Could the greatest threat to the unity and future of the European Union come from within the member states? For a long time, the concerns were coming from capitals seeking to leave the block, economic difficulties or even foreign pressures. With the 2016 Brexit vote, the national decision to exit the EU has in fact proven to foster unity among the member states on maintaining the integrity of the Union. But with the 2014 Scottish referendum (calls for a second referendum are being advanced), the movements within the nation-states to seek for greater regional autonomy, influence, and power from the national capital have been relentless.
The Catalan crisis is an illustration of a region seeking for independence from its state. The fraught relations between Madrid and Barcelona are real (read past analyses here and here). The crisis continues to escalate. Over the weekend, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy declared that Madrid, the central government, would remove the region’s secessionist leaders. PM Rajoy announced the use of the Article 155 of the Spanish constitution, a radical step and an unprecedented event, which will dismiss the Catalan Cabinet, see Madrid assume all the powers of the regional executive, curb the role of the regional parliament and call for new regional election in the coming six-months. The central government does not seem keen at the moment to seek for mediation, but rather continues down the road of confrontation.
In addition, over the weekend, two wealthy Italian regions, Lombardy and Veneto, voted in non-binding referendums in favor of greater autonomy and seeking more power from Rome. These referendums, promoted by the Northern League ruling both regions, are not calls for secession from Rome, but instead a call for greater say and influence on issues of tax distribution and financial independence on several areas such as security, immigration and education.
Both Northern Italian regions contribute to a significant share of the Italian economy, with 20 percent for Lombardy and 10 percent for Veneto. Despite a significant share of Italian GDP, last summer Veneto received a €17bn rescue deal to address the banking crisis.
Even though it is too early to talk of a full fragmentation of some member states and the European Union, several trends and observations shall be advanced in order to rationalize and explain these forces at play. Prior to looking at a series of questions, which could contribute to the development of a series of hypotheses, one ought to recognize the complexities and particularities of each secessionist movements and the unique histories of the member states within the EU and their relationships with Brussels. These hypotheses try to identify commonalities between the recent movements in order to comprehend the reemergence of these regional forces.
Are wealthy regions done with solidarity via financial redistributions to other regions/states? Should the EU or the state be blamed for it?
Are these referendums informed by a conscious desire to guarantee cultural and linguistic survival, authenticity and uniqueness in a globalized world? This feeling is very much represented in Catalonia (despite being a major global touristic destination), in Nice and Corsica (France), and so forth.
Is the EU perceived as the enemy? In some regions of the EU, the EU or Brussels and in particular the Commission, are perceived as the actor promoting economic liberalism and ultimately undermining a certain savoir vivre. But in the recent case of Catalonia, the EU is called upon to mediate in domestic politics and national matters. Even further, there are some cases of desire to join the Union as a full member, which is a fantasy considering the responses of most European capitals and support to PM Rajoy.
The regional calculus takes for granted the core responsibility of the nation-state: national security and survival of the state. War and peace are forgotten concepts in Western Europe, which is quite ironic considering the state of European peripheries from the East (Ukraine) to the Mediterranean basin.
Are referendums the way to proceed in order engage with the central government? Do referendums serve the interests of the majority or only of the few?
Do these separatist movements inform us of a higher desire of activism and democratic inclusion? Meaning, there is a feeling of deposition to control civic life and influence the making of the nation. By scaling down from the national capital to the regional capital, there is a belief that one can have a greater say and influence in shaping the policy-making process and therefore the policy outputs. This democratic argument was very much present in the Brexit vote. These movements represent to some extent the end of centralized nation-states. But does this feeling of democratic inclusion at a lower level illustrate a narrow understanding of the world? It is not certain that an hypothetical sovereign Catalan state can, on its own, weather global forces from flow of capital to people.
Lastly, could we go even further and see these regional forces as the success of the European Union emphasizing that the state is now unable to fulfil the need of national citizens. In the case of Catalonia, the EU flag has been flown along the regional symbols. However, it is not certain that other regions would feel the same way. But if this were the case, the current EU would not be suited for the move towards a federation of regions considering that it is currently a Union of Sovereign States.
(COPYRIGHT 2017 BY POLITIPOND. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED WITHOUT PERMISSION).
Let’s get straight to the point: self-determination of peoples. It is a very laudable theoretical concept. All peoples should have the right to choose the nation they wish to belong to, especially when they have a distinctive culture and a different language, as well as political and economic viability to build an independent state. And we, Europeans, ex-colonialists, field with guilt for our ancestors’ acts, tend to favor the rebels, independently of the justice and the consequences of their cause.
