Rediscovering a Forgotten Past – State, Identities and Cohesion

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Credit Emilio Naranjo/European Pressphoto Agency

Politics in Europe are alive; Catalonia is the latest example. The financial crisis was the axiomatic moment in contemporary European politics fermenting domestic crises throughout and within the Union, occassionally bursting ever since. These crises have equally affected all EU Member States leading to the rise of nationalist forces (notably in France, the Netherlands, Austria, Germany, the UK, Poland, Czech Republic and so forth) shaping the national political rhetorics and policy-agenda.

The latest crisis is undeniably Sunday’s referendum in Catalonia, which exposes an absolute dilemma and threatens the integrity of Spain, one of the largest EU Member States and Eurozone members. In a European Union composed of 28 sovereign states wherein domestic politics remain in the realm of the sovereign states (unless under a policy-area of a European competence), one core commonality remains binding democratic values and principles. Catalonia is one of these cases wherein state sovereignty and regional call for self-dertmination meet and clash.

The Catalan Nightmare

The crisis in Catalonia has changed gear, and potentially seen a shift in legitimacy from Madrid to Barcelona, with the reprehensible response by the Mariano Rajoy’s government on October 1 ensuing the unilateral Catalan referendum. Prime Minister Rajoy had the law on his side as the Spanish constitutional courts have ruled on several occasions on the illegality of a referendum on the independence of Catalonia. But “Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has transformed” argued Frederiga Bindi “what would have otherwise been a unilateral, unconstitutional, and useless referendum into a major victory for the separatists.”

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Cartoon: Chappatte

The legal baseline is Spain 1978’s constitution, which stipulates that Spain cannot be broken up as “the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation” and “the common and indivisible homeland of all Spaniards.” Only the Spanish Parliament can changed the constitution.

Catalonia is a critical piece of Spain, which is the 14th largest world economy and the 4th largest in the EU (post-Brexit). Catalonia counts about 16 percent of Spain overall population Catalonia is one of the richest regions of Spain contributing almost 20 percent of the Spanish economy. One of the arguments in favor of the independence is the lack of proportionality between Catalan contributions to the overall budget and the return. From the 20 percent of contribution, Catalan residents receive 14 percent back for public expenses. Economically, Spain may certainly face serious internal trouble if Catalonia were to secede.

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Emilio Morenatti/Associated Press

Without going back to 16th century Spanish history, Catalonia has always considered itself unique and separate from Spain with its own history, language, culture and therefore nation. In contemporary Spanish history, 90 percent of Catalonia supported the 1978 constitution. But the separatist movement and feeling have always remained underneath. The recent financial crisis, shifting into the Eurozone crisis, leading to the near collapse of the PIIGS country counted Spain in the mix contributed to exacerbate the tensions between Madrid and Catalonia. Adding to the financial crisis, Spain’s constitutional court struck down parts of the new statue of autonomy for Catalonia in 2010. Since then, Madrid did not reach several opportunities in order to continue talks with the region.

Prior Sunday’s violence, polls were always consistent in proving that only 40-45 percent of Catalans have been in favour of independence. 2013 was the year with a peak in the support level at 49 percent. Prior the announced referendum on October 1, a majority of Catalans were in a difficult position between Catalan authorities to hold the referendum on independence and the strong-hold position by Madrid.

Mariano Rajoy of Spain called on the separatist leaders, behind Carles Puigdemont, President of the Generalitat of Catalonia, to stop the “disobedience” and the “escalation of radicalism.” In a rare televised speech on the evening of October 3, the King Felipe VI of Spain condemned the actions by the separatists framing them as illegal and infringing the legal structure of Spain. “They have tried to break the unity of Spain and national sovereignty” he went on to claim. Ensuing the banned referendum, Catalonia has announced that it will move forward and declare independence from Spain in the near future (after a parliamentary session on Monday). Legally, if a declaration of independence were to be made, the central government of Spain could suspend Catalan autonomy under Article 155 of the 1978 Constitution. Such option would bring the country in a major constitutional and political crisis.

And, the European project?

Where does the European Union fit in this complex political puzzle? The EU is indirectly the cause and the remedy. But it is as well, rightfully so, a reluctant actor. In the case of the Catalan crisis, the EU and its set of institutions have remained as distant as possible from this domestic crisis. For the EU, this is not only bad news, but a sign of major internal forces at play within Member States. “Separation and secession within a member state is very bad news for a block” argued Stephen Beard of Marketplace “that is striving to hold itself together and is currently doing its utmost to punish Britain for daring to break away from the EU.”

The Treaties of the EU are clear regarding the competencies of States and the EU. For instance, Article 4.2 of the TEU stipulates that, It [the Union] shall respect their essential State functions, including ensuring the territorial integrity of the State, maintaining law and order and safeguarding national security. In particular, national security remains the sole responsibility of each Member State.

