The EU has tied its own hands. It cannot intervene in Catalonia

Natalie Nougayrède writes: The Catalan crisis presents the EU with an unprecedented conundrum. Spain joined the European project in 1986, and its democratic transition has for decades been hailed as a model. Tensions have not run this high in the country since the 1981 failed military coup, when colonel Antonio Tejero seized the parliament in Madrid at gunpoint. The then king, young Juan Carlos, prevented the nation from entering another dark age by delivering a speech on TV uncompromisingly defending the constitution and identifying the monarchy with the country’s emerging democratic majority.

As Catalonia’s nationalist leadership hurtles towards what may be, in the coming days, a unilateral declaration of independence, the current king, Felipe, also took to the television screens. Can he rally consensus within Spain to prevent a full-on confrontation?

The best option, one would think, would be for the EU to step in. But calls for it to mediate between Madrid and Barcelona have been left unanswered. Not only that, the EU stands accused of complacency in the face of what some Catalan activists describe as state “repression” that carries echoes of the Franco era. Is any of this fair? [Continue reading…]

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2 thoughts on “The EU has tied its own hands. It cannot intervene in Catalonia

  1. Internationalist

    Well-intended though it is, the article devotes itself to the exploration of an issue of secondary importance: the possibility of having the EU intercede to achieve a political solution.

    In an ideal world, Europe would be thinking of brokering a *social* settlement, to create the conditions for a political one.

    (In fact, the article fails to distinguish between what would be two separate questions: that of taking Rajoy’s government to task for its authoritarian reaction, and that of brokering a political settlement. One may see this confusion as being congruent with the piece’s headline)

    The current political tension in Catalonia is the result of a deep societal malaise. This malaise in turn is the result of the social engineering practiced by the nationalists (under the negligent, almost oblivious gaze of the Spanish government) for the last four decades, which I outlined in a previous comment.

    A political settlement is difficult to achieve in a matter that is of fundamental importance and that involves a binary choice.

    (It is indeed a matter of binary choice because the increasing decentralisation of Spain has been consistently viewed by Catalan nationalists as a something that is to pave the way for independence, not as fulfilment of their demands).

    The only thing that is to be done is to allow the population to make the binary choice in a fair manner. This is not possible as long as one side controls the local media. This is not possible as long as the education system is an indoctrination tool. This is not possible as long as the bloated local administration is a source of sinecures for the ideologically compliant.

    The situation in Catalonia shows that social engineering is a real, concrete set of practices, that it can fundamentally alter the nature of public life even if it fails to completely transform a society, and that it can take place in an ostensibly democratic western society.

    Incidentally, the article says: “what some Catalan activists describe as state ‘repression’ that carries echoes of the Franco era.” That’s a key tenet of nationalist propaganda: the notion that there is a kind of “eternal Spain” that is fundamentally incompatible both with Catalonia and with democracy and that has never truly undergone regime change, merely “regime metamorphosis” at best. The fact that this kind of essentialism does not raise eyebrows among a number of leftist commentators helps explain the success of the nationalist strategy of putting all ideologies on the menu but with a side order of nationalism, which I referred to in the previous comment.

    Luckily, the author’s BS detector is at work when she points out that ” It also takes a good deal of twisting of historical facts to equate the Spanish police’s heavy-handed tactics in Barcelona with the repression, systematic arrests and curtailing of individual freedoms under Franco.”

  2. Internationalist

    In the above comment I write that the tilting of the playing field in Catalonia in favour of the nationalists has been implemented “under the negligent, almost oblivious gaze of the Spanish government”.

    To be more specific, both the conservative and socialist parties in Madrid have traditionally given the local Catalan government or “Generalitat” a free hand with respect to educational policy, “linguistic” policy (i.e. the creeping exclusion of Spanish/Castilian from public life, in spite of its ostensible co-official status with Catalan and the fact that it is the first language of most Catalans), “cultural” policy (the de-facto takeover of local media via subsidies) and the hypertrophia of the Generalitat’s bureaucracy (this comes naturally to both the socialists and the conservatives, given that other Spanish “autonomies” such as Andalusia or Galicia are their own fiefdoms where their own, lesser forms of patronage are practiced). All in exchange for the support of the main (centre-right) nationalist parties to form coalition governments in Madrid.

    This was widely seen by the successive central governments as a convenient arrangement for all involved. Rajoy’s authoritarian crackdown is the unsurprising result of decades of indolence.

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