Historical Rationales for Independence
But there is also the other side of the story: in his most recent book, Michael Walzer uses three case studies of the past, India, Algeria and Israel, whose legitimate claims of independence where much more consubstantiated, to prove that “liberation movements” do not represent the expression of the majority will (people are much more concerned in surviving and moving ahead with their lives in troubled times), but the position of a separatist elite who builds a narrative and does everything they can to convince the population that their intentions are fairer and their view of history is much more accurate than the one the status quo power has been trying to impose.
In practice the paths towards independence are sinuous and trapped. They are played in a dangerous arena where almost everything is admissible for the cause of independence. It is an opportunistic and dirty game where the two sides are waiting for a weakness of the rival. It generates violence. In more extreme cases, it generates civil war. In the most extreme cases, it generated ethnic cleansing. At the regional level it generates instability. Very often it is contagious to sleeping separatisms that start to reevaluate their possibilities. Of course, we think, nothing of this kind is going to happen in Catalonia. After all, it is the 21st century, and this is Europe. But let me remind you of two things: on the one hand, the two sides of the conflict, Barcelona, and Madrid, have already reached extremes that we never thought possible in a democratic context. On the other hand, the last few years have demonstrated that nationalisms, of the emotional, ideological, centrist, and extremist kinds are not a relic of the 19th century. They are alive and kicking. Remember that history does not repeat itself but it rimes. Nationalisms are back, now in a context, different from the past. And we, in Europe, are ill prepared to deal with them.
The Catalan Case
How did we get here? The Catalonian separatism has a long lineage. The national day of the region, September 11, is related to the events of 1714, when Barcelona lost its autonomy to Spain in that War of Succession. In the 20th century, the mores and the language were trampled violently by the bloody Civil War and then by Franco’s regime, trying with particular roughness, to dissolve the Catalonian culture. The collective memory of these events has been passed along generations, as the testimonies from Barcelona, since the mock referendum of October 1, published in the international press, have been claiming. The nationalist feeling was partially placated (ironically) by the 1978
Constitution, that inscribed the right to regional autonomies in the context of the “indissociable unity of the Spanish nation”. But, albeit Catalonia’s acceptance of the founding text of Spanish democracy, the relationship between Madrid and Barcelona was always ambiguous. The Generalitat has always tried to find ways to further autonomy, while the central government has always been keen on protecting its powers. But for considerable period, the regional government was in the hands of moderates. First, a right-wing coalition, the CiU was ahead of it (1978-2003) and then it was replaced by its left-wing equivalent, a coalition led by the PSC, the Catalonian branch of the PSOE (2002-2010). The radical separatists were relayed to the margins, namely ERC, a leftist republican party that tried an independence coup a couple of years before the civil war and the several anarcho-unionist groups, also very active before the war.
However, minority ideas tend to fall asleep but never die. And the Catalonian separatism woke up due to three main factors: first, the economic crisis of 2008, that generated a feeling of injustice as Barcelona profits (around 20 percent of the Spanish GDP) were redistributed to the poorer provinces; second, the judicial process moved by Mariano Rajoy’s Popular Party, between 2006 and 2010, that resulted in the removal by the Supreme Court of the status of “nation” (ambiguous) that had been approved in a legal local referendum. The SC alleged reasons of unconstitutionality and the PP claimed reasons of balance between unitarists and regionalists; and third, the political change in the composition of the regional government, that started to be ruled by the coalition “Together for Yes” (to the independence) that mixes, since 2015, the CDC of Carles Puigdemont, a right liberal party that became separatist as a result of the policies of the central government; the ERC, the republican independentist party of the 1930’s; and the CUP a left wing separatist movement composed by several small radical groups. Together they have qualified majority at the Generalitat, even though their only commonality is the independence of the autonomous region.
The Volatility of Nationalist Separatism
This change went relatively unnoticed, but aligns with the similar rise/growth of diverse populist movements across Europe (old nationalisms, new times). But this particular one has a different element: the nationalist separatism is a much more sensitive issue, more emotional, and capable of mobilizing passions. Which usually is a Molotov cocktail in politics.
The events that have been succeeding since October 1st are the culmination of all these tendencies: painful collective memories politicized by a coalition reaching the regional parliament thanks to protest votes against Madrid’s policies; all this in combination with a disastrous management of the Catalonian issue by the central government (including the King Felipe VI). Plus, Barcelona took advantage of the weakness of the chief of central government, Mariano Rajoy, who needed two general elections and almost a year to form a minority government.
