Tag Archives: Europe

Societat Civil Catalana adds nothing to the debate about Catalan independence

Reading through the interminable policy statement PDFs issued by Societat Civil Catalana, you realize that there is a fundamental problem with SCC’s approach. Partly, it lies in the way it chooses to define democracy (and what is ‘undemocratic’). But most of all, SCC fails to offer a compelling argument for remaining part of Spain. It instead focuses on a cold, legalistic line which is pretty much identical to that used by the Spanish government.

By focusing on this as its main defense of the status quo, SCC has made a strategic mistake. Not only because it’s obvious that they’ve intentionally opted for an unnuanced view of what ‘democracy’ means, but also because as they focus so heavily on this legal argument, they fail to make a positive case for Catalonia continuing as part of the Spanish state.

When you think about it, SCC actually adds nothing to the debate. Its entire strategy is effectively identical to that of the state, which has repeatedly sought to criminalize an entirely peaceful political process which has seen millions of people taking part in mass demonstrations and non-binding ‘consultations’. The SCC, then, whether or not it is actually independent of the Spanish state, is in effect singing from the same song sheet. This may well be the reason why it has failed as an organization: when asked recently how many members the group had, a spokesman eventually responded – “75”. Even in a climate where it may be difficult to get people excited about defending the status quo, that number is lamentably poor. This, surely, is the result of a failure to galvanize support for a positive vision of continued union.

I think this could be a huge strategic mistake. By demonizing those well-meaning citizens of Catalonia who would like to be able to vote on self-determination as ‘illegal’ and ‘undemocratic’, rather than promoting the benefits of continued union (as ‘Better Together’ tried to regarding Scotland and the UK), the SCC isn’t making an active case for union. Indeed, it seems that the SCC and the Spanish state have both given up on a large section of Catalan civil society. Much like the PP in Catalonia, which really only exists as way of leveraging more votes in places like Extremadura where an anti-Catalan attitude always goes down well. What this says about the inevitability of eventual independence, I will leave for another day.

The question is: why doesn’t SCC open a new front in the debate? Why can’t it advocate for staying part of Spain?

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?

What next for Catalonia? More questions for the independence movement

If not precisely inevitable, Catalan independence now seems much more likely than it did a couple of years back when I first framed my questions for supporters and opponents of Catalan separatism.

Many of those questions remain valid. But my main focus has shifted. This reduced list should read as a demand from those leading and supporting the independence movement that they for once and for all clarify various matters that I believe worry many people currently. Because if Catalonia really will be the ‘Next State in Europe’, these matters need to be clarified now, not later.

1 – What social model will an independent Catalonia have?
While the right are currently in power, and have governed for the majority of Catalonia’s post-Franco years, there is a significant section of Catalan society that supports parties of the left. We’re deeply unhappy about the cuts that Artur Mas has made to public health, education, social assistance and public sector pay during the financial crisis. Mas has blamed these cuts on Spain’s mishandling of the national economy. Very well: if that is true, he must now guarantee to restore, improve and protect public sending and investment in the event of independence.

2 – Will you now, and forever, forgo all claims on the territories in Spain and France sometimes referred to as the Catalan Countries?
I shouldn’t need to explain the importance of this question. The only chance of success as a state depends on France’s and Spain’s recognition. That won’t happen unless you formally reject territorial claims on Rosselló, Valencia, the Franja and the Balearics.

3 – What status for non-Spanish residents in Catalonia?
OK, this is a personal one, but it affects lots of people and many businesses. Will you now guarantee our status as permanent residents? What chances for citizenship will we have?

Resolution for change

Happy May Day!

A few months ago, I resolved to take more of an active role in politics in Catalonia. I’m not planning to run for mayor or anything like that, but as a disenfranchised non-citizen my options are basically limited to joining and supporting political organisations. In a way, I had been heading in this direction for the 10 years I’ve lived here. I decided to join a political party for the first time since my arrival in 2002.

For me, a political party ought to be a broad church, but a united one. After experiences with arguably over-ideological groups in the UK, I needed to find an organisation which reflects a plurality of opinions with an agreed general direction. The federated nature of many parties here does seem to offer that sort of broadness (but let us not forget that many parties, including Labour, are federations).

What, then, is my political ideology? What are its main components and how important are they to me, relative to each other?

There should be little doubt from the posts on this blog that I’m a supporter of left wing politics. Marx continues to offer the best analysis of capital and socialism the best answer. Egalitarianism, a defence of workers’ rights, opposition to exploitation and colonialism: these are concepts that for me are tied-up inevitably with socialism. And at a time when capitalism is in such serious crisis, when political parties across Europe are eagerly tearing up the social contract we have enjoyed for decades, we have to be even more strident in our defence of rights and benefits that were hard-won and remain well-deserved.