Ensuing the use of force by Madrid on Sunday in Catalonia, the EU called out and condemned government violence against citizens. On October 2, the Commission released an official statement underlining the illegality of the referendum under Spanish law. Without directly targeting PM Rajoy, the Commission ended the statement by claiming that “Violence can never be an instrument in politics.” However, Spain may be one of the largest and Western EU Member State, the Commission must be as critical as it has been in Poland and Czech Republic. “It is the kind of violence the European Union” writes Steven Erlanger of the New York Times, “would ordinarily condemn in high moral terms and even consider punishing.”

On Wednesday, the Commission called for an open dialogue between the Catalan authorities and the Spanish government. Frans Timmermans, the Commission’s deputy head told before the European Parliament that “it’s time to talk.” Timmermans still maintained the official position of the Commission endorsing the legal position of Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy. During the European Parliament’s session, two leading MEPs, Bavarian Manfred Weber and Flemish Guy Verhofstadt emphasized on the fact “strong regional identity and autonomy did not mean breaking up existing nation states.” What is certain is that “if Catalonia were to leave Spain,” underlined Jonas Parello-Plesner of the Hudson Institute, “it would also leave the EU, only to start a cumbersome reentry process.”

EU Member States, all sovereign states, are not usually in favor of secessionist movements, especially within the Union. In the current context of the Brexit negotiation, the EU and the 27 Member States are quite reticent to see a region of a Member State calling for self-determination and seeking independence. “Throughout my life,” wrote Javier Solana, a former Spanish minister, former NATO Secretary General, and the first EU High Representative, prior the Sunday violence, “I have witnessed the fragmentation of many countries, and I cannot conceive of that happening in the European Union of today.” Despite the reprehensible past action and poor tactic by PM Rajoy, it is difficult at this time to foresee any support from the 27 European capitals for Catalonia’s independence.

Lastly, the Catalonia case brings home a reality, which seems to have been forgotten in 220px-2012_Catalan_independence_protest_1021.jpgone of the richest regions of the world: history tells us that states will use force to maintain their integrity and unity. In his address to the nation, King Felipe VI, “Today Catalan society is fractured and in conflict,” he said. “They (the Catalan leaders) have infringed the system of legally approved rules with their decisions, showing an unacceptable disloyalty towards the powers of the state.” The message is direct, the state shall remain and fight any types of fragmentation.

For decades, Europeans have watched separatist efforts in Iraq-Turkey (Kurdistan), Sudan (South and North), Serbia (Kosovo), Chechnya (Russia), Nepal (China) with a certain distance condemning state violence and believing in some sort of European exceptionalism, that it would not happen here inside the Union. Well Spain demonstrated a forgotten reality.

“As it forms the basis for an experience of freedom, the history of democracy,” Pierre Rosanvallon, Professor at the Collège de France noted, “is therefore not simply a history of frustrations or betrayed utopias: it has become a deeply intertwined history of disenchantment and indeterminacy.” The Catalan case opens the European Pandora box of a forgotten past forcing European citizens and leaders to reflect on the questions thought buried under the rumbles of World War two, but briefly emerging since with the reunification of Germany and the wars in the Balkans, of identity, democracy, power, oppression, nation-state, region-state and cohesion. The fraught between Madrid and Catalonia is serious and could have considerable ripple effects if a thoughtful and open dialogue is soon implemented.

(COPYRIGHT 2017 BY POLITIPOND. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED WITHOUT PERMISSION).

 

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Global Survey on the Migration Crisis – The European Project on the Brink of Collapse?

Photo: Virginia Mayo / AP
Photo: Virginia Mayo / AP

The migration crisis is not ending and is in fact increasing the divide between EU Member States, overstretching the fondations of the EU (Schengen agreement), and underlining the lack of solidarity among European actors. If Germany was the model, or at least the moral authority of Europe, in terms of receiving asylum seekers (expected to be over 800,000 this year), Chancellor Merkel and her Minister of Interior, Thomas de Maizière, have announced over the weekend that Germany will be reinstating border control between Germany and Austria. Such move goes against the principles of the Schengen agreement and illustrates a needed response by Chancellor Merkel to domestic pressures. Interestingly enough, the implementation of border control comes a day prior the EU ministers meeting seeking to find a common solution to the current migration crisis.

After a month of data collection, the survey created and monitored by Politipond on the question of the migration crisis has finally closed (here is the link to the survey). The questionnaire was designed in a way that would permit to identify and analyze several variables: actorness of the EU; role and influence of the Member States; influence of domestic politics; European push towards greater integration; and European identities.

