Sunday, 19 January 2014

The European Union, Catalonia and Internal Enlargement

Now is the time for the EU to be proactive and develop a policy for dealing with Catalonia's call for self-determination and possible independence. Its current path could well lead to chaos for Europe's grand experiment.

This is the epilogue to the article titled How the Voters of Catalonia May Change Europe, published on January 16 in the Atlantic Council's New Atlanticist blog.

It is obvious that the Spanish government's stonewalling before the Catalan citizens' demands for a broader view of a democratic so-called Right to Decide, an analogy for self-determination, leaves no leeway for any negotiated solutions and puts the European Union in the predicament of not being able to propose any, as the Commission does not wish to antagonise a member state.

But can the European Union allow itself to be sucked in by Spain's government policy of disdain towards a part of its citizens and its use of legal sophistry to reject its citizens' demands to decide where their future should lie? The EU cannot stand on the sidelines before a new regional paradigm that has become manifest with current European territorial issues such as those of Scotland, Flanders, and of course Catalonia. These will not simply go away and in any case, cannot be justifiably quashed if the EU's principles of respect for minorities and for democracy in general are to be abided by. The EU must take the initiative to find possible solutions, and one of these is Internal Enlargement.

The concept was set forth several years ago by European think tank Centre Maurits Coppieters based in Brussels. Internal Enlargement (PDF) would be an excellent solution for many internal disputes and would strengthen the European Union, not in the sense some fear, of its becoming a federal super-state, but in that of the principles which any and all member states and their citizens should be able to agree on: the EU's Fundamental Values.

The European Union is not simply a loose economic club, an association of states or an international organization. It is a uniquely flexible political construct that has constantly adapted to circumstance and should thus be able to find a way to accommodate the demands of a part of its citizens. Its Member States have relinquished part of their sovereignty to EU institutions, with many decisions made at the European level, facilitating over 60 years of peace, stability, and prosperity. This should continue.

Internal disputes are obviously a threat to this, but as history has shown, threats do not necessarily and should not lead to clashes if solutions are found. But these will not appear of their own accord, and the disputes will not simply go away, as the Spanish government seems to believe. In the case of Catalonia, the issues involved have smouldered for centuries, briefly surfacing again and again, put down by successive authoritarian or dictatorial governments. And in the democratic period, the successor to the last dictatorship of 1939-1976, these issues have obviously not been dealt with successfully.

The citizens of Catalonia —and not the regional government, which had avoided cracking the kernel of the issue until the massive pro-independence demonstration in Barcelona of upwards of 1.5 million citizens on September 11, 2012— have clearly expressed their wish to decide for themselves on how to go about solving the issues, and demand a referendum on the most prickly one, e.g. whether Catalonia should continue forming part of the Kingdom of Spain.

So, with never-ending evolution, working to adapt to each new circumstance and thus consolidating its fundamentals, the EU must find the way to nudge the nation states to accept the primordial element of democracy, the Right to Decide, without browbeating or menacing citizens, and offering peaceful outcomes.