On October 19th, Agence Europe published “The Catalan Tragicomedy and the Regionalist Nationalism“. This article suggests that the European Union should take action in national affaires such as the Catalan case.
The Catalan tragicomedy and the regionalist nationalism
By Michel Theys, Agence Europe 19 Octobre 2017
The constitutional convulsions tearing apart Catalonia and Spain are most distressing. They are another sign of the fractious malaise eating away at the democratic systems in place. They are testimony to the rising tide in knee-jerk nationalist responses and posturing, irrespective of whether they are produced at state or regional level. These convulsions and contractions are occurring within a European Union that for a significant period of time has no longer embodied the hopes for a better economic and social future or even a minimum of protection for its most vulnerable citizens. Suddenly, the evil geniuses and illegitimate heirs of 20th Century Romanticism are again singing the praises of cultural and economic self-segregation and are therefore, once again, creating a dangerous impasse for the European people and continent.
A European problem, but… The tired old song that the Union and its institutions should not interfere in the “domestic affairs” of a member state is wearing thin and we need to change the record. On the contrary, what we ensure need is for European citizens to be aware – and for them to steadfastly remind their political leaders – that there are no affairs that are exclusive to one member state in today’s European Union – or within the Eurozone.
Was it misplaced for European citizens to be passionately interested in the most recent French presidential election and that a majority of them were in favor of Emmanuel Macron? The European tragedy would have consisted of Marine Le Pen being elected and clearly illustrates that European citizens were quite right “to interfere” and ignore the national borders of France. Similarly, when European citizens are concerned by developments in democratic life in Hungary or Poland, they are not interfering in “domestic affairs” but are ensuring that the voice of an emerging European people is heard at a time when there are no certainties that they themselves will not be affected by these mounting dangers.
The truth is that democracy can no longer belong to the member states alone because it is a fact that the decisions taken there can affect citizens in other member states, particularly in the Eurozone. In certain limited domains, the only appropriate democracy should therefore be the one expressing itself at a European level!
The fact that Commission Spokesperson, Margaritis Schinas, can say, “the Commission does not get involved in the internal constitutional affairs of member states” is therefore a diplomatic language that should no longer have a place within the European Union. Fortunately, Vice President Frans Timmermans, was much more precise in explaining why the Union did not have a role in attempting to reconcile Madrid and Barcelona: “in a member state where the rule of law is completely respected, where there have been no breaches of human rights or the rights of citizens, where the judiciary is independent, where there is a separation of powers, where there is no oppression of minorities, there is no reason why a region should hold a debate outside a state where the rule of law exists” (La Libre Belgique, 14/15 October).
It is quite clear that Spain in 2017 is not the Yugoslavia of the 1990s and that Catalonia is neither the Croatia nor the Kosovo of that era. It is therefore up to those “responsible” in Spain and Catalonia to locate the path of dialogue and compromise, which appears to be as difficult for Madrid to do as it is for Barcelona. Even though he did not say it, it would be useful for Mr Timmermans to remember, to this end, that he has been the Dutch Minister for Foreign Affairs and that very discrete diplomatic incentives could prove appropriate for this purpose. They are also, without any doubt, already taking place.
Regional nationalism. By recalling the Swiss eulogist of regionalism and writer, Denis de Rougemont, we can observe what is taking shape in Catalonia. In a text written in 1969, this former president of the European Centre of Culture described the main lines of the nation state of his epoch as: a state that, “must be single and indivisible”, in which “sovereignly governs all public affairs of the Nation, namely, all that relating to those living within a territory delineated by the hazards of war and measures undertaken by surveyors on land”. On “radically heterogeneous realities” the Catalan independence movement is an echo today of the state that “thus builds and makes sacrosanct national unity”. “Having ‘created its unity’ (as is done during puberty), a people becomes an ‘immortal nation’ and state, which acts in its own name and provides for the life and death of its members who are either ‘citizens’ or ‘subjects’ according to what regime applies but who are always taxpayers”.
In certain ways, the very rigid Mariano Rajoy appears to be imbued by antiquated and outmoded principles in what has become, whether he likes it or not, the democratic and pluralistic Spain of today.
The Swiss writer is, however, no more tender with his treatment of the partisans of independence gathered around Carles Puigdemont – or for any of those in Flanders or Corsica, who share their ideas: “The Region, as a reduced entity of the nation state, governed by a single power and exercising its power in key areas: politics, the economy, the social and cultural arenas, would undoubtedly have more chance of promoting the administrative inquisition rather than increasing civic liberties”. It is not the parliamentarians of the opposition, deliberately ignored during the adoption of the texts promising the Catalan Republic, who will find fault with this point almost fifty years later.
Denis de Rougemont was clearly calling on the regionalists not to imagine the region, “as a mini-member state that would have all the difficulties of large states, in addition to those pertaining to those of small stature”. It is quite clear that not many regionalists have heard his appeal since there has been a flourishing everywhere of what he chose to describe as regionalist nationalism. Mitterrand, moreover, was right on this point, at least: nationalism is war. The more national entities propagate, the more there is the risk of war, irrespective of whether or not they are of Lilliputian proportions in the future.
What should therefore be done? Let’s hope that a stratagem of providential reason will lead the Catalans, Madrid and all the different autonomous regions in Spain to work towards elaborating a new Constitution that transforms the country into a genuine federation living permanently in peace. Let us also hope that this new Spain can then inspire the European Union and lead it towards engaging along the same path.