This was the context of last Sunday’s referendum in Catalonia. Madrid had the law on its side. It forbidden the public consultation for reasons of unconstitutionality, but the Generalitat was more astute: it disobeyed, and dragged to disobedience more than two million citizens. Nothing was legal in the referendum: plastic ballot boxes, aleatory vote sites, on-line electoral lists of doubtful accurateness, and a very low affluence (around 42 percent) that indicates, according to specialists, that the unitarians simply did not bother to vote, considering the consultation bogus. These arguments would have been more than enough for Rajoy, with the support of Felipe VI, to declare the nullity of the act and move on. As it already happened in the past.
But Madrid lost its mind. So, it sent 12,000 civilian guards to preclude the voting. In this counter-information war, we know that the national police used force against the population (although we do not know how often), we saw mossos d’esquadra (the Catalonian regional police) crying and, according to hospital records, there were almost 900 injured (even though we ignore the extensiveness of the wounds). What remains from October 1st is the image of the Catalonian people enduring the police intervention against them in the name of independence. TV cameras from around the world captured enough images of disproportional violence to leave Madrid’s international image in the mud and to revolt thousands of Catalans that so far had been happy with the status quo. Rajoy, they say, is an “independentists’ maker”. And in fact, he is. In 24 hours he did more for the independence cause than all separatists together. In democracy, when one has the law and at least part of the legitimacy on their side the use of force against the population (who possibly believed in the goodness of the idea of independence) has two consequences: one loses the morality battle and the support of the population. The independentists won a double victory: they opened a larger gap between then and Spain (and Europe), very difficult to get over and they won the sympathy of the “international public opinion”. If this concept, popularized by Jürgen Habermas during the demonstrations against the Iraq war, is vague and imprecise, its practical effect is well known.
And now what? There are three possible scenarios. For now, the most likely is a growing tension between the parts, as Carles Puigdemont is likely to declare independence unilaterally this week and Mariano Rajoy has threatened to use all means at his disposal to stop him. It is difficult to predict the endgame of escalation. In politics there are few things as dangerous as separatist nationalism for reasons described above but too important to forget: internal violence, regional instability, and domino effect. Europe is full of separatist movements that might see the Catalan moment as an opportunity put forward their claims for self-determination and autonomy.
The second scenario is that Madrid and Barcelona overcome their differences and start to negotiate (as the population ask them to do this weekend in very large demonstrations). However, the possibilities are scarce and the conflict already reached a high point and depending on Puigdemont’s call a potential point of no-return.
Which take us to the third scenario: bringing in an external referee, a mediator. The successive crisis of the European Union almost made us forget that the main goal of its creation was to avoid that war would return to the continent. And it does not matter how critical each of us might be, the truth is this goal has been fulfilled (except for the Balkans that were Europe but not EU). We reached a critical point where Brussels should refashion its peace-making credentials. Pretending Catalonia is none of the EU competency is the sort of decision that did not pay off in several situations in the past. Let’s hope that Europe is willing to mediate, if called upon, this internal crisis, because peace in the continent must be one of the main values that unites member-states. And lastly, if something goes really wrong in Catalonia, a Pandora Box will be opened challenging the integrity of member states. The Catalan crisis could have greater unforeseen and unwanted consequences on the integrity of the EU than a bad Brexit.
Diana Soller is a research follow at the Portuguese Institute of International Relations (Lisbon) and a weekly columnist at the daily Portuguese newspaper Observador.
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.”
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.
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 one 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).
If reelected, David Cameron, British Prime Minister, promised to organize a referendum on British membership with the European Union (EU). With his reelection in May 2015, David Cameron is now working on the details of the referendum scheduled to eventually take place between autumn 2016 and winter 2017. Initially the government had designed the following question “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?” The response would have been ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. But in early September, the Electoral Commission argued that such question was biased and gave an advantage to the ‘Yes’ camp. Ultimately, a new question was drafted and now read “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” Citizens will have to choose between “Remain a member of the European Union” and “Leave the European Union.”
Aside from political, economic and social considerations, the British referendum on its future inside the European club is an excellent thing for Britain and the other 27 Member States. The reason is simple. Since Cameron’s reappointment, the question of the EU has been ever present in European and world press. Cameron is in fact offering a gift to the EU and his 27 partners as for a very long time – or even for the first time in European history – Europeans and their leaders will have to finally reflect on the meaning of a EU membership, the role of the EU, and the concept of Europeanness.
Since the 2007 financial crisis, the EU has become synonymous with oppression, incomprehension, and in short the enemy of national sovereignty and regional diversity. These ideas are not new and have always been shared throughout European history. But the degree of integration occurring right after the Cold War with the first stone laid by the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 created a complex problem for governments. Integration has led to a double process of deepening (institutionally) and widening (enlargement). The degree of integration attained today requires more Europe for more cohesion in economic, financial, fiscal, immigration, security and defense policies. But Member States, for many different reasons, are reticent in moving towards deeper integration.