Sample and Questionnaire

The survey was composed of 10 mandatory questions with multiple-choice answers. The questionnaire was designed in order to analyze how global participants feel about the crisis, understand the crisis, and perceive the way EU Member States and institutions try to deal with the issue. The survey counts 38 participants from all around the world. None of the participants were solicited and most of them found out of the survey by either receiving the Politipond‘s newsletter or through social media (Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin).

Source: Politipond. 2015
Source: Politipond. 2015

After a month of data collection, the largest participating countries were Portugal, the United States, France and Germany. These countries are an interesting sample as they incorporate the US, the quiet superpower, the Franco-German engine, and Portugal a member of Southern Europe. The US is an interesting actor as it has been very absent actor on the crisis, even though President Obama has recently announced some participation in welcoming refugees. Nevertheless, American media (The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, NPR, the Miami Herald, USA Today and the Los Angeles Times) have been covering the issue in depth for months and the American public opinion is deeply divided on the question. The issue of migration and immigration have been an important dimension in the current presidential campaign for 2016.

In the case of France and Germany, both countries are important historical partners that usually shape the direction of the Union. If Germany has proven to be the most welcoming EU Member State, with Sweden, France has been a much more cautious and observing actor. In recent days, France has expressed its support to Germany. Last but not least, Portugal is part of the infamous PIGS group (Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain) or Southern Europe. Portugal has, like his southern partners, faced serious socio-economic degradation since the collapse of the world markets. Portugal at the difference of Greece, Italy and Spain, is not a recipient of migrants due to its geographical position. However, the debate in Portugal has been focusing on the migration crisis.

Variables – Power, Institutions, and Identity

Credit: Politipond. 2015
Credit: Politipond. 2015

Each variables can be measured by countries and see if participants have diverging position based on their country of allegiance (see graph below). These variables sought to identify several aspects: institutional design and power; identity; and actors’ behaviors and actions. Question 1 and 3 received an overwhelming yes vote with 90% in favor of a common European asylum policy (which needs to be reformed as the current Dublin regulations are showing signs of weaknesses) and that solidarity is required in order to address such pressing issue. However on the question of mandatory national quotas promoted by the Commission, one third of the participants are opposed to such policy move by the supranational European body.

Question 5 and 6, looking at nationalist policies, received a high degree of no vote with an average of 85%. Participants seem to find counterproductive for Britain to put the blame on France for his lenient approach to addressing the number of refugees in camps in Northern of France. In addition, participants overwhelmingly expressed their opposition (90%) towards nationalist policies of closing borders and forcing migrants out.

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Source: Politipond. 2015

This graph above is identical to the previous one, but is looking in the way the four countries, with the highest degree of participants, responded to the same questions. On question 1 and 3, all four countries responded similarly. On question 2, Germany appears to be the least favorable towards national quotas promoted by the Commission. Question 6 on blaming French for not doing enough in Calais, both the US and Germany believe that France has been lenient and has not done enough in addressing the number of migrants in the camps. 12% of Portuguese participants claim that nationalist policies of closing the borders and forcing migrants out is an appropriate solution in addressing the migration crisis. On the last question of cooperation at the European level, French participants (32%) tend to believe that European leaders are working towards a common European solution.

Who is Responsible for the Crisis?

Source: Politipond. 2015
Source: Politipond. 2015

Not surprisingly, most participants blamed the Member States (29%), minus Italy and Greece (a total of 0%), for failing to address the crisis. The most interesting dimension is that failed countries, like Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, are seen as a large part of the blame with 26%. The EU is regarded to have failed in dealing with the crisis (with 13%). However, it is unclear what exactly the EU means as the Commission and the Parliament are not considered as responsible, which leaves the Council of Ministers and the European Council. Ultimately, the EU is usually considered as a black box without clear materialization of who does what. The traditional blame of the EU for failing to address a crisis is reflected in this study. But the graph demonstrates that participants tend to mis-understand the EU and what it is.

Call for Foreign Military Interventions?

4.Intervention
Source: Politipond. 2015

A missing aspect of the talk on solving the migration crisis has been foreign interventions. Most of debate consists in addressing the flows of migrants inside the European territory and the failed European asylum policies. However, one core dimension in solving, at least in the long term, the migration crisis will be to address the root causes in Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Eritrea, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and so forth by stabilizing these territories, rebuilding the states and their authorities, lowering corruption and cronyism, and dealing with neighboring countries (read here an analysis on failed states published by EU Center at the University of Miami).

These conditions are central in order to permit future migrants to live productive lives in their home countries. The big question is how much the Euro-Atlantic community can be efficient in such missions in so many countries and are their public opinion in favor of such ‘sacrifice’? According to the results of the survey, 62% of participants consider that either military (27%) or civilian (35%) CSDP missions would permit to address some of the root causes. And with 14% of the votes, participants feel that national missions, like the ones deployed by the French army in Mali and Sahel regions, could be effective operations of stabilization and peace-building.

