Joining the dots on independence movements in Europe cached version 17/01/2018 11:54:26 en Rome and its fear of dissent <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>South Tyrolean separatists were recently denied the chance to express their discontent in the capital.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//[1].jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//[1].jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Sign in South Tyrol. Wikimedia. Public domain.</span></span></span></p><p><span>On 18 August, Rome city council forbid </span><em>Südtiroler Heimatbund</em><span> (SHB) from plastering walls with a thousand placards. The intended message: “South Tyrol is not Italy!”, </span><a href="">spelt out in capitals on a red-white-red background</a><span> (the Austrian flag).</span></p> <p>What’s behind the dissent? South Tyrol joined Italy as part of WWI reparations. Today, only Greater Milan can boast higher <a href="">median wages</a> than South Tyrol, by a small margin. Nonetheless, the alpine region does have small pockets of urban marginalisation: ageing, working-class Italians, let down in their youth by a split school system that has always kept people apart. Even now. </p> <p>The German-language education authority takes a firm line: children shouldn’t speak any Italian in the playgrounds. Schools are meant to forge an ethnic identity. The few Italian-language schools carry on in a parallel world, run by a separate education authority instructed by Rome, ethnic identity tools themselves. Merging the two systems to create a fairer bilingual education for all (<a href="">like in Luxembourg</a>) and save taxpayers’ money is an anathema. </p> <p>Fighting this has always cost a fair bit. Those who can’t afford educational extras, silently fall behind. It affects more Italian speakers, a dwindling community, with the job market shaped around German. South Tyroleans rejecting ethnic barriers do exist: authorities ignore them, preferring to dish out cast-iron identities for political control purposes. Sorting out people like mail at the clearing depot creates jobs for some and positions of power for others.</p> <h2><strong>The wider context</strong></h2> <p>Border regions were never ethnically compact. Europe offers countless examples of this: Slovenes and Croats in Austria, Danes in Germany, Germans in Denmark, Hungarians in Romania and Serbia, and so on. The list is never-ending. </p> <p>But drawing the right lines in the sand, or soil, was never all that important to ordinary folk: diverse communities <em>can</em> live side by side. Bosnians happily did so, until <a href="">external forces blew everything apart</a>. (Simplifying, one could say the same about the Jews.)</p> <p>Catalans still do, despite nationalism, a fantasy bubble that never burst, but is slowly deflating: the crucial ethnic card can’t be played, groups mixed too much for that to be possible. However, the Catalan language was never forgotten: the sign of a healthy society, open to outsiders. Yet, linguistic survival isn’t enough to go it alone and set up shop elsewhere. You need economic reasons for that and proof that the rest of the country is exploiting you. And <a href="">Spain isn’t</a>.</p> <p>Faraway Catalan separatists are among those providing ideological inspiration to SHB and its political arm, the <a href="">South Tyrolean Freedom party</a> (STF), although the parallels from Spain end there: STF is not like the <a href="">now-dead Batasuna</a> and SHB – despite its distant roots – is nowhere near comparable to disbanded ETA. </p> <p>STF and SHB campaign entirely within the law. The latter formally asked Rome in writing for permission to put up placards. </p> <h2><strong>Stiff bureaucrats</strong></h2> <p>Italian democracy allows all forms of speech that don’t incite hatred or indulge in the apology of terrorism or Nazi-fascism. Anything else pretty much goes, but Rome city council didn’t follow this line: calling for South Tyrol to separate from Italy was deemed outrageous.</p> <p>A hundred years on, Austria is today a different place, and so is South Tyrol. The question as to what would happen to the Italian language in the region doesn’t bother SHB. To hell with Dante. In SHB’s view, Italian has neither enriched South Tyrol nor made it special. </p> <p>Consider this, though: Sorbian and Danish (Germany), Slovenian and Croatian (Austria), French and Italian (in some bilingual Swiss Cantons) are autochthonous languages straddling the porous boundaries of the German-language world, which was made more open and compact by the fall of the Berlin wall, Schengen, the euro and sundry bilateral agreements.</p> <p>South Tyrol is firmly part of that very world (<em><a href="">deutscher Sprachraum</a></em>) and sits among those fluid places, where languages cohabit. Thousands of Italian native speakers have lived for centuries in the region’s southern tip, before joining Italy. An ever improving self-governing statute, the envy of ordinary status regions, is the official rubber stamp on <a href="">South Tyrol’s special nature</a>.</p> <h2><strong>Lepenism </strong></h2> <p>The world still looks at Italy’s secessionist problem through the Northern League (NL) and believes that the <a href="">Veneto is pushing to leave</a>. It never really was, and it certainly isn’t now. NL leader <a href="">Matteo Salvini aspires to be prime minister</a>. His focus now encompasses the south. This is the new ‘Northern-and-Southern League’: united against those pouring in from across the Med.</p> <p>Enthusiastic secessionists are to be found instead in overlooked South Tyrol. The ruling, conservative South Tyrol People’s (SVP) party treats separatists condescendingly: the deal they cut with Italy is generous. SVP are just not too vocal about this for fear of losing votes on the right. Much further to the right, dissent is however rising fast and <em>lepéniste</em> feelings take sharp separatist tones. </p> <p>Rome city council’s letter to SHB, as published in <em>Die Neue Südtiroler Tageszeitung</em>, states that “the content of the placard ‘South Tyrol is not Italy!’ makes a false claim, one that is in contrast with article 116 of the Italian Constitution.” </p> <p>The warning lacks political understanding. The story appeared in national newspapers. Free advertising. Better than one thousand posters in a city of three million, a drop in the ocean. Emboldened by the unexpected spin, SHB has now resorted to an unnamed lawyer to take <a href="">legal action against the municipal verdict</a>. Wrapped up in its own problems, Rome unwittingly offered the victimisation card on a silver platter; and may well have to cough up for the mistake.</p> <p>South Tyroleans are <em>so</em> used to hearing ‘South Tyrol is not Italy!’ that you do wonder if they still take any notice. With a per capita income on the par with Austrian Tyrol – the &nbsp;second-highest in Italy – and freedom of speech that uptight Rome council doesn’t appreciate, <a href="">life in the region can’t be bad</a>. </p><p>Heaven-like it may not be, but painting South Tyrol as a post-colonial dive does sound far-fetched. So, let any dissent howl – most people will decide whether the lament is genuine or not.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/marco-brunazzo/south-tyrol-from-secessionist-to-european-dreams">South Tyrol: from secessionist to European dreams</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/eva-klotz/fighting-for-selfdetermination-in-south-tyrol">Fighting for self-determination in South Tyrol</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/tommaso-segantini/five-star-movement-and-left">The 5 star movement and the left</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Italy </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? Italy Alessio Colonnelli Joining the dots on independence movements in Europe Fri, 02 Sep 2016 19:27:20 +0000 Alessio Colonnelli 105095 at French regional elections: what hope for regional movements? <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>France's new regional reforms seem designed to hurt regionalist parties in one of the EU's most centralised countries. Do Alsatian and Breton parties stand a chance on December 6?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="318" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Mulhouse, Alsace. Wikimedia. Public domain.</span></span></span></p><h2>Alsace</h2><p>The <a href="">reform of the French regions</a> by Manuel Valls has just wiped the region of Alsace off the map. A little as though they were to recreate the former “CAPAC” region (Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur-Corsica), summarily dissolving the Corsican Assembly. The Corsican revolt of the 1970s blew Paris’ technocratic structure to pieces. With Unser Land, the Alsatian party which is resolutely climbing the polls, Alsace could do likewise and oblige the state to restore its territorial identity.</p> <p>By obliging them to stand for the regional elections in the new ACAL region (Alsace-Champagne-Ardennes-Lorraine), the authorities hoped that the voices of Alsace, overwhelmed in this formless mass, would go unheard. Unser Land is in in the process of proving the opposite, and one of the challenges of the elections in December may be the score of the Alsatian organisation, a member of <a href="">R&amp;PS</a> and the <a href="">EFA</a>.</p> <p>The Alsatian independence movement has had half a century of difficulties. However, the story of Alsatian separatism has a rich legacy from its glorious past, when, between the two wars where Alsace was under German control (between 1870 and 1914), Bismarck established full and complete autonomy for the territory, created the first European social security system from which Alsace and German Lorraine still benefit, along with other valuable local measures that the Alsatians have retained.</p> <p>However, after the Second World War the powerfully Germanic sentiments of Alsatian society were tucked away in the deepest corners of conscience. Politically, the slightest inclination towards independence was accused at best of pan-Germanism, and more often than not of neo-Nazism. Separatist movements were all but snuffed out, but the flame was still kept alive, and the solidarity of RPS played a major part in that. We took stock of the situation in 2006, when our Summer University was held in Mulhouse, and it is once again at the head of the unanimous protests by Alsatians against the Valls reform.</p> <p>In the departmental elections, despite an organisation that was in its infancy, in the half of the districts where they managed to stand, hampered by a shortage of volunteers to cover the whole territory, they polled 15% of the votes. Their list at the regional elections followed the same pattern: the number of activists had quadrupled in a year, new volunteers were flocking in, the meetings are packed, the Alsatian flag, banned half a century ago, was flying everywhere at demonstrations and out in the countryside, and there was even a group of young women activists who, after the fashion of Femen, took a distinctly provocative approach to the wearing of the traditional headdress.</p> <p>Alsace is standing up, and will make itself heard!</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//épublique_DSC_4521.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//épublique_DSC_4521.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Rennes, Brittany. Wikimeda/Pline. Creative Commons.</span></span></span></p><h2>Brittany</h2> <p>For the <a href="">UDB</a> it has been a painful debate and a difficult decision. After a traditional partnership with the <a href="">PS</a>, then taken up by the Greens until the breakdown at the last European elections where the UDB list vote slumped to a low water mark (2%), the party split on how to proceed. </p><p>A minority wanted to re-establish the alliance with a Socialist party whose Breton structures stood as an island of resistance to the Jacobin current which currently dominates the left in France, while a majority led by the youngest took the decision to join up with the “Bretonising” trend embodied by Christian Troadec, the mayor of Carhaix in inland Finistère, a town which has for two decades been a symbol of the Brittany that resists and the Brittany that builds.</p> <p>At Carhaix, under his leadership, the first <a href="">Diwan</a> high school was set up, the local hospital that the ARS wanted to close was saved, jobs in agriculture and food were saved by going in search of investors and of markets in China, and what was to become the biggest music festival in France, the Vieilles Charrues, was set up as a counterweight to all those held in the coastal resorts.