The United Kingdom, like Denmark, is an interesting Member State as it is neither a founding nor a ‘fully integrated’ member considering its opt-out clauses. With the collapse of the financial markets, David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party, has driven its country based on highly conservative and ideological policies. He has been focusing on cutting British debt by slashing most of government spending from social policies to defense. In addition, he has sought to attract to the ultra-nationalist base, led by the UKIP party, and one way was to put British membership to EU on the table. As illustrated below, British public opinion is closely divided in either remaining in the Union or leaving it.
Over the next two years, the press, leaders, and European citizens will have to finally reflect on the EU organized around two questions: what has the EU done for us, Europeans? What can we – Europeans – do for the EU? The first question is historically redundant as Member States are always trying to denigrate the massive contribution of the EU in the quality of life, which includes a ‘perpetual continental peace,’ of its Members and citizens. For instance, Spain, Portugal and Greece all highly beneficed from their membership in terms of development. In a matter of a decade, the standard of living in these countries was considerably increased. Certainly the Eurozone crisis has caused great harm in these countries, but all cannot be blamed on the euro. National governments ought to receive their share of the blame.
The second question is the most interesting of the two, as it will lead to a bottom-up reflection. What can European citizens and countries provide and offer to the EU? Member States and their citizenry ought to finally see how their contributions are necessary in order to grow and shape the EU of the 21st century. Most European citizens complain about the lack of connection between Brussels and themselves. European citizens are not doing enough in order to have their voices been heard when one reflects on the degree of abstention at the latest European elections. Being opposed to specific EU policies is one thing, contributing to European civic life is another. By asking the second question, European citizens will re-discover the sense of togetherness, identity, Europeanness, and the ‘we’ in European.
David Cameron is facing a very tricky battle head, but the history of Britain inside the Union is quite complex. Back in 1967, French President Charles de Gaulle opposed to the inclusion of Britain within the European Economic Community (EEC). His rationale was that de Gaulle “accused Britain of a ‘deep-seated hostility’ towards European construction.” De Gaulle was not totally wrong and understood the complexity of a British inclusion within the Union. Once in, Britain has played an important role in the integration of the common market, defense policy, and foreign policy.
China and the US have expressed their opposition to a Brexit and are worrying about the negative consequences of Britain’s departure from the Union and global markets. In addition, European diplomats, civil servants and the national capitals have all expressed some degree of frustration with London as no clear points of negotiation for reforming the EU-Britain relationship have been sent to Brussels. Aside from broad wishes – limitation of movement of labor and people, greater power for national parliaments, limiting the growth of the single market in favor of Eurozone members, reduction of social benefits for EU nationals – and calling for Treaty change, Brussels has yet to receive very clear and implementable demands. Cameron has his back in the corner and is now managing to survive a very complex domestic debate. Until 2017, the EU will be at the heart of political debate around the world. Politically speaking, David Cameron does not want his legacy to be remembered as the PM whom could not keep Britain in the Union.
(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).
Three years ago I wrote a piece beginning by: “It all started in the aftermath of World War II and in the emotional and material rumbles of Europe. The visionary great men of Europe — Jean Monnet, Robert Schuman and Konrad Adenauer —understood that peace in Europe would only be possible through deep economic integration, strengthening an irreversible degree of cooperation between Western European powers.” This was in mid-October of 2012, when the Norwegian Nobel Committee gave the Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union (EU). The rationale behind the prize was that the EU was a process permitting to make war unthinkable and allow for economic growth. This was a proud moment for Europeans, even though most of them did not pay much attention, and for Europeanists.
Radicalization of Domestic Politics
Today it is with real sadness to realize that in less than three years the survival of the EU appears in direct jeopardy and on the brink of implosion. Domestically, nationalism is ramping through either the rise of extreme-right wing parties, like the Front National in France, UKIP in Britain, Golden Dawn in Greece, or more recently through the
reemergence of extreme leftist parties like Podemos in Spain, Syriza in Greece, and the newly elected Jeremy Corbyn in Britain. In addition, the narratives and actions demonstrated by the Obrán government in Hungary talking of a Christian Europe is affecting the overall normative message of EU (read a previous analysis here). These movements demonstrate a radicalization of the political debate directly informed by a highly emotional and confused electorate witnessing a continuous and unstoppable decline of their socio-economic condition.
Directly related to the rise of European nationalism is the financial crisis, which has spilled over to the Eurozone. The euro crisis has left the 17 Eurozone economies, at the exception of Germany, into a state of economic lethargy. In the case of Greece, the country has been on the brink of default for years and its future does not look promising based on the reports produced by the International Monetary Fund, a member of the Troika. In the case of France, still an economic pillar of the Eurozone, the succession from right to left has demonstrated the inabilities of traditional political parties to build confidence, implement meaningful structural reform, and lower inequalities. Part of the problem is the divide between a common currency and national fiscal policies.
