that a referendum cannot be legally held (the Catalan parliament will pass a law allowing it but this is understood to not be within an autonomous region's capacities), then maybe we start to see the Spanish strategy. They want to force Catalonia into acting illegally if they want to proceed towards independence. The question is: is Artur Mas really willing to take this step? And if he is, when will it come?

For Mas, I imagine it must be tempting. If everything went according to plan, he'd be remembered by Catalans for taking a stand, not for corruption and the destruction of Catalonia's social services. He'd be like a new Jordi Pujol! On the other hand, if there's an expert at saving his own skin, it's Artur Mas. We can be sure that some of the time he spends drumming up contracts on foreign visits is dedicated to establishing Artur Mas as a Reasonable Man in the eyes of foreign officials.

Where is the Rubicon?

In the end, Catalonia's Rubicon has two potential locations: an illegal referendum or a unilateral declaration of independence (UDI). If Catalonia attempts to hold a referendum without Spain's permission, the vote will not be accepted as legal by the Spanish government. This would probably damage the potential turnout, currently reckoned to be really large. I can't see Madrid suddenly agreeing to a referendum. But would it act to prevent one? It's difficult to say. Spain's already pretty unpopular in the EU, and preventing a referendum from being held, even though it would be an internal, legal issue, wouldn't look good. But that probably wouldn't be enough to stop Spain from intervening.

Unilateral declaration of independence

I expect that if Catalonia says it will hold a referendum, the Spanish authorities will warn that to proceed would lead to grave legal consequences. I also suspect that if Catalonia insisted, Madrid would find itself under enormous pressure to intervene. In the end, I'm not sure that a referendum will ever be held. I think it's much more likely that fresh elections will be held with a UDI as the deciding factor. If this happens, expect ERC to win, CiU to drop, C's to rise, ICV to remain more or less in place, and the CUP to see a rise. The PSC and PPC will both decline even further.

But a UDI is also illegal and far more so than a referendum. Surely Spain would have to act against a UDI, but how? Suspending Catalonia's autonomy? Arresting the president and govern?

I've always been against UDIs because while I agree that sovereignty resides in the people, not in the Spanish crown, I feel that international support will be difficult to obtain without a clear, free and fair referendum. If Spain blocks a referendum, then, it is of prime importance for Catalonia to make clear that it has exhausted the legal possibilities open to it.

International opinion will be vital and, while not exactly popular, Spain has far more clout in that area than Catalonia does. 2014 might still be an interesting year.

Will an independent Catalonia be allowed to join the EU?

One of the central planks of the Spanish nationalist argument against Catalan independence is that upon seceding, Catalonia would be obliged to leave the EU and the Euro. But is this true?

Around the time of the 11S march, various confusing messages could be heard from the European Commission, the EU's executive body. A day before the march, the EU broke its previous policy of never commenting on the chance of Catalan independence and stated that while no laws exist governing the secession of a region from a member state, if they applied international law in its strictest way, Catalonia would be out of the EU and would have to negotiate reentry. In fact, I think the day before, spokesman Olivier Bailly said the opposite, but I can't find the quote. Anyway, it was a well-timed message which the Spanish press made the most of, with over 90 stories on Google news. Read more at beahmlaw.com.

Since then Spanish foreign minister José Manuel García-Margallo has been constantly warning that not only would Catalonia be out, but that it would never get back in. This friendly gesture is one of many the PP has been trying to use in its campaign against secession. The Spanish government, it seems, is following a game plan of "Oh no, a majority of Catalans want to break away… let's insult them and threaten them so they'll stay".

But I digress. Last Sunday saw EU vicepresident Viviane Reding interviewed in the Diario de Sevilla. The interviewer asked her what she thought of the chance of a Catalonia outside Europe. Misunderstanding the question, she responded that she knows Catalonia and thinks it's a very pro-EU place. The interviewer then clarified the point by reminding her that the Vienna Convention states that any seceding territory immediately secedes from the international agreements of the country from which it's seceding. Her response was to laugh this argument away. "Come on," she said, "there's nothing in international law that says anything like this. Please resolve your internal issues yourselves. I have faith in the European mentality of the Catalans".