<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p>This alliance is a first for the Union Démocratique Bretonne which has been anchored to the left by the ADN, since, even though Christian Troadec is considered as centre-left, his Bonnets Rouges movement is in fact a transversal and cross-party affair, a sort of melting pot of Breton resistance. But that is where Brittany’s voice lies, so that was the place of the UDB.</p> <p>In the polls the Troadec list stands at 9%. It needs 10% to pass onto the second round and force an entry into the Breton Parliament. It’s possible, and it’s certainly desirable!</p><p><em><span>If you enjoyed this article then please consider liking </span><em><strong>Can Europe Make it?</strong></em><span> on </span><a href="">Facebook</a><span> and following us on Twitter </span><a href="">@oD_Europe</a></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/hugo-tran/french-territorial-reform-huge-blow-for-democracy-and-regional-identiti">French territorial reform: a huge blow for democracy and regional identities</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/lucas-goetz/alsace-fights-back-french-david-vs-goliath-story">Alsace fights back: a French David vs. Goliath story</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> France </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? France François Alfonsi Joining the dots on independence movements in Europe Thu, 03 Dec 2015 13:00:44 +0000 François Alfonsi 98144 at Catalonia: a new country in the making? <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A few years ago, independence supporters like me were a minority in parliament. Now I feel we are just a small step away from an independent Catalan state.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//[1].jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//[1].jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Independence supporters. Flickr/Joan Campderrós-i-Canas. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span><span>How did we reach the point of being just a step away from an independent Catalan state when only a few years ago independentists were a parliamentary minority?</span></p><p>Firstly, because Catalonia’s strong sense of nationhood is shared by the majority of the population and rooted in a history of having its own language and cultural traditions. This is inextricably linked to the collective willingness of its people to build a common future.</p><p>This sense of nationhood has overcome many hurdles throughout the last three centuries and is very much alive today. Without it any independence movement would be too inorganic.</p><p>Secondly, the Spanish state has never accepted its national diversity or acted as a multi-national state. Perhaps, if the distinctive nations in Spain such as Basque Country or Catalonia could have found fair accommodation within the institutional structure of a democratic Spain then things would be different.</p><p>For instance if their languages, cultures and institutions had been better respected and even promoted; if a bilateral relationship between these countries and the central state had emerged, there may not have been the strong drive towards independence we see today as there would have been no build up of bitterness and grievance over many years.</p><p>Moreover, in recent times there has been a clear attempt to recentralise political power in Madrid. The Spanish Government is systematically eroding the powers of Catalonia by passing laws that clearly clash with devolved powers, or by constantly challenging laws passed by the Catalan Parliament.</p><p>The central government also uses its financial powers to cut the Catalan Government’s room for manoeuvre, and together with certain parties has been playing games with highly sensitive issues such as the language system in Catalan schools, a system that works very well but is constantly attacked by Spanish political actors and from the judiciary.&nbsp;</p><p>Spain’s standards of democracy are quite low compared to other EU countries. One example of this would be the incident regarding the new ‘Statute of Autonomy’ or Catalan basic law. The drafting of a new Statute in 2006 was an invitation to Spain to move towards the path of federal reform. The proposal was everything but a breakaway, but the process ended with what was perceived in Catalonia as a huge humiliation. Despite being passed by the Spanish and Catalan Parliaments and ratified by referendum in Catalonia, the text was severely altered by ten judges in the Constitutional Court – all directly nominated by the main Spanish political parties – four years after it had entered into force.</p><p>Another example of low-quality democracy, and of a political culture that doesn’t accept nor respect political diversity, is the way Spanish institutions chose to deal with Catalonia’s request to organise a legal referendum on its political future – a referendum supported by more than 80 per cent of Catalans and by a clear parliamentary majority in Barcelona.</p><p>Despite all attempts by the Catalan Government and Parliament, Madrid has refused Catalans the opportunity to decide their political future. It is not so much about lack of legal scope in the framework of the Spanish Constitution; rather, there is no political will to recognise Catalonia as a distinct political entity. Spanish nationalism, shared by all relevant political parties, old and new, continues to see Spain as one nation, and a unity that cannot be questioned by even the most democratic procedures.</p><p>Those who think that the current push for ndependence will disappear once the economic crisis in Spain is gone are bitterly mistaken. A large proportion of Catalan society has lost confidence in Spanish institutions forever, mainly because agreements between Catalonia and the Spanish State have ended in nothing or have too often been broken by central government.</p><p>Some observers may think that the prospect of huge political change in Madrid after the upcoming Spanish elections will alter attitudes in terms of the institutional structure of the state and recognition of Catalonia as a national political entity within Spain.</p><p>Well, we feel this is very unlikely because no mainstream Spanish political party – not even the new left, Podemos – is proposing such a deal. Such a proposal, which in many aspects would seem reasonable, would be punished by the Spanish voters. After all that has happened, the Catalan people would never accept any deal with Spain that fails to recognise Catalonia as a nation with the full legal and political capacity to decide its own future.</p><p>To better understand the Catalan Independence movement one should keep in mind that for the Catalans, independence is a project of hope and change. Hope for a fairer, more advanced and more prosperous country, where democracy works better and corruption is eradicated. Change for a country that, given the opportunity to manage its own resources, can become one of the most dynamic in Europe.</p><p>The key to the success of the independence movement is the link between Independence and socio-economic improvement. Independence is not the end of the road but rather the starting point, the best opportunity we will ever have to improve our country.</p><p>The Catalan Independence movement has nothing to do with old-fashioned, introverted, exclusive nationalism. It is not about defending a monolithic identity within the walls of a new border because Catalonia is an extremely diverse country with many cultures, languages and origins, and we are proud of this diversity. </p><p>We want independence because without the tools of our own state, we will never be able to use and develop our potential to the fullest. We have not reached this conclusion lightly but only after decades of trying in vain to change the nature of the Spanish state, in order to better accommodate our country within it.&nbsp;</p><p>The independence movement is a grassroots one; a ‘bottom-up’ project. It originated in the streets and changed the minds of many political actors, not least the very same Catalan Government.</p><p>Civil society played a pivotal role mobilising people around the idea of independence which highlights the real strength of the movement. It is a popular and, ideologically speaking, a very cross-cutting one. Contrary to other independence movements, the goal of independence is now clearly shared and defended by political positions, from left to centre-right, which clearly makes it more complex but simultaneously stronger. The combined efforts of both civic society and the political establishment are amongst its key successes.</p><p>Our movement is largely pro-European. We are and will continue to be European citizens. We want to become the next EU member state, a state born in the ballot boxes, through the free expression of the democratic will of its citizens. EU institutions will not close the door to such a state; that would be like turning their backs to democracy, one of the core values of the European project.</p><p>All we have tried to achieve over the past two years is a democratic mandate from the Catalan people to discover if there is a majority in favour of becoming a state or not. Unfortunately, this has proved impossible as a legal and binding referendum has been consistently refused by the Spanish authorities.</p><p>Last November’s vote – a wide participatory process without any legal basis – was declared unconstitutional, and charges against the Catalan President and two Ministers have been pressed. 2.3 million people voted in the referendum despite all the intimidation and threats made by the Spanish Government. But instead of taking note and try to deal with it, Spain opted to go to the courts.</p><p>The only legal mechanism we are left with is to turn the Catalan parliamentary elections on September 27 into the referendum we could not have. In other words, to transform a normal election into a plebiscitary one.</p><p>A joint pro-independence list will compete in the elections with a clear commitment to independence in its programme. Voting for that list or for any other pro-independence parties would be the equivalent of casting a Yes vote in a normal, Scottish-style referendum.</p><p>Then, if pro-independence MPs make up the majority in the new parliament, we will go ahead and exercise our right to self-determination by proclaiming independence within 18 months. If no such majority occurs, then a good opportunity will have been missed.</p><p>Nevertheless, as was said in the aftermath of the Scottish referendum, our dream of an independent Catalonia shall never die. We will never give up. We will continue trying to build a democratic majority that sees independence as the best solution. We are independentists, but first and above all, we are democrats.</p><p>Nevertheless, we will do our utmost to make use of the best opportunity we have ever had to build our free and modern state.</p><p><em>If you enjoyed this article then please consider liking <em><strong>Can Europe Make it?</strong></em> on <a href="">Facebook</a> and following us on Twitter <a href="">@oD_Europe</a></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/patrice-de-beer/catalonia-vs-spain-clash-of-two-nationalisms">Catalonia vs Spain, a clash of two nationalisms</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/alessio-colonelli/slow-translation-and-revival-of-catalan-language">Slow translation and the revival of the Catalan language</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Spain </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? Spain Jordi Sole i Ferrando Spotlight on Spain and Catalonian independence Joining the dots on independence movements in Europe Wed, 19 Aug 2015 16:07:54 +0000 Jordi Sole i Ferrando 95364 at Nagorno-Karabakh: European dreams <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The Nagorno-Karabakh Republic has managed to pursue a dynamic European and global foreign policy. Not bad for a country that doesn't officially exist.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//[1].jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//[1].jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="230" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The situation in Nagorno-Karabakh. Wikimedia. Public domain.</span></span></span><span>Even before the polls closed, reactions from the international community came in. A spokesperson of the European foreign policy Chief Federica Mogherini stated that ‘the European Union does not recognise the constitutional and legal framework of the elections'. The United States State Department indicated that ‘it will not accept the results of the elections’. Romania’s foreign ministry labelled the elections ‘illegal’. For Spain they were illegitimate. Ukraine stated that the results of the elections cannot have ‘any legal consequences’.