Regionally, the lingering war in Ukraine is a direct illustration that war on the European continent continues to live on. A last minute cancelation by Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych of a bilateral agreement between Ukraine and the EU in November 2013 sent off Ukraine into one of its darkest periods. Two years later, Ukraine lost a piece of its territory, Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in spring 2014 after a quickly organized referendum (read here an analysis on Russian influence over Europe). Since the annexation of Crimea, not only as Ukraine lost the peninsula, which is never mentioned by
the 28 EU Member States, but the war in the Eastern border of Ukraine has severely affected the political, economic and stability of Ukraine. The only instrument implemented by the EU, which has been very successful, is a series of sanctions against Russia. But unity among the 28 on keeping and deepening the sanctions is slowly disappearing in favor of national gains.
The second serious regional crisis is the current migration crisis. After the 2007 Arab Spring, many in the West and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) were hopeful for a democratic transition of many countries under long-term dictatorships like in Egypt, Syria, Tunisia and Libya. The time of euphoria quickly turned sour for Arabs and Westerners, witnessing either the reemergence of authoritarian regimes (Egypt), their survival (Syria) or simply collapse of the state (Libya). Since then, the EU, which has not done enough with its American counterparts in assisting in the transition of these states, is seeing an unprecedented number of refugees fleeing their homes, which have become war zones like in Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Somalia and so forth. The mass of refugees seeking for asylum in the richest EU countries is not new, but the current mass of refugees is unprecedented and is underlining the weaknesses of the EU (institutional) and dismantling European solidarity.
A Crisis for Ages – The Migration Nightmare
If the Eurozone crisis, or at least a Greek default, were framed as the event that could kill the Euro and ultimately the Union as whole, these were the good old days. The migration crisis is directly threatening the future of the Union. If Germany and Sweden have been the good Samaritans in welcoming refugees (in 2015, it is estimated that Germany could welcome between 800,000 and 1,000,000 asylum seekers), Chancellor Merkel with her Minister of Interior, Thomas de Maizière, have reinstalled border control at the frontier with Austria. This move by Germany has started a snowball effects with other EU Member States implementing similar measures. The closing of borders to control the movement of people is a direct violation of the Treaties. The border-free Schengen agreement is one of the most successful and visible symbols of the European Union. It is too some extent a sacrosanct dimension of the EU.
European Integration in Danger?
The European integration process is a complex story of crises and adequate responses through policy changes and bargaining power. The period of the empty chair, the end of the Cold War and the reunification of Germany, the war in Kosovo, the divide between old and new Europe around the Iraq crisis, the no to the 2007 Constitutional Treaty and the Eurozone crisis have all been serious crises, but yet manageable for the European leaders. It appeared that European actors understood the need to solidify the Union and put aside differences in order to solve a crisis. The migration crisis is showing the worst of Europeans and their leaders, and European solidarity remains to be seen. Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the Commission, called for courage in remaining altogether and implementing meaningful measures like quotas. With a weakening Euro, as the Eurozone crisis has yet to be solved, the Schengen agreement under attack, a possible Brexit in 2016/17, the EU appears to move towards an ‘ever-lesser Europe.’ Yes, once upon a time, the EU was a Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
(Copyright 2014 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).
With the death of 600 migrants in April, the EU and its Member States have been working on finding a solution to a serious and pressing regional crisis. In a matter of a month several proposals, with diverging philosophical orientation, have been drafted. On the one hand, the Juncker’s proposal, initiated by the European Commission, seeks in deepening the integration process through an harmonization and homogenization of EU immigration and asylum policies. While on the other hand, the Council of the EU agreed on the creation of a military CSDP naval mission, EU Naval Force in the Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR-Med), in order to disrupt smugglers. Even thought the Juncker’s proposal addresses a long-term need, it fosters opposition in most EU Member States, while EUNAVFOR only provides a quick and superficial fix to the problem of mass migrations. So far the EU and its Member States have not found the proper answer to this crucial regional crisis.
The Juncker’s Proposal: European Agenda on Migration
The European Commission presented its European Agenda on Migration on May 13th in order to contain and solve the current crisis taking place in the Mediterranean sea. The publication of the Commission’s agenda is a reaction of the massive influx of migrants and refugees coming from Libya, a transit country (read here a previous analysis on the migration crisis). Ensuing the largest human tragedy causing the death of 600 migrants in mid-April and an extraordinary European summit meeting leading to no real lasting solutions, Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the Commission, declared on announcing its Agenda that “We will be ambitious. We will be bold.”