Interestingly, 76% of the participants are in favor of foreign interventions, either military or civilian, as opposed to 24% against any type of foreign interventions. Regardless of the small sample of the participants, 3/4 of them favor foreign interventions. The French government has expressed its position in favor of the use of force in Syria through air bombing. It seems that the French public opinion is in favor of such military road.

From a Fortress to a Borderless Union

5.Image
Source: Politipond. 2015

Images have been an important variables in shaping public opinion and creating an emotional reactions to the migration crisis (read a previous analysis on the topic here). Based on the results, the leading image in identifying the EU in dealing with the crisis is

Cartoon: Plantu
Cartoon: Plantu

‘Fortress Europe’ (with 43%) followed by ‘borderless Europe’ (34%). The identification of the EU as either a soft power or civilian power falls well behind and demonstrates the irrelevance of such terms. If Fortress Europe implies huge wall protecting the European territory, borderless Europe is its absolute antonym. The words borderless and fortress are fascinating as, despite their fundamental opposition, European citizens are using both concept interchangeably.

Normative Europe appears to be a construction by the EU to justify its moral behavior implying a certain degree of inaction and risk-averse foreign policies. If the concepts of ‘soft power’ and ‘civilian power’ are heavily used by European diplomats and experts, they are only part of the European dialect. In a recent work, that I participated on, on perceptions of the EU in the US (expected to be published in the Fall or early spring), it was demonstrated than ‘normative Europe’ barely exist outside Europe.

Leaders and Policy-Makers – Who Matters?

Source: Politipond. 2015
Source: Politipond. 2015

With an overwhelming majority (61%), participants argue that no European leader is in measure of making a difference in dealing with the current crisis.  Chancellor Merkel of Germany (11%) and Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the Commission (8%), are the leading candidates in being the ones with the greater influence in the shaping of policy-making. Both players share a common vision of quotas and redistribution across the Union as well as opening the countries to the refugees. The interesting aspect is British Prime Minister Cameron (5%) coming into fourth position, with the Italian Prime Minister (5%). If the Italian PM is facing a serious crisis with the large influx of migrants crossing the country (it is estimated that 1/4 of them will eventually stay in Italy), British PM is trying to keep them outside of the island.

François Hollande of France and his European counterpart, HR Mogherini, are not perceived as being influential players. In the case of the French President, the number could be different a month later, however, the situation in Calais with the refugee camps is not playing in favor of the French President. HR Mogherini has not been as visible to the general public, but has been playing an important role in the deployment of the CSDP mission of EUNAVFOR Med off the coasts of Italy and Greece. She has been active on dealing with the foreign dimensions of the crisis. This aspect of the crisis has not been properly covered by the media, and most citizens are not concerned about such dimension.

The End of the European Dream?

The reinstatement of border control by Germany on the segment shared with Austria has led to a snowball effect with now Slovakia, the Netherlands and Austria announcing similar measures. Such political decision made by Berlin and now other EU Member States is a direct attack on a core principle of the EU, the Schengen agreement, which guarantees the free movement of people across the Union. Even though the Treaties offer the possibility for EU Member States to lift the open borders in case of emergency or national security, it is always a controversial move. In the case of the migration crisis, a lifting a the Schengen agreement, demonstrates the obvious:

  • inability to protect European borders and the neighborhoods,
  • inability to enforce the Dublin Regulations, which demonstrates the weakness of the integration process;
  • lack of solidarity among the 28 EU Member States,

The migration crisis underlined all the weaknesses, which have been denounced by experts for decades, of the EU all at once. It shows that the EU and its Member States have lived in this perpetual belief of post-sovereignty world and denial of the world shaped by hard power. In some ways, it seems that EU Member States and the EU have incorporated all the components described and advanced by Francis Fukuyama in his 1998 book of The End of History. Today, the refugees, seeking for a better world and a chance to raise their kids in a stable and secure environment, have brought the EU to the brink of failure, tear down the concept of European solidarity (if it ever existed), and brought the worst of European societies with the continuous rise of nationalism and xenophobia.

To the defense of the EU, it has one element in its favor, ability to adjust and reform in the worst of the storm. After over 60 years of existence, the EU has gone through several deep divides, like the period of the empty chair, the end of the Cold War, the divide over the Iraq crisis, the rejection of the Constitutional Treaty, the Euro crisis, and now the migration crisis. In each crisis, the Member States have been able to adjust and advance. But will this time be an other example of Europe’s ability to adapt? or, will it break? The results of the survey conducted over the month of August validate these comments and show that European citizens are highly dubious about the future direction of the Union and ability of their leaders to address the root causes of the crisis, while maintaining European cohesion. The migration crisis is overwhelming and stretching the European unity and structures to a level never experienced before.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).