</span></p> <p>These comments were not made after the recent elections in Turkmenistan, where the current president was elected with 97.14% of the votes. Nor were they made after the presidential elections in Kazakhstan, which saw its current president re-elected with 97.75% of the votes in April.&nbsp; These statements concerned an election which was described by about 100 international observers as ‘in line with international standards’, ‘orderly, free, secret and equal’ with a turnout ‘many European countries would dream of’. The only problem was that these parliamentary elections took place in an internationally unrecognised state: the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. </p> <p>As the Soviet Union was collapsing, the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh, which formed the largest ethnic group in the former <em>oblast, </em>voted massively in favour of independence.&nbsp; Newly independent Azerbaijan considered Nagorno-Karabakh an integral part of its territory and a bloody war followed.&nbsp; The Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, supported by neighbouring Armenia, was able to repel attacks from the Azeri army and a ceasefire was signed in 1994, which lasts to this day. </p> <p>Over 20 years later Azerbaijan still claims Nagorno-Karabakh and its 140 000 inhabitants as part of its territory. In reality the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic is a <em>de facto </em>independent state and operates as such.&nbsp; Nevertheless, for the United Nations Security Council, Nagorno-Karabakh belongs to Azerbaijan and the Council of Europe considers the Nagorno-Karabakh to be a territory under separatist control. There are no peacekeeping forces present in the area though it is believed Russia does play a refereeing role. Violent clashes still regularly occur along the line of contact.</p> <p>Despite being unsuccessful in achieving any formal international recognition, the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic has actively sought to strengthen its ties with Europe, which is home to a large Armenian community. In doing so it has bypassed traditional diplomatic channels and used other means to attract wider support for its cause. How does the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic seek to strengthen its engagement with Europe and why does this issue matter to the Armenian community living in Europe? </p> <p>‘If the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic wants to address any international organization, formally it should be done so via Azerbaijan,’ explains Märta-Lisa Magnusson , Senior Lecturer of Caucasus studies at Malmö University.&nbsp; 'Azerbaijan is a member of the OSCE, Nagorno-Karabakh is not. Azerbaijan is a member of the Council of Europe, Nagorno-Karabakh is not. If these international bodies were to recognize the elections in Nagorno-Karabakh, it would be perceived as an offence by Azerbaijan.' </p> <p>'Nagorno-Karabakh strives for international recognition, which is important symbolically but also politically. When Nagorno-Karabakh seeks contact with Europe it can be interpreted as a way of manifesting an independent foreign policy towards Europe,’ she says. </p> <p>David Melkumyan has recently been elected to the National Assembly of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. ‘The top priority is achieving international recognition’ he says. ‘We have not been recognized by any country, so we have a lot of work ahead of us. Europe is a natural choice for us because we identify ourselves as Europeans and share the European values.' </p> <p>Eduardo Lorenzo Ochoa is the director of European Friends of Armenia. He believes that despite not being able to secure recognition from the European Union and its members states, Nagorno-Karabakh is successful in its foreign policy.</p> <p>‘There is an EU Nagorno-Karabakh friendship group in the European Parliament which supports Nagorno-Karabakh,’ he argues. ‘It has within its ranks MEP’s from all important groups within the European Parliament. The European Parliament has also adopted three documents encouraging European institutions to engage with civil society in Nagorno-Karabakh.&nbsp; Nagorno-Karabakh has been visited by the vice-president of the European Parliament. That is not bad at all for a country that ‘officially does not exist’. </p> <p>In April Mr Melkumyan's party, the Democratic Party of Artsakh became an 'associated member' of the European Free Alliance, a European political party which has 12 MEP's in the European Parliament. Shortly after this was made public, the Azeri ministry of foreign affairs released an angry press release, followed by an even angrier phone call to the European Free Alliance headquarters in Brussels.&nbsp; </p> <p>Eduardo Lorenzo Ochoa is not surprised by the Azeri reaction.&nbsp; 'For Azerbaijan this is a defeat. For them this should not have happened because to them the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic should not exist and they believe that people should respect this,' he says. 'Secondly it is also a defeat because the ruling party of Azerbaijan has not been able to enter any European political party itself.' </p> <p>'Azerbaijan reacts very strongly when these kind of things happen' elaborates Märta-Lisa Magnusson. 'They do so because it happens outside the control of state authorities.&nbsp; They are very sensitive when the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic makes contact with Russia or Europe because they perceive it as foreign policy for which there is no mandate'. </p> <p>Being an unrecognised state limits the diplomatic options of Nagorno-Karabakh.&nbsp; Though it cannot open embassies abroad, it has however opened 'permanent missions', or 'representations' in countries where there is a big Armenian community such as the United States, France, Germany and Lebanon. Even though they are not officially recognized as embassies, they facilitate Nagorno-Karabakh representatives meeting foreign politicians and diplomats.&nbsp; These representations are also actively conducting an 'information campaign...aimed at politicians and media in order to gain recognition for Nagorno-Karabakh.’</p> <p>‘The missions in Paris in Washington are working reasonably well. I do not think it is a coincidence that another Nagorno-Karabakh friendship group exists in the French national assembly,’ says Mr Lorenzo Ochoa. Märta-Lisa Magnusson agrees: ‘They give lectures, organize cultural activities and meet audiences in the countries were they are established. They are quite successful in keeping Nagorno-Karabakh on the international agenda’. </p> <p>With an estimated eight million Armenians living outside of Armenia or the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, the Diaspora is of paramount importance to the Nagorno-Karabakh republic’s international efforts.&nbsp; Countries like France boast a large Armenian population, many of which are descendants of immigrants who arrived after the Armenian Genocide. In France they play a prominent role in the political, economical and cultural life of the country. </p> <p>André Gumuchdjian is a third generation Armenian who lives in Antwerp. His grandfather arrived in Belgium in 1908. He maintains a very strong link with the country of his ancestors and was until recently the vice-president of the Armenian Committee in Belgium. </p> <p>‘I think that for many Armenians Nagorno-Karabakh represents a revenge on history,’ he says. ‘Instead of always losing, for once it is us who won something. The Diaspora loves Karabakh for its pro-active and positive side. The trauma of what we lost 100 years ago is still there and we have not resolved the issue; not only have we lost territories but Turkey still has not recognized the Genocide. Karabakh is the story of Armenians who succeed, rather than Armenians which get massacred.’</p> <p>As an entrepreneur Mr Gumuchdjian has actively invested in the local economy.&nbsp; ‘I have started several economic projects in Karabakh; agriculture being one of them,’ he explains. ‘I only take part in projects which have economic perspective, this is done to develop the country, create employment but also not to lose money. I try to encourage others to do so as well. Despite remaining problems there are interesting options in Karabakh.&nbsp; In my case, the economy is in the service of the affective’. </p> <p>‘The Diaspora has helped a lot in terms of raising awareness.&nbsp; 15 years ago nobody knew about Nagorno-Karabakh besides the terrible images we saw on the television during the war,’ remembers Mr Lorenzo Ochoa. ‘The Diaspora is raising awareness and some of them also participate financially. In Nagorno-Karabakh you will frequently see signs point out that the road you are driving on has been financed by, for example, the Armenians in Argentina’. </p> <p>Mr Melkumyan who is also a member of the Standing Committee on Foreign Relations in the Nagorno-Karabakh National Assembly also emphasizes the importance of the Diaspora:&nbsp; ‘You know how strong the Armenian Diaspora is throughout the world,’ he says. ‘If you find one single Armenian citizen or person of Armenian origin, he will be willing to represent Nagorno-Karabakh. ‘</p> <p>With the conflict frozen and the Minsk group making little progress, the future of Nagorno-Karabakh remains unsure.&nbsp; For Mr Gumuchdjian it is inconceivable for Nagorno-Karabakh ever to return under Azeri dominion. ‘It will remain an independent entity. For the moment living in peace with its neighbour is sadly not on the cards. I am interested in seeing Karabakh developing economically and I want the population to live without worries because its first right should be to live in security. The future of Karabakh is independent.’</p> <p>Undeterred by the obvious obstacles the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic has managed to conduct an independent foreign policy securing itself a place on the European agenda and in public consciousness.&nbsp; It looks unlikely that Azerbaijan, despite its frequent threats, will try to take Nagorno-Karabakh by force in the foreseeable future.&nbsp; On the other hand it also remains unlikely that Nagorno-Karabakh will soon join the community of universally recognized nations. It seems that for the moment it will remain, in the words of Mr Melkumyan in a state of ‘ <em>ни войны, ни мир’: </em>neither war nor peace<em>.</em></p><p><em><span>If you enjoyed this article then please consider liking </span><em><strong>Can Europe Make it?</strong></em><span> on </span><a href="">Facebook</a><span> and following us on Twitter </span><a href="">@oD_Europe</a></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/euarmenia-entanglement-failed-relations-and-shadow-of-new-approach">The EU-Armenia entanglement: failed relations and the shadow of a new approach</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Armenia </div> <div class="field-item even"> Azerbaijan </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Nagorno-Karabakh </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? Nagorno-Karabakh Azerbaijan Armenia Lucas Goetz Joining the dots on independence movements in Europe Tue, 09 Jun 2015 13:07:16 +0000 Lucas Goetz 93417 at Korrika: the world's biggest language festival? <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>On March 19, hundreds of thousands of Basque citizens will participate in an initiative that passes a baton from hand to hand without interruption; the same baton that has become a symbol of the Basque language itself.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="Lehenetsia"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="558" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><span>On March 19, hundreds of thousands of Basque citizens will participate in an initiative that passes a baton from hand to hand without interruption; the same baton that has become a symbol of the Basque language itself. Over 11 days and 10 nights, the Korrika ('Running' in Basque), will go on for over 210 hours and will pass through most Basque villages and cities, for a total distance of around 2300 kilometres. The festival will pass through all of the Basque Country, which is situated in the southern part of the French State and in the northern part of the Spanish State.</span></p> <p class="Lehenetsia">You can see a video of the last festival <a href="">here</a>.