The Agenda produced by the Commission laid out several policies. The first one consists in finding solutions through immediate actions:
Tripling the capacities and assets for the Frontex joint operations Triton (off the coasts of Italy) and Poseidon (off the coasts of Greece) in order to save lives;
destroying criminal smuggling networks through a possible Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) operation in the Mediterranean to dismantle traffickers’ networks and fight smuggling of people. Federica Mogherini, EU foreign policy chief, was at the UN Security Council on May 11th seeking for a UNSC resolution allowing EU Member States “to deploy military force to seize and destroy smugglers’ ships before they take on their human cargo”;
Relocation of migrants;
an EU-wide resettlement scheme to offer 20,000 placesdistributed in all Member States. The EU budget will dedicate an additional €50 million in 2015/16 to solve this problem;
Working with third countries in order to solve the root causes of migrations;
The infogram produced by EurActiv (see above) illustrates which EU Member States are the largest recipients of migrants and refugees and the main destinations. No surprise in finding Germany, France, Sweden and Italy as the main destination for migrants and refugees.
The second dimension of the Commission’s Agenda is about managing migration better on the long run.
first, the EU wants to address the root causes of migrations, crack down on smugglers and traffickers, and provide clarity in return policies;
second, develop better border management capabilities and increasing the power of Frontex;
third, develop a common asylum policy at the EU level. The Commission wants to create a Common European Asylum System;
fourth, a new policy on legal migration in order to attract skilled workers to the EU. The Commission wants to solidify a Europe-wide scheme, called the Blue Card Directive;
National Oppositions to the Juncker’s Proposal
All the EU Member States are not welcoming these new directives. For instance, the United Kingdom has announced that it would not participate in any quota scheme to distribute refugees across EU. In the case of Britain and Ireland, both countries have an ‘opt out clause’ allowing them to decide to participate or not on a specific program of this nature. The Home Office of the UK already released a statement saying that “We [Britain] will not participate in any legislation imposing a mandatory system of resettlement or relocation.” For Denmark, the country has an opt-out right where they do not participate at all. “The exemptions granted to the three countries are making it difficult for the commission to impose binding quotas on the 25 remaining EU member states, EU sources told AFP.”
The position of several EU Member States challenges the concept of European solidarity. “The European Council clearly stated that we need to find European solutions,” said First Vice-President Frans Timmermans “based on internal solidarity and the realisation that we have a common responsibility to create an effective migration policy.” Dimitris Avramopoulos, Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Commissioner, underscored the same message when saying that “In a spirit of greater solidarity, we are determined to implement a comprehensive approach that will improve significantly the management of migration in Europe.”
France already announced over the weekend that it was against the provision (read here a piece by Politico on France’s position). In case the quotas were to be implemented, “France would be asked to accept 14.17 percent of all those who reach the EU, while Germany would receive 18.42 percent, Italy 11.84 percent, and Spain 9 percent.” Instead France would be in favor to increase the number of asylum seekers. “Asylum is a right, attributed according to international criteria …” said French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, “That is why the number of its beneficiaries cannot be subject to quotas, one is an asylum seeker or not.” The Commission’s plan was rejected by seven other EU Member States, Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, and Poland. These ought to be added to the three EU Member States with opt-out rights like Britain, Ireland and Denmark.
The difference between the quota system and the current asylum rules is quite simple. By implementing a quota system, the Commission seeks in helping frontline states, like Greece, Italy and Spain, and sharing the burden across the EU. While the current system of asylum, established under the Dublin II, stipulates that the asylum seekers ought to ask for asylum in the country of arrival. The Commission’s plan is in fact a strategy in order to avoid frontline countries to be overflow by migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers in case of an explosion of migrating flux as predicated for 2015 and the coming years.
This agenda produced by the Commission is unlikely to be adopted as such. The foreign ministers discussed the agenda on May 18th, and will be preparing for the final plan for the June 25 EU leaders meeting.
The Military Option – EUNAVFOR to Combat Migration
Ensuing the May 18th meeting between European foreign and defense ministers, the EU agreed on the launch of a CSDP naval mission in order to stop and disrupt smugglers in the Mediterranean. In the conclusions of the meeting, the Council argued that “This [global security environment] calls for a stronger Europe, with a stronger and more effective Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP).”
The EU naval force – EUNAVFOR Med – will be based in Rome and headed by Italian Rear Admiral Enrico Credendino. EUNAVFOR Med will cover the Southern Central Mediterranean road and work in partnership with Libyan authorities. It will receive an initial 12 month mandate and a budget of €11.82 million for the first phase. As per HR Mogherini, EUNAVFOR will follow a specific progression: first stage, planning and assessment of smuggling networks; second stage, searching, seizing and disruption of assets of smugglers within the framework of international law.