Catalan independence: a tricky subject. I’ve been careful on this blog not to express a clear position on whether or not I support the concept of independence for Catalonia. I should think it’s clear that I’ve leaned in that direction but I’ve never been explicit about my opinion because I’ve genuinely never been sure of it. My ideological position here is that a majority of people in a geographical area who want to claim the right to self-determination should be allowed to do so. If this were the case in Catalonia, I would support a push for independence. I don’t believe that’s the case currently, but I do think that as time goes by, general ‘soft’ support for independence is increasing. I also think that independence from Spain would be almost impossible to achieve. But that’s a point for another day.

When we look at the challenges that face us in the coming years, many of them come down to poor custodianship of our planet. We need to embrace green policies wherever we can, and support alternative energies, public transport over personal vehicles, sustainable development and agriculture. I feel strongly that this beautiful planet can be protected, without the vast de-population supported by apocalyptic doomsday freaks. Better management of resources, for the good of all, can be achieved.

A few months ago, I joined a political party which I think represents my views. Iniciativa per Catalunya Verds (ICV-EUiA ‘Initiative for Catalonia Greens – United and Alternative Left’) is of the left, defends equality for all, supports the right to self-determination and promotes green policies. This blog will continue as it has always been: not much to read, but it’s always independent. That won’t change. But I’ve made a resolution for change and call on my friends to do the same.

Happy May Day!

thebadrash.com and branching out

Hello there! Long time, no see!

Over the years, this blog has evolved. At first I shared links (that’s what blogs used to be for), talked about books and music, and explored some of my innocent ideas about politics. Some time after March 2004, I felt inexorably drawn into the debate on Catalan language policy and the Catalan national question in general. And we’ve had some fun debates here. Who could forget the heady days of the Spain Herald folding, and Iberian Notes closing down? Or the excellent response I got to my ‘Some questions…’ posts?

The problem was that whenever I wrote about other topics – books, music, links, food, travel, etc – I’d get hardly any response at all. Which is pretty frustrating because of all the topics I ever write about, Catalan independence is… well, it’s not the one that interests me the most.

Over the last few months, I’ve been toying with different solutions to this problem. I decided that I’d either rebrand this blog and try to branch out into other topics of discussion, or I’d keep thebadrash.com for Catalan politics and related topics and start another blog for stuff that everyone else in the world is interested in. I’ve gone for the latter option.

tombcn.com is my new ‘homepage’. It’ll be about just about any topic I can think of, except Catalan and Spanish politics. It needs some maquillage pas cher design and lots more content but it’s fresh and new and exciting*. Look, it already has a short post about Martiniquan jazz!

Meanwhile, I do intend to update this place from time to time. Però, poc.

See you at the other place. Until then, adéu siau!

____

*OK that’s pushing it a bit.

Some thoughts about San Francisco, California

I’ve been in San Francisco since last Saturday and I leave this today. It’s a short visit and work-related but as my first visit to the USA, I thought I’d jot down some thoughts.

The City

It’s a pleasant place. No one would say that the city itself is particularly beautiful (the towers of the financial district are particularly foul) but its surrounding geography is gorgeous, as are the portals that link the City with the outside: the Bay and the Golden Gate bridges. SF sums up that late 20th century ideal of a business-oriented city with a sporty, arty, best popcorn popper vibe. It’s kind of like Sydney, or at least that’s the place it most reminds me of. The difference is that SF is apparently fed by new technologies while Sydney banks the wealth obtained in vast mines.

Earthquakes

San Franciscans do not enjoy jokes about earthquakes. Or even jokey remarks. Many people here seem to be expecting the Big One which, depending on how big it is, could realistically destroy the whole place. It’s “long overdue” but I hope that it never strikes, at least not while there are people living here.

Food and Beverages

San Francisco considers itself to be something of a ‘foody’ city. Which is both a good thing and a bad thing. I didn’t get to eat at Boulevard, just up the road from my hotel because I couldn’t get anyone to come with me. Likewise, the French Laundry, out in Napa. Most of what I did eat here (a couple of gourmet hamburgers, some Thai curry, a couple of traditional brasserie dinners, Chinese – twice) was very good and quite affordable. The local beer scene is lively and tasty, and even the city’s standard brew – Anchor Steam – is pretty good. I really enjoyed Napa Smith’s Organic IPA, with which the hotel cunningly stocked my room’s minibar. I didn’t get to try much local wine but I enjoyed a Conn Creek cabernet sauvignon (2008, I think), over a couple of nights.