</p> <p class="Lehenetsia">The organizers insert in the baton a secret message that is read at the end of the festival, after having passed through thousands of hands. It is considered an honour to carry the wooden baton with the symbol of the Basques and thus, different associations and organisation “buy” kilometres in support of the Basque language. AEK, the organisation responsible for teaching the Basque language to adults is the organizer of this gigantic crowd-funding event and the collected money goes to them.</p> <p class="Lehenetsia">The Basque language is in danger. Currently around a million people speak Basque and according to UNESCO it is at risk of disappearing, especially in some areas. In certain areas it is an official language but not in most of the Basque territory. Korrika brings the whole territory together in a festive atmosphere. The citizens that support their language organize different types of events when Korrika passes through their towns and cities.</p> <p class="Lehenetsia">This initiative, as well as its organizer AEK, was created by the people themselves. Korrika takes place once every two years and this year is the 19th&nbsp;edition.&nbsp; Due to its success other communities of lesser used languages have started to organize this same initiative in their own countries. In Catalonia, Ireland, Brittany, Wales, Galiza and the Valle of Aran, they run in support of their languages.</p> <h2>Why does Euskara (The Basque language) need Korrika?</h2> <p class="Lehenetsia">The Basque language has suffered a great decline, especially in the last three centuries. Mocking those who spoke Basque, fines and beatings for speaking the only language they knew are but a few examples Basques had to endure. Among other factors it was the psychological pressure that played a major role on people to change their language. Most linguists agree that the linguistic policies applied by Spain and France against the Basque language have had a direct impact.</p> <p class="Lehenetsia">The ring is probably the strongest symbol of oppression that the Basque language has suffered. It was prohibited to speak Basque at school and when a teacher heard a child speaking it, he/she used to give him/her the ring. The children had to pass the ring to any other children speaking in Basque. They made children become informers and the one who had the ring at the end of the week was punished, often physically. </p><p class="Lehenetsia">Many Basques hated their language because of the ring and they even refused to transmit it to their children because of the suffering that it implied. The compilation of testimonies in the Basque Country demonstrated that the practice of the ring was a general practice at least in the last two centuries. Many Basques which suffered the practice of the ring are still alive.</p> <p class="Lehenetsia">The Basque language was prohibited during a dictatorship that went on for over 40 years. Plain-clothes police used to spy on the language people spoke in the streets in order to punish those speaking in Basque. They nearly erased the Basque language from public life arguing that it was a language against modernisation.&nbsp; </p> <p class="Lehenetsia">Starting in the 50s, people created clandestine structures and by the 60s they started teaching Basque in private houses. A new movement in support of the language was born. In the 70s with the political situation ready to blow up thousands of Basque citizens became literate in Basque in the AEK schools (AEK: Community based organisation teaching the Basque language) created by the movement in support of the Basque language. Once the dictatorship was over, in 1980 some visionaries of the time came up with the idea to organize Korrika in order to get funding.</p> <p class="Lehenetsia">35 years later, the Basque language still isn´t official in most of its spoken territory. In some areas the public schools don´t offer the possibility to study though the medium of Basque and consequently thousands of children have to travel thousands of kilometres per year in order to attend the Basque schools situated in other towns. </p><p class="Lehenetsia">In the areas in which the Basque language has an official status significant progress has been made but nevertheless the Spanish government continues to report to the courts the city councils operating though the medium of Basque. </p><p class="Lehenetsia">In addition to this Basque people can hardly forget the day in which the Spanish police closed down the only newspaper edited in Basque in 2003. The journal “Egunkaria” had been financed by public fund raising. The board of Directors were arrested and tortured by the Spanish police. In the French State only the French language has an official status and the schools teaching through the medium of Basque have been taken to court in the past. Furthermore, a village that only last January declared the Basque language as its official language was taken to court too.</p><p class="Lehenetsia"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Photo supplied by author.</span></span></span></p><h2>“Spread the Basque language and let’s all join Korrika”</h2> <p class="Lehenetsia">According to some experts, of the existing 7000 languages in the world half of them will disappear during this century. There is still a major work to be done in order to normalize the Basque language in the Basque Country but the language itself is still alive.</p> <p class="Testu-gorputza">“Euskara, the Basque language is our only free territory.” “A language doesn´t disappear because those who don’t know it don`t learn it but because those who know it don`t use it.” “It is amazingly beautiful to hear you speaking in Basque.” These are some of the sentences written on t-shirts, bars, and the streets of the Basque Country. Korrika is a gigantic initiative that demands the implication of hundreds of volunteers and as a people Basques are proud to make it happen.</p> <p class="Testu-gorputza">With this initiative thousands of Basque citizens will charge their inner energy to keep supporting their language, they will empower themselves and they will continue having their own vision of this world.</p> <p class="Lehenetsia"><em>Article originally written by Lander Arbelaitz in <a href="">ARGIA</a>, translated to English by Igor Letona.</em></p> <p><em><span>If you enjoyed this article then please consider liking </span><em><strong>Can Europe Make it?</strong></em><span> on </span><a href="">Facebook</a><span> and following us on Twitter </span><a href="">@oD_Europe</a></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/xabier-letona/scotland-big-push-for-basque-sovereignty-supporters">Scotland: a big push for Basque sovereignty supporters</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/pello-zubiria/human-chain-demanding-basque-right-to-decide-gathers-150000">Human chain demanding the Basque right to decide gathers 150,000</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Spain </div> <div class="field-item even"> France </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? France Spain Lander Arbelaitz Joining the dots on independence movements in Europe Thu, 19 Mar 2015 01:27:29 +0000 Lander Arbelaitz 91383 at Connecting the Basque and Icelandic cases: an ethnographic chronicle about democratic regeneration <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Though they may seem like unlikely companions, both Iceland and the Basque Country undertook unique democratic regenerations following the 2008 global economic crisis.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Iceland - an unusual companion to the Basque Country? Flickr/Coldpix. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><h2><strong>Introduction</strong></h2> <p>Contemplating about Iceland from the Basque Country could be seen as a remote exercise, even more so when it refers to carrying out <a href="">ethnographic fieldwork</a>. This is exactly what I attempted doing my second visit to Reykjavik on the 23rd to the 29th of September 2013. I was already familiar with Iceland - its peculiarities, remarkable language, music, literature, filming, and even its celebrities. I have connected not only by my scientific curiosity, but also by my emotional - even spiritual - sensitivity. </p><p>Emotional landscapes can travel quickly from remote places: from the volcanic and resilient smallness of Iceland to another tiny complex and diverse corner between Spain and France, the Basque Country. I am Basque - yet I write my surname with a non-Basque letter ‘C’. I have been ‘touched’ by Iceland as a whole piece of outstanding isolated ‘whiteness’. Similarly, even though I have been in Iceland separately in the past – 2007 - having the same scientific purpose as in 2013, I was impressed and shared my hypothesis on how the language, landscapes, and the most charismatic asset of the island, its people, have something to do with my homeland, the Basque Country. </p> <p>Seemingly, we can dare to link Basques and Icelanders regarding the smallness of territory, the relationship between Basque whalers and Icelanders and even our ‘unique’ languages. However, despite the historical links between Iceland and the Basque Country (Edvardsson and Rafnsson 2006) dating back to the sixteenth century, I have not found any published comparative study in my research fields about contemporary Iceland and the Basque Country. </p><p>As Jón the Learned conveys in the <em>Spánverjavígin</em> saga, the relationship between Basque whalers and Icelanders reached a tragic peak in 1615, when approximately 30 of the former were slaughtered in the region of the West Fjords. However, they are two societies that may benefit from connecting with each other. They are struggling to depart from a crisis that is more than financial, and they need to readjust their governance systems to the changes in the last few years. Both require a deep democratic regeneration.</p> <h2><strong>Democratic regeneration</strong></h2><p><span>That was my main hypothesis—to attempt to connect, rather than compare, to the Icelandic and the Basque case. Indeed, there is a slightly common factor at present in the social sciences to compare two territories by carrying out </span><a href="">‘benchmarking’</a><span>. I do not dare to proceed with such a complex analysis insofar as my aim was to follow my intuition and check my hypothesis:</span></p> <ol><li><span>Like the Basque Country, Iceland also after struggled after the 2008 crisis to rise above its predicament.</span></li><li><span>Iceland was the first country hit by the 2008 financial crisis with dramatic democratic consequences. The source of the crisis was mainly the financial collapse that left the country with no credit, and in a socio-economic emergency. I focused on the source of the crisis and the way Icelanders explained the causes and the ongoing process to overcome it. I sought to answer the following question: If there has been some democratic social innovation or regeneration in Iceland after the crisis, what relationship does it have with ethics? What is its moral core?</span></li><li><span>With the Basque Country, the ceasefire announced by ETA in 2011 led to overcome the lack of peace and deficient normalised political or institutional life.</span></li><li><span>In this globalised context, both countries required to restructure their governance systems to adapt them positively. In the two cases, the democratic regeneration was the outcome by having similar ethical and political implications. They shared some features concerning their comparative small size and identity (unique local language and culture dealing with the bigger player in a global arena). I wondered whether some of the transformations (e.g., social innovations) that emerged in Iceland during the Kreppa years (2008-2013) could apply to the crisis in the Basque Country in the new post-violence situation (the ETA’s ceasefire from 2011 onward). In addition, could we suggest micro-social innovative cases such as cooperativism or plurilingualism, among other features?</span></li><li><span>As different as Iceland and the Basque Country are, both situations involved hope for a regeneration of the democratic system, and both raise questions such as: What has really been happening in Iceland? What is the nature of the change or innovation that has emerged? In what way is it special or different from the Basque case?