However, in order to launch the naval mission, several crucial aspects will need to be discussed and agreed on. First, the EU will need more talks, and then reach an agreement on a resolution, under Chapter VII, from the United Nations Security Council. So far, it is yet unclear if the UNSC will be granting a resolution to the EU for such type of operation off the coast of Libya as it could establish a precedent for other maritime migration routes throughout the world. Additionally, Russia has already expressed its opposition to the use of jets and helicopters for the mission. Second, the EU Member States will have to agree on whom will be providing the required military capabilities and forces. It was already a problem with the Frontex’s operation Triton, so it may be another difficult negotiations for this one.
Last but not least, some wonders about the usefulness of such military operation. For instance, “Military operations in the Mediterranean are only really likely to have any impact” said Elizabeth Collett, the director of the Migration Policy Institute Europe, to the New York Times, “as one very small piece in a far more comprehensive strategy to address smuggling.”
Another Lost Opportunity?
The migration crisis illustrates once again a central problem for the EU and its Member States, the Member States. How to solve a global crisis requiring greater cooperation and integration without deepening the EU? In other words, more Europe is necessary in order to address a crisis as a bloc, but some Member States are either calling for less Europe or are cheery-picking. The challenge of the Juncker Commission and other EU institutions is how to advance the interests of the Union when most Member States are not willing to deepen and increase cooperation at the EU level.
Picking the Juncker’s proposal would allow the EU and its Member States to harmonize their immigration policies at the EU level. Choosing the Member States’ route of military action will only be a quick and temporary fix. In any case, both proposals do not address the root causes of the problems of mass migrations from MENA and Central Africa. If the EU and its Member States want to be a ‘security provider,’ they will have to do more than a naval mission in the middle of the Mediterranean sea.
(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).
“Conceptualizing EU foreign policy has been a contested matter, reflecting the sui generis nature of the EU as an international actor, and does not lend itself to single interpretative approaches” (Balfour 2015, p.42).
What is the relationship between the European External Action Service (EEAS) and national diplomacies? “Are the ongoing changes pushing towards greater coherence and effectiveness of EU foreign policy or, on the contrary, towards re-nationalization?” (p. 9). These are the overarching research questions of this recently published edited volume, The European External Action Service and National Foreign Ministries. Convergence or Divergence?, under the supervision of Rosa Balfour, Caterina Carta and Kristi Raik.
Structured in two parts, EEAS and National Foreign Ministries, convincingly analyzes the making and shaping of foreign-policy making between the Member States (MS) and the European Union (EU).The first part lays out the current global context wherein the Europeans are operating, and seeks to look inside the EEAS, its establishment, its staffs, role and the evolution of the relationship with Ministries of Foreign Affairs (MFAs). In the second and much longer section composed of eight chapters, each one of them reflects on a or several Member States and on how their national diplomacies are being shaped by or are shaping the EEAS. The Member States selected for this edited volume are, by order, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain and Italy, Portugal and the Netherlands, Sweden and Poland, Greece and Slovenia, and the Czech Republic, Estonia and Finland.
The Evolution of EU Foreign Policy
From the creation of the EU to today, the making of a EU foreign policy has been progressing from an intergovernmental cooperation to becoming a complex ‘service,’ as the EEAS is neither an agency nor an institution, mixing intergovernmentalism and supranationalism (see p.42-4). The 2009 Treaty of Lisbon solidified formal intergovernmentalism in the decision-making, while including supranational dimensions into the CFSP (foreign policy) and the CSDP (defense) (p. 2).
“The relationship between EU foreign policy structures and national diplomacies of the member state” write Balfour, Cart and Raik “is one of the key determinants of the EU’s ability for coherent and effective global action and of Europe’s position in the changing world order” (p.1). Richard Whitman makes a very compelling argument in drawing a complex picture of international relations in the early twenty-first century. Not only, as he writes, there are “changes in the structure of international relations” but as well “changes to patterns and practices in the flow of information” (p.17). European diplomacy is facing ‘outside in’ challenges due to the fragmentation of international relations (economic problems, new world order, intensification of globalization) and ‘inside out’ challenges in order to merging national with European interests.