Districts

I stayed at the Harbor Court hotel, on the embarcadero (old port). It’s close to our US office and so was pretty convenient for work. This is quite a touristy area, but it’s at the bottom of the financial district, which is where I found an Apple Store kind enough to sell me an iPad (over €100 cheaper than in Europe). Chinatown is fun, but I suspect it would have been a lot more fun 30 years ago. The Mission is my favorite district. It’s traditionally a latino neighborhood and has also played host to a range of great restaurants, galleries, bars and stores for decades. We ate some pretty good Thai food here and I also had dinner with Chris Barr from Yahoo in a place called Grub. The meal there was good, but I was suffering slightly from the Korean kimchi burrito with hot sauce that I’d eaten for lunch. Also in the Mission is the Pirate Store, 826 Valencia Street. This is also the spiritual home of The Believer, my current favorite periodical (I’m going to keep pushing this until you all subscribe). The Pirate Store has all the supplies any pirate might need, from lard to fathoms and siren silencers. It’s next door to a taxidermy store. These are two of the best shops I’ve ever been to. I didn’t see much of the Castro, though we did drive through it.

Technology

My reason for visiting San Francisco should be evident to anyone with even an inkling of what I do for a living. As the world capital of ‘new technologies’, especially web services and mobile devices, it’s at the center of my work day. Indeed, it was practically absurd that I hadn’t visited before. But there you have it. People here frequently exchange tips and recommendations for apps, and more than in Barcelona or London (that I’ve seen at any rate), all decisions are predicated on the advice of an iPhone or Android device. I had kind of hoped there’d be some city-wide high-speed wireless offering but this wasn’t the case. Facebook had a major event in town while I was here (in fact, I was supposed to be there bit due to a mix up, that didn’t happen). The local newspapers often report corporate stories at Yahoo, Twitter, Apple and Google on their front pages. This is a city imbued with a technological optimism. I shudder to think what could happen to the industry if an earthquake really does strike. I suspect that this may be one factor that encourages some firms to prefer Palo Alto and other cities further away from the faultline. Well, that and taxes.

And now I must put my California-designed notebook away and check out of my hotel. I’m coming back to Catalonia. That’s a great feeling.

There are a few photos from my visit on Google+ here. You don’t need to be a member of Google+ to view them. But you should sign up anyway: it’s a pretty good service. Check my blog to see my best umbrella stroller and my fitness videos that i made in SF parks.

Some questions… #1.5: What about France?

As part of my apparently ongoing series of Questions for a Catalan Independentist, this post poses a question that wasn’t in my original post.

Actually, this is a topic I’ve been thinking about grillz recently, thanks to the input of an uninterested friend who knows something about geopolitics in Europe. Indeed, it’s one issue that I don’t think I’ve ever seen answered by Catalan independentists. It comes down to a simple problem: would France ever allow an independent Catalan state to be declared on its border?

Before you start immediately by saying “I don’t care, they’ll just have to accept it”, allow me to offer some thoughts. France is one of the two key powers in Europe. It’s on the UN Security Council. It’s a centre for international diplomacy. Isn’t it likely that should France choose to block the establishment of a new state on its borders (and one which, let’s face it, would likely have at least some parliamentarians dedicated to the restoration of Catalunya Nord to the Catalan state), is there anything Catalonia could really do? Not being recognised by Spain is of huge importance. Not being recognised by France might be difficult to overcome.

So the question is: What about France? Do you really think France would stand for what it might see as the first of several new states springing up on its borders? Doesn’t this gravely affect the independence argument?

State of alert: How the PSOE used Franco’s strike breaking tactics

[I intended to write this sooner but I’ve been rather knocked out with flu since Saturday.]

The press was full of it: on the evening of December 3rd, the Spanish military ‘took over’ air traffic control towers across Spain at the request of the government. Air traffic controllers (ATCs) had, we were told, abandoned their duties en masse, calling in sick in a wildcat strike that brought the ‘public infrastructure’ of the airports to a grinding halt. But once again, the story we were being told was a narrow and distorted version of events. One that omitted key details intentionally. So it was little wonder that Spanish workers fel little solidarity for the ATCs.

The truth is that the air traffic controllers strike of December 2010 was precipitated intentionally by an agressive PSOE government, and then dealt with by that same government using the weapons of Franco’s dictatorship.

Step one is always to demonise the strikers, removing the risk that solidarity poses.