In response to Reding, TFW (Alicia Sánchez-Comacho) stated that in two EU treaties, it is made clear that Catalonia would be out. But looking at those treaties, they say nothing of the sort.

It appears to me that this all comes down to how you read the Vienna Convention. Does it say that Catalonia would have to renounce all international agreements to which Spain is signatory or doesn't it? And does this even matter, if Mas is really just planning devomax?

Spain elections: the view from the edge of the precipice

Mariano Rajoy's PP will win tomorrow's general elections in Spain. The size of the majority it achieves will shape Spanish and Catalan politics for the next few years.

The prospect of seeing the PP in power again after 8 years is not a happy one. While I'm no fan of the PSOE (I think I called them 'the very worst party in Spain' at one point, though I can't find a link), my suspicion is that before long many who loathe the Socialists will remember how much more they loathed the PP last time they governed.

In Barcelona, the general mood seems to be one of totally ignoring these elections. After a swing to the right in recent Catalan and city hall elections, most people here seem to be trying to avoid thinking about having the PP in government. My prediction is that the turnout will be very low.

It is once the PP take over government (in a few weeks' time, according to Spanish electoral law) that the dread will really set in. This is a party running for office in a country on the verge of massive economic disaster which has failed to express any coherent economic policies whatsoever. Their posters include slogans like "Primero, el Empleo" (Jobs First) but their policies will doubtless be savage cuts and successive rounds of redundancies and privatisation.

At the same time, it looks increasingly possible that Spain could be forced into needing a bailout from the European Central Bank or the IMF. I say 'forced' because categorcially, this does not need to happen. The pressure being applied to successive European countries is organised, focused and has at its core the aim to destroy the Euro. Politically, I'm no great fan of the EU. But forcing Spain's exit from the Euro along with other countries in 2012 could threaten the very existence of the EU. I'd rather try to make it better for people.

In Catalonia, there are already some hints that the PP might try to buy an end to the Linguistic Immersion education policy with a fairer share of tax revenues. CiU, craven demagogues that they are, may well go for this. I worry too that fascist groups like 'Plataforma Per Catalunya' (Catalan fascists whose electoral pamphlets are seemingly only published in Castilian Spanish), may win a seat or two.

Finally, I expect this PP government to be faced with huge protests and strikes. One of the many problems with a PSOE government pushing through neo-liberal policies was the failure of the unions to properly challenge them. Now that the PP will be in government, there will be more inclination on the part of unions and workers to fight back. The Indignats (which inspired the Occupy movement in the USA) will also probably fight back harder: I'll bet that more than a few Indignats have voted PSOE in the past and will do again, but that basically none of them are PP supporters. Also, the harder left wing party Izquierda Unida might fare better at the polls this year than for the last decade or so: they may be able to use this to force a more left wing opposition.

So here we are on the edge of a precipice, you and me. We face the prospect of a government which will not have won on merit but by default, with no policies for saving Spain's economy, but hopefully with broad opposition from a curiously revitalised left. People might not be interested in these elections but the next four years will be anything but boring.

Another political party banned in Spain

Iniciativa Internacionalista, a new party formed for the EU elections, has been banned by the Spanish supreme court. The court judged that it is a reformed edition of Acción Nationalista Vasca and Batasuna. and therefore represents the political wing of separatist group ETA.

The party, which seems to have been standing accross Spain, describes itself as supporting 'state socialism', the protection of rights, an end to capitalism in Europe, independence for the Basque and Catalan countries, and has links with some internationalist/Trotskyite groups in Spain. The Spanish government, which retains the right to ban any political party it alleges is working to represent ETA at the ballot box, stated that it had received information from state security forces that various members of II have differing levels of contact with multiple far-let, violent and 'terrorist' groups in the Basque Country. Among those accused are the party's leader, writer Alfonso Sastre [ES].

It should be clear to anyone that banning political parties is not the way to deal with problems in a democracy. Whether or not Spain is still deemed to be 'emergent', it strikes me that this is not the measured action of a mature government. And now, the illegalisation of parties is beginning to affect polls in the other regions of Spain.