EU & National Interplay in Foreign-Policy Making
The book’s contribution lays in looking and analyzing the complex interplay in the foreign-policy making between the EEAS and the national actors. The body of the overall arguments is based on the following three interplays (see the figure below):
downloading, a top-down process from the EU to the Member States – such process can lead to greater transfer of power to Brussels at the expense of the MFAs and Member States;
uploading, a bottom-up process from the Member States to the EU – such process is much more embedded in the inter-state bargaining power logic. MS are pushing for their national interests and preferences at the EU level. The EEAS is perceived as an over-shadowing presence over the MFAs;
crossloading, a mutual constitution leading to convergence – such process leads to an elite socialization at the EU level, wherein national and european interests and preferences become intertwined and ultimately converge.
Aside from the analytical framework based on uploading, downloading or crossloading, Whitman makes an important observation when claiming that EU MS often retreat to their national positions when responding to crises. And cooperation at the EU level usually takes place in the aftermath of conflict (p.30). This has been repeated on so many occasions.
MFAs, the EEAS and the World
The three leading EU MS, the UK, France and Germany, have all reacted differently to the creation of the EEAS. Daniel Fiott argues that the UK remains ambivalent about the EEAS. London is clear on one aspect, “the EEAS must serve the interests of European Union (EU) member states: nothing more, nothing less” (p.75). Under Cameron, the UK has neither contributed to the growth of the EEAS nor the EU.
Fabien Terpan (read here a previous analysis on his article on the financing of CSDP operations) demonstrates that the position of France towards the EEAS is aligned with two core French foreign policy traditions: the Gaullist tradition (grandeur, independence, sovereignty) and the entrenchment of French interests with a deep European commitment. France has principally worked on uploading its national preferences. For the last of the Big three, Cornelius Adebahr argues that Germany is the strongest supporter of the EEAS and does not see it as overshadowing the German Foreign Office. The editors underline that France and the UK are “in a category of their own, […]. The EU, however, is not the only option for their foreign policy actions” (p.200) considering the weight and influence of their MFAs, their seats at the UN Security Council, NATO and other international institutions.
Considering the 11 other Member States selected, the authors underscore how these small, and middle-level powers see their role in the EU and how the EEAS is a way to increase their influence (Portugal and the Netherlands), while others (Poland and Sweden) seek to constantly upload their national foreign policies at the EU level. Considering the domestic context, Italy and Spain have welcomed the EEAS permitting them to maintain their foreign policy weight. Slovenia and Greece initially saw as well the EEAS as an opportunity to upload their priorities, which has gone in vein. In the case of Czech Republic, Estonia and Finland, they consider the EEAS an important instrument in order to reinforce their security from Russia.
The EEAS is a complex agency with different layers and formed on broad composition of staff with former DG RELEX staff, Secretary of Council’ staff and national staff (see chapter 3). It is headed by the HR/VP, Federica Mogherini, whom oversees the overall CFSP and EU foreign policy making process. It is the center of coordination in EU foreign policy making with a horizontal dimension (several EU institutions like the Commission, Parliament, European Council) and a vertical one (28 MFAs) (p. 46-7). Ultimately, “The EEAS epitomizes this hybridity,” writes Balfour “making foreign policy exposed to the strengths and weaknesses of ambiguity” (p.44).
The EEAS and National Foreign Ministries is an important contribution to an under-studied topic. The methodology applied in order to look at the positions of the Member States (semi-structured elite interviews and process-tracing) permits to develop a compelling argument and confirms the expectations of European experts. The editors make a strong case in justifying their qualitative methodology by arguing that the explanatory power of normative and ideational variables is central in order to explain “change, adaptation and reform” (p.196).
This multi-layered foreign-policy making machine – EEAS+COM+EP+EC+EU-28 –
incorporating a juxtaposition of intergovernmentalism and supranationalism into one unit illustrates the degree of complexity in order to foster a common European position on very contentious foreign policy issues like the recognition of Kosovo’ sovereignty, the Iranian nuclear negotiations, relationship with emerging powers like China, India and Brazil, and toughening the voice against Russia. In addition, this book is deeply relevant considering the global and domestic forces affecting the EU and the Member States. The EEAS was institutionally designed at a time of rapid changes and needs to find its voice and role.
The EEAS and National Foreign Ministries is a complete work and very accessible despite the complexity of foreign-policy making in the EU. This edited volume finally stands as a landmark for two reasons: first, each chapter responds to the overall research question, where so many edited volumes have failed to do so; second, it offers a roadmap for understanding European foreign-policy making. This volume lays out the machinery of the EEAS and MFAs, the next volume should look at the way the EEAS and the MFAs work on solving crises like the Arab Spring, war in Syria, Iranian nuclear negotiations, Israeli-Palestinian tensions, relations with each member of the BRICS among many others.
Politipond highly recommends this edited volume and would like to thank Ashgate for providing a complementary copy for review. The book can be bought on Ashgate’s website, here.
(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).