</span></li></ol> <p>Therefore, I was interested in looking into two main research challenges:</p> <ol><li>First, I wanted to make clear the underlying ethics (presuppositions, emerging topics and emotions) and strategic critical social innovation trends (social networks, economic solidarity and contested anti-neoclassic economic orthodoxy initiatives) around themes such as the political innovation at the global and local scales. I was also interested in the meaning of the crisis and its impact on democracy (before and after 2008), the influence of technology and social movements in this hypothetical social transformation, and the role of different stakeholders and the macro and micro socio-economic real alternatives in contrast with the neoclassical economic orthodoxy agenda. I also wanted to examine how we could connect the Basque and Icelandic cases under this similar thematic umbrella.</li><li>Second, I wanted to reconnect not only Icelanders and Basques through our two political systems, but also apply ethics and critical social innovation to our comparative research project.</li></ol> <p><a href="">I presented the results</a> of the fieldwork in Reykjavik, in the University of Iceland, on September 27th of 2013. Here are the fieldwork research rationale and the main conclusions:</p> <h2><strong>Fieldwork</strong></h2> <p>As Hoeg (2005) stated, ‘There is only one way to understand another culture. Living it’. Trying to make my hypothesis precise, I set up a research agenda and design an intensive fieldwork in Reykjavik by using the qualitative, semi-structured method. I interviewed eight discussants, mainly academics but also policy-makers and politicians. </p> <p>With fieldwork research, one receives gratitude one deserves as a social scientist by temporary ‘living’ a culture, an atmosphere and a society. I applied a methodology by merging two disciplines, Applied Ethics and Critical Social Innovation for Territories. I depicted this methodological approach by using a glacier:</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="429" height="427" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p><p>On the one hand, through the framework, I considered the social problematic issues of the Icelandic crisis, as addressed by Critical Social Innovation, in becoming much more complex due to deepening, mutually reinforced socio-economic, socio-political and socio-ecological crises (Moulaert et al., 2013). On the other hand, I tried to account for the ways in which social practices are laden with judgements of moral value (Dunn et al., 2012). I proceeded with the following methodological factors for each discipline that assisted me in the fieldwork process:</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="147" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p> <p> <strong><span></span></strong></p> <p>In addition, here is the outcome and the methodological matrix in which I proceeded to gather qualitative data:<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="150" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></span></p><h2><strong>Main Conclusions</strong></h2> <p>Instead of presenting the entire methodological process and the specific conclusion about this research project, I aim to conclude this ethnographic chronicle with a summary in which I draw on the main suppositions of my research. The specific content of this research will undergo publication entitled <em>Demos-Ethos: A framework to study the Basque and Icelandic cases through Critical Social Innovation and Applied Ethics </em>shortly in the <em>Innovation: The European Journal of Social Science Research</em>.</p> <p>According to the <em>Financial Times</em> (09/27/2013), Iceland seemed to enjoy ‘abundant natural resources that even the most over exuberant financiers and politicians could not damage too much’. At present, this statement is fair and true after the 2008 crash.</p> <p>I connected the Basque observation with the Icelandic reality throughout two main crises that had in common their democratic regeneration imperatives. These are the main five conclusions:</p> <ol><li>Iceland’s material, spatial and economic system (URBS), proved the country was well balanced and ready for any unexpected vulnerable circumstances. The crises mainly hit Iceland but its reaction was quick by keeping the main economic factors in favour of the solution. Indeed, sustainability and well-being were the main structural factors in the regional development policies. In addition, being small and resilient made Iceland stronger by having such a well-connected territory between the hub (Reykjavik) and the periphery (Akureyri, Kópavogur, Harnarfjördur, Keflavik, and others). Some of the sources to overcome the crisis and settle down the economy were the real microeconomic recovery sectors, such as fishing and tourism.</li><li>Iceland’s physical, digital and social connectivity systems (CYBER) were the dynamic and modifiable ‘liquid’ artefacts. We cannot forget the spark the ‘kitchenware revolution’ propagated through social media such as Facebook. People demonstrated a collective defence of the means for happiness and social well-being by network-driven, new communitarian social reconfiguration. It should be also noted that digital connectivity and the physical proximity between culturally diverse peers enabled a socio-political new agenda and situation by presenting a social capital that still exists to date. Iceland started partially regenerating its political structures mainly due to the outstanding usage of the physical, digital and social connectivity as a response to an emergence.</li><li>Iceland’s citizenship, entrepreneurial and migration systems (CIVITAS) depicted an emotionally well-channelled activism. To face the massive threat of collapse, people self-managed and organised a civic level activist survival strategy; a Pots and Pans revolution in the streets was the main example. In addition, it should be added that in contrast with the Basque case, in Iceland, citizens channelled their collective anger without violence, and enabled public deliberation. Streets were synonymous with the public space to protect the basic rights of the citizenship. From the social innovation perspective, the transition from activism towards entrepreneurship did not proceed by being in jeopardy. Citizenship assumed the responsibility of contributing to the financial ‘bubble’.</li><li>Iceland’s political system changed dramatically before and after 2008 due to a massive dissatisfaction with the conventional political system (POLIS). Therefore, the outcome of that context was an internal political fragmentation in permanent and ongoing transition until present days. It is noteworthy that the confrontation between the declining dominant mass media, and the alternative social media-driven politics, was produced in this transition. Social media became the collective intelligence of ‘togetherness’ after a fragile, broken democratic system. The transition fostered a permanent celebration of cultural diversity by entertainment politics without populism. However, among the celebration and the victory, there was a new civilian principle: ‘Lack of impunity and zero tolerance when trust or social capital is broken’.</li><li>Therefore, by presenting dilemmas in the political transition, Iceland has been inside its own tunnel in an ongoing re-examination. Nowadays, the process, not yet closed and culminated, shows a national identity based on independence, modernity and uniqueness. There is myth already perceived as the ‘Icelandic miracle’, in reference to how a revolution transformed a bankruptcy by forcing it to a point of reversal. This set up a new critical order with permanent contestation, but also caused uncertainty and fear of a constitutional reform due to lack of consensus. Finally, this delicate and opened context leaves a pending question for Icelanders that could be named ‘the European dilemma’: can Iceland retain itself within the EU context without any institutional protection? This is a pending question for Iceland as a small state that provides hints to the Basque Country, another city-regional small nation that faces a future path by being as small as Iceland. </li></ol> <p>Hence, after connecting the Basque and the Icelandic cases in this research project, here now is my final conclusion: <a href="">‘Small is beautiful.’</a></p> <h2><span>Postscript:</span></h2> <p>For the last part of my fieldwork research in Iceland, we went to Thingvellir. It is said that the first parliamentary assembly in Europe took place in a region called Thingvellir, in southern Iceland (the so-called Althingi). I confess it was the perfect ending as to contemplate how the Basques and Icelanders already connected throughout their democratic recovery ties. Moreover, in Thingvellir, as viewed from the Basque perspective, Auden described Iceland as depicting three kind of landscapes: ‘Rocky, very rocky and completely rocky’. </p> <p>A day after Thingvellir, something even more magic occurred: I bumped into Björk in the local supermarket and I thought in this poem - half in Icelandic and half in Basque language - as the best feeling to recover the inner connection between Iceland and the Basque Country, once again:</p> <p><em>Takk fyrir, Iceland, zugatik pintatzen dituzte hospitaleak zuriz (oraindik).*</em></p> <p><em>*</em> Thank you Iceland, the hospitals are painted in white (still) because of you.<em>&nbsp;</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/igor-calzada/postindependence-in-scotland-catalonia-and-basque-country-cityregion">Post-independence in Scotland, Catalonia and the Basque Country: city-regional small nations beyond nation-states</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Iceland </div> <div class="field-item even"> Spain </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? Spain Iceland Igor Calzada Joining the dots on independence movements in Europe Wed, 14 Jan 2015 14:25:54 +0000 Igor Calzada 89560 at A silent cry in the crowded streets of Bilbao <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Once again, thousands have marched in the city of Bilbao to protest the "policy of dispersal" against Basque prisoners and call for their repatriation.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//[1].jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//[1].jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="255" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Tens of thousands of people gathered in Bilbao. (Photo: Dani Blanco/Argia)</span></span></span></p><p>The city of Bilbao became more crowded as the day went on. People were coming from all over the Basque Country and by noon it was impossible to walk around the city centre. The main streets surrounding the meeting points from which the demonstration was going to start at 5pm were getting packed as this time got closer. “<a title="Sare" href="" target="_blank"><em>Sare</em></a>” (meaning literally “Network” in Basque, a citizen network struggling for the rights of Basque political prisoners) was in the way of achieving the objective of the day. This article is a chronicle of that demonstration.</p><p>25 years ago the Spanish and French governments enforced the policy of dispersal against Basque political prisoners. Since then, and according to the information given by “Sare”, the family members and friends that visit the these prisoners travel 352,329 km every week, as much as circumnavigating the earth 8.8 times weekly. The policy of dispersal has an average cost of 12,257 euros per family a year and 16 people have died in traffic accidents while going to visit their dear ones. As in last years, there have been massive demonstrations in Bilbao in order to demand respect for the rights of the Basque political prisoners and the end of the policy of dispersal.</p><p>This year the demonstration had a different structure. Instead of starting from a square and going down to the City Hall, (a distance of 2 kilometres) it started from both sides and joined together in a middle point between both ends. The families of the political prisoners opened the way in their usual lined structure.</p><p>Currently there are around 460 Basque political prisoners in 73 jails in France and Spain. Within this collective, there are members of ETA, pro-independence politicians, trade union members, members of the youth movement and journalists. The Spanish government categorises the whole of them as “everything is ETA”.</p><p>Like the organizers had underlined once and again the protagonists were the citizens and the families of the political prisoners. On Saturday those political parties, trade unions, organizations and well known people that had shown their support for the demonstration were kept in a second line.</p><p>Among the protagonists there were also key figures in this issue of the dispersal policy applied against the Basque political prisoners; the&nbsp;<em>Mirentxin</em>&nbsp;vans that week after week drive the families voluntarily to prisons scattered all over France and Spain as a sign of solidarity. On Saturday they were the ones opening the roads of Bilbao too.