  • We were told that ATCs had an average state-funded salary of €370,000. LIE. ATC salaries are paid out of airport levies. Last available figures point to an average salary of €138,000. Which sounds like a lot, but bear in mind that ATCs are held criminally responsible for mistakes, and the awful stress that this must put on people. There are plenty of other people who earn a lot more than ATCs but few with such a horribly stressful and injurious type of work. Spanish ATCs are among the lowest-paid in Europe.
  • We were told that ATCs phoned in sick, en masse, asking for more money. LIE. On December 3rd, the government announced plans to partially privatise Spain’s airports (the ‘public infrastructure’ that the government fought so hard to protect the very next day). Simultaneously, AENA (Spanish airports management agency) had been engaged in a policy of cancelling vacations, demanding that people ‘pay back’ sick leave. AENA also intentionally named fewer personnel than were necessary for rotas that week, knowing that the puente weekend would see increased air traffic. AENA, without question, intentionally precipitated the situation.
  • We were told that the ATCs operate a closed shop and keep numbers down in order to keep their pay up. LIE. AENA is responsible for all hiring. AENA has not announced public entrance procedures for four years.
  • We were told that ATCs carried out a strike. LIE. After AENA deliberately sabotaged air traffic control, delays were always going to happen. But AENA publicly claimed that ATCs had walked out. These false accusations led to verbal and physical attacks on ATCs.

So the stage was set for interior minister Alfredo Rubalcaba to deal a vicious blow against the ATCs. And that he did. On December 4th, he declared a ‘state of alert’ (you could also use the term ‘state of emergency’ but that lacks something of the nuance of the various ‘states’ Spain can be in, like alerta, excepción, etc). It was the first time in Spain’s current democracy that such a measure had been used. And unless you’d been here in the 60s and 70s, you might well think it was a pretty standard, if very grave, response to a crisis.

The truth is that the state of alert is a peculiar item of Spanish law that has its roots in Franco’s fascist dictatorship. Throughout the 60s and 70s, Franco’s government used the state of alert to smash strikes. It works by declaring all workers of a specific convenio (like metro drivers or, in this case, ATCs) as ‘mobilised’ military personnel. So you start the day an ATC and before you know it, you’re a military ATC with orders from military staff to attend work as and when they demand it. It doesn’t matter when your shift was supposed to start because the army can tell you to start when it wants you to. And if you fail to do so? Because you’ve just become a member of the military, failure to turn up for work on their command means that you are committing sedition. Mutiny. And anyone who does this is sent to court martial and can end up in a military prison for up to 7 years.

So the state of alert is a method controlling workers by bringing in the army. Thus, ATCs were forced to work at gunpoint in some Spanish airports.

The lessons here are clear. Firstly, whenever there’s a labour dispute, the last people to trust are (a) the government, (b) the management, and (c) the media. This should have been clear before but it bears repeating. Secondly, the failure of the general strike on September 29th had one major effect: as we warned, the government felt it could move on and get away with anything. Thirdly, the PSOE has once again displayed a flagrant disregard for workers’ rights. The state of alert has set a nasty new precedent. By breaking one of the last taboos of Spanish democracy (the army permitted to take command of civilian infrastructure and the militarisation of civilian staff), the PSOE has made Spain a less just, more dangerous country. Now the cat is out of the bag, we can only wait and see when the state of alert will next be used.

We’ve been warned by the PSOE not to undertake more strikes against its dismantling of Spain’s social system and public infrastructure. Now is the time for another general strike. This time, lets make sure it works.

Reference links:

http://www.diariodemallorca.es/mallorca/2010/11/28/razones-atasco-acabado/623975.html

http://www.corrientemarxista.org/estado-espanol/9-estado-espanol/348-decretado-el-estado-de-alarma.html

Fighting an economic cold

Many of the pundits and newsreaders who refer to the current economic malaise threatening Europe use one term more than any other: contagion.

The suggestion is that the troubles that have afflicted Greece and now Ireland are a sort of water-borne disease, transmitted through the sewage-laden streams of international finance. And all we want to know is: how do we protect ourselves against this nasty infection? How do we beat the contagion?

The problem is that the crisis affecting Europe isn’t bacterial or viral at all. As Portugal, then Spain, Italy and France stand like dominoes waiting to be toppled, economic ministers (who often know nothing of economics) flail around looking for a vaccine. They don’t seem to realise that the contagion isn’t contagious at all. It’s a cancer.

The cancer of neoliberal capitalism has metastacised in multiple countries. It sucks the marrow from the bone and leeches the oxygen from the blood. The only way to get rid of it is surgically. By removing the financial sector from the centre of our national economies, we free ourselves from the carcinogenic effects of its vapours. We might be weakened after the operation but we’ll come back stronger.

If there is a spectre haunting Europe at the end of this miserable decade, it is the spectre of neoliberalism. And socialism is the doctor we need. Or the ghostbuster, or something.

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.