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//[1].jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//[1].jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="283" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Mirentxin drivers opened the road. (Photo: Dani Blanco/Argia)</span></span></span></p><p><span>Two kilometres of road packed with citizens. Lots of them didn´t even have the possibility to move at all and following the recommendations of the organizers they have just occupied the streets.</span></p><p>It has been achieved. Once again thousands of people demanded in silence the repatriation of the Basque political prisoners to the Basque Country. Like the main slogan stated,&nbsp;<em>Now to the Basque Country!</em>&nbsp;The demonstration was silent as demanded by the organizers, a demand well respected by the participants. Only two slogans have followed the whole demonstration in its way; “Basque prisoners to the Basque Country” and “Bring the Basque political prisoners home”.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//[1].jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//[1].jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="317" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Family memebers holding banner against dispersal policy. (Dani Blanco/Argia)</span></span></span></p><p>While many are the comparisons that can be made with&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">last year's demonstration where around 130.000 people marched for "human rights, resolution, peace"</a>, two are the ones that stand out among others. Last year's demonstration was firstly prohibited by the Spanish National Court and and as a consequence that the PNV (Basque Nationalist Party) ended up supporting the demonstration. Certainly last year in Bilbao, there was a stronger feeling of solidarity and a great amount of euphoria. The support shown towards the Basque political prisoners this year has been strong too but within a more relaxed environment. This year the PNV hasn't supported the demonstration outlining at the same time that last year they did so because of its prohibition.</p><p>At the end of the event Saroi Jauregi and the singer Fermin Muguruza had taken the roll of presenters. The improvisers Maialen Lujanbio, Igor Elortza and Amets Arzallus sang some poems. And the singers “The Aire systers”, Rafa Rueda and Agus Barandiaran sang along with other thousands of people the popular song “<em>Your mother is waiting, so is your father...</em>”</p><p>Maite Mangado and Hegoa Arakama, family members of Basque political prisoners, demanded that the rights of the Basque political prisoners as well as those of their family members have to be respected. “Those rights must be respected now! Not tomorrow or the day after! It has to be now because among other reasons this attitude also helps the peace process.” They have both outlined that the policy of dispersal is a policy of revenge and that with the support of the society “the wall representing the policy of dispersal will be brought to an end. We call you to walk together towards that end, step by step.” Finally they invited people to join “Sare”, the network working for the rights of Basque political prisoners.</p><p>The light has become another protagonist of this demonstration. At the end of it thousands of lights have been lit in the hands of the participants obtaining thus a <a href="">strong picture</a>.</p><p>The singer Fermin Muguruza and Saroi Jauregi brought the event to an end by stating that “in order to create together a future in which all human rights will be respected, now is the time to ensure that the rights of the Basque political prisoners and their families are respected. All together we will achieve it!”</p><p>People have started moving on, some went towards the bars, others to take the buses...and lots of them probably still remember the last words of the poem sung by the improviser Amets Arzalluz: “It is not easy year after year/to bring more people here/and we hope that next year/ you will come to celebrate (we brought them home)”.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//[1].jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//[1].jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="476" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/xabier-letona/scotland-big-push-for-basque-sovereignty-supporters">Scotland: a big push for Basque sovereignty supporters</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Spain </div> <div class="field-item even"> France </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? Spain France Through the bars Xabier Letona Joining the dots on independence movements in Europe Tue, 13 Jan 2015 17:43:45 +0000 Xabier Letona 89561 at Podemos: a cat among the pigeons in Catalonia <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Podemos supports the principle of Catalan self-determination, but hopes that Catalans would vote to stay in Spain, for a ‘right to decide’ about ‘everything’. This is radical.<strong></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="Barcelona pigeons. " title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Barcelona pigeons. Curimedia/Wikicommons. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>This year has seen two mass movements threaten to destabilize the Spanish political system, one pushing for a vote on Catalan independence and the other rallying behind Podemos, the new, anti-establishment party promising to revolutionize the country’s democracy. Yesterday, the two collided head on, with Pablo Iglesias making his first official appearance in Catalonia since he was elected as Secretary General of Podemos in November. </p> <p>In a packed-to-the-rafters sports centre in the hills of the Barcelona suburbs, Iglesias was greeted with cries of ‘<em>Sí se puede!</em>’ and <em>‘Pablo Presidente!’</em> by a crowd swathed in purple Podemos merchandise. The event was highly staged (with home-made banners and republican flags discreetly removed from the balconies before the cameras started to roll), but the excitement of the crowd was for real. Those who didn’t arrive early enough to get a seat gathered outside the building, straining to get a glimpse of the charismatic leader through the glass doors.</p> <p>Not bad for a political project dreamed up less than a year ago in the political science faculty of Complutense University, 300 miles away in Madrid. Recent polls have shown Podemos <a href="">topping</a> voting intentions among Catalans in elections to the Spanish Congress, and coming a respectable <a href="">third</a> in elections to the Catalan Parliament.</p> <p>However, as well as enthusiasm, the sudden explosion of Podemos on the Catalan political scene has generated a whirlwind of questions, doubts, and even outright panic in the region, particularly on the left of the pro-independence movement.</p> <h2><strong>Podemos’ position on the Catalan question</strong></h2> <p>In line with Podemos’ ‘democratizing’ discourse, senior members of the party’s leadership, including Pablo Iglesias and Íñigo Errejón, as well as leading figures in Catalonia, have declared their support for the principle of Catalan self-determination. At the same time, they have said that they hope that Catalans would vote to stay in Spain in a hypothetical referendum. As moderate as it may seem, this position marks a radical departure from that of the two main parties in Spain, the Popular Party and the Socialist Party, both of which actively oppose holding a vote on the question of independence at all. </p> <p>At the same time, it is clear that the self-determination of Catalonia is nowhere near the top of Podemos’ policy agenda. Their discourse is defined by their aggressive condemnation of political corruption and economic inequality. When the party’s candidates are obliged to address the issue of Catalan ‘sovereignty’ or the ‘right to decide’, as Iglesias was yesterday, they invariably use the question as a launch pad to talk about ‘the right to decide about everything’ and the need to wrest back popular sovereignty over economic and social policy from the political and economic Establishment. Apart from anything else, supporting Catalan sovereignty is no vote winner in the rest of Spain; <a href="">polls show</a> that most Spanish people are against allowing Catalonia to hold an independence referendum. </p> <p>As well as those who doubt the priority given by Podemos to the independence question, many Catalans question the sincerity of the party’s declared commitment to the ‘right to decide’. They point to similar resolutions that were made by the Spanish socialists at their party congress in 1974, only to be conveniently abandoned when they entered government in the 1980s. Aware of the political pressures that Podemos will face from the rest of Spain to maintain the union, many see a post-election U-turn on self-determination as inevitable.</p> <h2><strong>What does Podemos mean for Catalan independence?</strong></h2> <p>Even if we take Podemos at its word, the implications for the future of Catalonia are difficult to predict. According to Jordi Muñoz, researcher in political science at the University of Barcelona, Podemos represents ‘both a threat and an opportunity for the independence movement.’<a href="#_ftn1">[1]</a> <strong></strong></p> <p>Podemos could, in theory, help the cause of Catalan independence. The two movements share many criticisms of the democratic deficiencies of the current Spanish political system, and thus are challenging a common foe in the post-Franco regime. As Muñoz has argued, the independence movement has only benefited from the crisis in Spain, and Podemos is yet another force that is contributing to the weakening and destabilization of the country’s status quo. At the very least, if Podemos were to form a government, it would be difficult for it to be any less open to dialogue than the Popular or Socialist parties.<strong></strong></p> <p>However, the hostility of the reaction to Podemos by many pro-independence Catalans suggests that the pro-independence camp is not so optimistic about the potential of Podemos to advance its goals. After all, the current Spanish government, led by Mariano Rajoy, has been described by commentators on both sides of the independence debate as a ‘factory’ of converts to the independence cause. Its legal challenges to Catalonia’s constitutional status as a nation within Spain, its aggressive anti-independence rhetoric, and its swingeing austerity policies have been a significant factor in the rise in support for a referendum on independence over the past four years. A Podemos government that treated Catalonia’s culture, language and national aspirations in a more conciliatory way and implemented progressive social policies may be able to slow or reverse the growth of support for independence on the Catalan left. </p> <p>In this way, Podemos could also pose a profound challenge to one of the main arguments of pro-independence progressives: that Spain is impossible to reform from within. The slogan of the radical, grassroots Catalan party, CUP, is ‘independence to change everything’. Both CUP and other Catalan parties on the left have argued that the best, indeed the only, way to implement progressive economic and social policies in Catalonia is to establish an independent, secular republic with a progressive constitution. If Podemos is able to renew democracy in Spain, or even just convince people that it can, the push for secession will inevitably be deprived of some of its momentum.</p> <h2><strong>A President I’d like to hug</strong></h2> <p>In this context, it is hugely significant that the only promise Iglesias made in Barcelona yesterday was that Catalans wouldn’t see him ‘hugging Mariano Rajoy or Artur Mas’. This was a reference to the embrace between the CUP party leader, David Fernàndez and the head of the governing conservative party, Artur Mas, after the symbolic independence vote held on 9 November in defiance of its suspension by the Spanish Supreme Court. </p> <p>For those on the pro-independence right in Catalonia, the hug represented the success of the independence movement in putting aside partisan differences and maintaining a fragile alliance in pursuit of a common cause. For those on the pro-independence left, among whom David Fernàndez is regarded with deep affection, the hug was irrelevant to his progressive street-cred, if perhaps ill-judged. But for those on the left who are unconvinced of the radical potential of secession, the image of Fernàndez hugging Mas was symbolic of a political culture monopolized by the national question to the neglect of, or even as a deliberate distraction from, the current economic crisis and cuts to public services.</p> <p>By directly attacking David Fernàndez in his characteristic confrontational style, Iglesias was positioning himself as the true revolutionary in contrast to a Catalan left willing to sacrifice social justice at the alter of independence. The move provoked outrage in the pro-indy Twittersphere, which immediately leapt to the defense of Fernàndez, but in many ways it was a shrewd move. Iglesias knows that he’s unlikely to win the support of CUP voters, or indeed of anyone for whom independence is the overriding priority. His task in Catalonia is to engage those who feel alienated by the independence debate and to win the votes of those on the left who have been supporting independence as a means to an end, rather than for reasons of national identity. If he can convince them that Podemos can provide the change they are looking for, Catalonia may decide to give Spain one last chance.</p> <hr size="1" /> <p><a href="#_ftnref">[1]</a> Muñoz, Jordi ‘Podemos ser independents?’, Sentit Critic, 27 November 2011</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/carlos-frade/podemos-can-we-appeal-to-all-women-and-men-who-hope-and-strive-for-t">Podemos, Can We? An appeal to all women and men who hope and strive for a true transformation in Spain, in Europe and beyond</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/cristina-flesher-fominaya/%E2%80%9Cspain-is-different%E2%80%9D-podemos-and-15m">“Spain is Different”: Podemos and 15-M</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/patrice-de-beer/catalonia-vs-spain-clash-of-two-nationalisms">Catalonia vs Spain, a clash of two nationalisms</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/fernando-betancor/just-who-are-podemos">Just who are Podemos?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Spain </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-city"> <div class="field-label">City:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Catalonia </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Economics </div> <div class="field-item even"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? Catalonia Spain Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Economics Ideas International politics Kate Shea Baird Spotlight on Spain and Catalonian independence Spotlight on Spain Podemos: the story so far Joining the dots on independence movements in Europe Mon, 22 Dec 2014 12:50:37 +0000 Kate Shea Baird 89111 at French territorial reform: a huge blow for democracy and regional identities <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The new territorial reform law that has just been passed by the French parliament is an affront to the feelings and wishes of Bretons and Alsatians.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="Standard"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="344" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Alsatians protest in Colmar, France. Nicolas Ory-Genin. Photo used with permission of author.</span></span></span></p><p class="Standard">On Wednesday, December 17, the law on the territorial reform was finally adopted by the French National Assembly. Of the 577 French MPs, 162 were present, 151 voted. 95 were for and 56 were against. It means that only 95 of 577 are in favor of the new territorial map of the country, or 16.5%.</p><p class="Standard"><span>This score shows how that law is lacking concrete popular support and enthusiasm, and how difficult it was for the government to convince the people and their MPs that their choice is the right one. Such a conviction, still today after the final vote, is very small.</span></p> <p class="Standard">After three lectures of the project of law in the National Assembly and the Senate, 6 months of debates, of passionate speeches from the few MPs who fought for the interests of their territories, and of deafness and stubbornness from the government and its majority in the Parliament, France is now sure to have a new map and repartition of the territories and the people.&nbsp;&nbsp; </p> <p class="Standard"><span>From the 22 original French regions, France will now only have 13. Among the 6 regions which remain unchanged, are Brittany and Corsica. For the Corsicans it is good news as their region remains intact, even though Paris would have never dared to touch it. For the Bretons it is a huge disappointment, after the hope of getting back the department of Loire-Atlantique and its historical capital, Nantes. It has been decided that Brittany won't have its strongly wished reunification, despite 80% of the Bretons being clearly in favor of it.</span></p> <p class="Standard">Even though the worst has been avoided concerning Brittany - after the original intention of the central power to dissolve and reconfigure it into a huge and artificial region called “Grand-Ouest” - it has not been the case for the unlucky Alsace.</p><p class="Standard"><span>Indeed Alsace will disappear as a political and administrative entity, being “united” with two big and neighboring regions. No use to say that more than 90% of the Alsatians were against such a project whose first consequence is the beginning of their disappearance.</span></p> <p class="Standard"><span>What is striking just after the adoption of the law, is the shocking lack of true and concrete democracy in the process. The people of France had absolutely no word to say in the matter, even if they are the most concerned by the final decision. The government has constantly refused to give the population the chance to express their wills and demands, refusing the idea and the organization of local referenda or popular consultations. The fact that the Alsatians and the Bretons were asking for such procedures of expression didn't change a thing.</span></p> <p class="Standard">The French state proved to be more jacobinist and centralized than never. The government had a goal, a political target, and was blind to anything else, even to the big and several public demonstrations in the two main injured regions of Alsace and Brittany. The government decides, and their legislative majority in the Assembly just approves. The French government makes the law, not the French people.</p> <p class="Standard"><span>In a pure logic of close-mindedness and centralized conservatism, the government also refused to grant the departments, which compose the regions, the possibility to change their region of membership with a popular vote. The government pretends the contrary, having included in the law a so-called “right of option”, which in reality is a lure, for the region of departure will have a right of veto against the departing of one of its departments to a neighboring and favorite region. This legal trick will be used to prevent the Loire-Atlantique from joining Brittany, in spite of the majority wish of the concerned population.</span></p> <p class="Standard"><span>Behind the official preoccupation of “optimizing the French territorial entities”, is hidden an unofficial but very strong and motivated aim: the prevention against the rise of national minorities and their rightful claims, potentially very disturbing for the central state. Indeed, regarding the recent events in Scotland and Catalonia, the French state, traditionally opposed to the national minorities, has grown very scared of them.</span></p><p class="Standard"><span></span><span>Through that pretended “territorial reform”, the French government has seized the opportunity and done everything to weaken or erase the regional identities which compose the French country. In particular, concerning the two most “dangerous” regions, strongly and historically opposed to the spirit of centralization: Alsace and Brittany.</span></p> <p class="Standard">The members of the government and several MPs and French media were quick to recall that France and the French people were “one and indivisible”, that no other “people” exists in France, and that officially and legally the Bretons and the Alsatians, as well as the Corsicans or Basques, are not “people”, and have not the right to pretend that they are. They are French, and can be nothing else.</p> <p class="Standard"><span>The day after the final adoption of that territorial reform, there are many who keep on denouncing it. Legal strikes are being organized, such as an appeal to the Supreme Constitutional Court based on the European Charter of Local Self-Government. Once again the European laws and principles seem to be in contradiction with the French political philosophy and spirit.</span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/hugo-tran/fighting-for-brittany-autonomy-in-centralised-state">Fighting for Brittany: autonomy in a centralised state</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/lucas-goetz/alsace-fights-back-french-david-vs-goliath-story">Alsace fights back: a French David vs. Goliath story</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> France </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? France Hugo Tran Joining the dots on independence movements in Europe Fri, 19 Dec 2014 17:23:07 +0000 Hugo Tran 89067 at Independence movements are riding a wave of optimism in Europe <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>By the time this article is published, SNP membership numbers will have reached 100,000. As president of the European Free Alliance, I have never felt more optimistic about the potential success of independence parties in Europe.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="316" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Nicola Sturgeon speaks the SNP conference in Perth. Flickr/Simon Kindlen. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><h2><strong>SNP Conference in Perth</strong></h2> <p>85,884: the figure is posted on the giant screen behind the stage at Perth Conference Centre, much too small this year to accommodate the crowd of delegates sent by the different sections of the SNP from all over Scotland.</p> <p>It’s the number of members registered by the party as the final session begins, the meeting where its new leader, Nicola Sturgeon, just elected, will give the closing address. Barely a year ago, membership stood at 18,000, and campaigners had set themselves the target of reaching 30,000 within twelve months. There are now three times as many.</p> <p>A five-fold rise in members in a year, almost three times as many as the target: these figures are so striking that they bear witness to a real political revolution in Scotland. The impetus created by the referendum on 18 September is quite simply colossal, despite the victory for ‘no’. The SNP no longer has a credible rival for political leadership in Edinburgh, and it is even positioning itself as a key party for the future majority in power in Westminster after the general election to be held next May.</p> <p>These parliamentary elections have been identified by Conference as the main challenge for the SNP in 2015. The target: to obtain an absolute majority of the MPs that Scotland will send to Westminster, at least 30 of the 59, and to form, along with Plaid Cymru MPs from Wales, a swing group capable of forming - and hence of undoing! - the political majority in London. And all with a view to grasping the reforms promised by British leaders to ensure the ‘no’ victory in the referendum.</p> <p>Because these promises were the key to snatching victory for the ‘no’ camp last September. Imagine that in France, Hollande, Sarkozy and Bayrou were to co-sign the same letter published on the front page of all the main newspapers to formalise promises of independence made to Corsicans! That’s exactly what the three main party leaders in Great Britain did - David Cameron for the Conservatives, Ed Miliband for the Labour Party and Nick Clegg for the Liberals, in a letter published on the front page of all the Scottish newspapers 48 hours before the vote. Never has Scotland been in such a position of strength for negotiating new powers, including tax powers.</p> <p>Alex Salmond has decided to pass the reins of the party and the government to Nicola Sturgeon, announcing his intention to stand for election in May to take his place at the head of an SNP group that polls suggest might increase from 6 to 52 MPs, and to conduct negotiations on behalf of his party. And, he says, if the proposals do not match up to the promises, the referendum process will start again.</p> <p>The rise of independentism was exponential throughout the campaign, accelerating during the final weeks before the vote. Paradoxically, it grew still more when the ‘no’ camp won. It gave the SNP the euphoria of victory almost as if ‘yes’ had won.</p> <h2><strong>The Social SNP agenda</strong></h2> <p>The Labour Party, which currently holds almost 50 Scottish MPs and from which the SNP is expecting to take virtually all its new seats, is now in the sights of the Scottish National Party’s leader. Locally, they must be “picked off”: Nicola Sturgeon is forcing the issue, announcing a new social direction for the Scottish government which she will take over within the week. The priority will be the health system and the fight against poverty, where she has announced new financial resources. Families will receive greater help with child care, with a doubling of current provision in five years. The SNP sees itself as the UK’s counter-reference for social policy, aiming to embody the rejection of David Cameron’s austerity policy.</p> <p>In terms of the Westminster government, the SNP conference said that it was ready “to defeat Cameron”, and hence to support the Labour Party to return to power in London. Nicola Sturgeon delivered a simple and terribly effective speech aiming to attract Labour voters who are drifting towards the independentist idea: SNP MPs will support Labour in London, so there is no point in voting for them in Scotland in order to keep Cameron and the right from power. In June 2015, the SNP, in alliance with Plaid Cymru, will therefore have fresh trump cards in hand to force the recognition of the rights of the Scottish people.</p> <h2><strong>EFA delegation in the SNP Conference</strong></h2> <p>The EFA, of which the SNP is a key member, took its rightful place during the Perth Conference. Plaid Cymru, the SNP’s Welsh sister party, was fully engaged in the debates and the media coverage, and its leader Leanne Wood received repeated ovations from activists. The SNP and Plaid Cymru will adopt a common strategy in the coming months, and this represents a real advance in cooperation between EFA member parties in Great Britain.</p> <p>One of the main fringe meetings at Conference was devoted to the EFA. I myself was present, representing Corsica and in my capacity of President of the European party, as were treasurer Lorena Lopez de Lacalle of the Basque Country and secretary general Jordi Solé, leader of the ERC in Catalonia.</p> <p>This meeting was a success. It was attended by 250 delegates and under the chairmanship of SNP President and MEP Ian Hudghton and Fiona Hyslop, minister for culture and international relations, it strengthened the visibility of the EFA. Debates obviously focused on the events in Catalonia, which Scottish activists were following closely.</p> <p>These concomitant struggles towards self-determination echo each other and resonate all the more powerfully at the European level. This internationalisation is vital to sustain pressure on the British government and to help the Scots in their quest for independence in Europe.</p> <p>The debate led by the Scots and the Catalans, closely followed by the forty parties in the EFA, will rebound on the European stage, before Parliament, before the new European Commission and throughout the press in Europe and beyond. Scotland and Catalonia do not only pose a problem of democracy in the United Kingdom and Spain.&nbsp; All Europe is concerned, and all Europe must accept the democratic rights of peoples, starting with the right to self-determination.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p><p class="image-caption">EFA delegation at the 80th SNP conference in Perth with François Alfonsi, Jordi Solé (sec-Gen), Lorena Lopez de Lacalle (Vice-president) and SNP President and MEP Ian Hudghton and Fiona Hyslop SNP Cabinet member.</p> <h2><strong>The right to self-determination in Europe.</strong></h2> <p>The combination of events in Scotland and in Catalonia has had a considerable impact in Europe. The right to self-determination, the freedom to decide, has been claimed by two European peoples who have hitherto had no voice on the European stage. By freeing their political expression, by challenging the States by democratic means, Scots and Catalans have opened a breach. It is not one that will soon be closed.</p> <p>The force of these moves towards self-determination lies above all in the capacity for mobilisation which is being developed in the territories concerned. And this needs consideration in the longer term, beyond the moment of decisive mobilisation, and all the work that needs to be carried out to build the foundations must be assessed.</p> <p>The national movements in Scotland and Catalonia have been on the top rung of the institutional ladder for many years. They manage high-performance administrations in the service of their citizens, and they organise a dynamic and structured civil society around the struggle for identity. Their leaders are experienced in managing public affairs and they have demonstrated their capacity to take on the burden of the society that they want to build. It is this strong political and societal infrastructure which forms the hidden part of the iceberg, the crucial part which, when the day comes, will provide the necessary basis for developing the decisive power relationship with the State.</p> <p>Scotland was thus able to force a referendum because, under the devolved system achieved in 1997, Alex Salmond’s nationalist government, strengthened by its economic and social achievements for the benefit of the Scottish people in its first term, won an absolute majority of seats at the Scottish Assembly elections of 2011. In September 2012 David Cameron was obliged to agree to the referendum which was the SNP’s key policy during its election campaign. </p><p>However, support for independence at that point remained weak, 20 - 25% according to the polls, a figure which was rapidly overtaken and which rose to 45 % by 18 September, thanks to the extraordinary work carried out at every level of Scottish society, to the extent that the “no” win was transformed into a victory for the SNP, leaving the Scottish nationalists more than ever the masters of the field.</p> <p>In Catalonia, the position of strength of Catalan nationalists could be measured by the length of the queues at the polling stations that were “improvised” as a result of the decision of the Spanish constitutional court to outlaw an official referendum.</p> <p>But this response from Catalan society has been many years in the making.</p> <p>The idea of consulting the Catalan people has been taking root for five years, since September 2009 when for the first time one of Catalonia’s 947 municipalities, Arenys del Munt, population 8,000, organised a “citizens’ referendum” on Catalan independence. No fewer than 166 other small and medium-sized municipalities followed suit in December 2009. Between March 2010 and April 2011, five other “referendum days” were organised to cover all the municipalities of Catalonia up to the largest, Barcelona. In total 800,000 Catalan supported these ad hoc initiatives, making it possible to set up a volunteer system which showed its mettle on Sunday 9 November 2014.</p> <p>The fight for the freedom of a people is a long struggle. In 50 years of building the European Union, no stateless nation has managed to impose its right to self-determination. And these last three months have been a historic time for Europe. Catalans and Scots have not yet reached the end of their journeys, but each of them has now reached a point of no return.</p> <p>The engines of the European Free Alliance which are the Scottish National Party and Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya have taken a decisive step along a new road. All the stateless nations of Europe are encouraged by their success. Each, with its own individual political situation, has gained impetus on its own path towards empowerment in the context of the European project. And Corsica is part of this.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/eve-hepburn/what-next-for-independence-movements-in-europe">What next for independence movements in Europe?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/farimah-daftary/after-scottish-referendum-corsican-contagion">After the Scottish referendum: Corsican contagion? </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Scotland </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? uk Scotland François Alfonsi Joining the dots on independence movements in Europe Tue, 09 Dec 2014 17:41:30 +0000 François Alfonsi 88680 at Alsace fights back: a French David vs. Goliath story <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>For years, the French state has tried to belittle, oppress and finally destroy Alsace and its culture. Now the Alsatians are fighting back.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="// 5.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="// 5.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="344" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Alsatians protest in Colmar, France. Nicolas Ory-Genin. Photo used with permission of author.</span></span></span></p><p>An ocean of red and white flags filled the streets of the Alsatian town Colmar last Satuday. A crowd of mostly young people was walking behind a banner that read “Alsatians we are, and Alsatians we will remain”. Slogans affirming the identity of this border-region were chanted both in French and in German. The crowd had responded to the call of the autonomist party Unser Land to demonstrate against the plans of the French state to merge the Alsace region in a “mega-region” with Lorraine and Champagne-Ardenne. This would effectively deny Alsace any political existence.</p> <p>Throughout its history Alsace has often changed hands between France and Germany. This has affected its culture and identity. However, since it returned to France in 1918, the state enforced a policy of total assimilation, forcefully imposing the French language and suppressing the autonomy acquired when it was part of the German Empire.</p> <p>Seventy years onwards, only three percent of the children can speak the Alsatian dialect. Very few know its history. Nevertheless there have remained pockets of resistance: in the recent years parents have undertaken initiatives to open bilingual schools for their children. Historians published books challenging the French version of the history of Alsace. But very few had anticipated what followed when the French government announced its intention to merge Alsace in a mega-region, almost twice the size of Belgium. Have the Alsatians finally woken up from their long slumber?</p> <p>Bernard Wittmann is an Alsatian historian. He is well known within the region for his books which seek to present history from an Alsatian point of view. For him this ‘mega-region’ is the final stage of a coherent plan, made in Paris, to deconstruct Alsace.</p> <p>“There is a consistent plan in Paris that seeks to “normalize” Alsace. That is, to eliminate its linguistic, legislative and cultural particularities” he argues. “Since 1918 there is a desire in Paris to make sure that these particularities can no longer express themselves.”</p> <p>France remains Europe's most centralized state. Its regional minorities are granted no specific rights. The constitution explicitly states that the sole language of the republic is French. Since 1918 the French state has sought to eliminate the use of the German language in Alsatian schools. This was met with fierce resistance from Alsatian autonomists during the inter war years. However, the autonomist movement was marginalized after the Second World War and the assimilationist policies from Paris met little resistance since.</p> <p>Mr Wittmann, who has been involved in the autonomist movement for many years, was surprised to see the large number of young people at the recent demonstrations: “I think that this new generation doesn't have the complexes that my generation had. You understand that when we went to school we were punished for speaking our language.” He remembers: “My generation lived through that period of normalization, of assimilation, so they remained silent and did something else. But this younger generation is becoming aware that something has been taken away from them.”</p> <p>Twenty-year old Luca Basso is part of this new generation. He set up a Facebook page against the fusion of Alsace with other regions. He remembers that in the initial stages it was difficult to get people on the streets: “Our big problem has always been that people are against something but are unwilling to do something about it. The first demonstrations, there were around 200-300 of us. Now that the government has pushed through the reform they are all in the street. We have demonstrations of 4000 or more people. I think that in the coming weeks we will see larger and larger numbers.”</p> <p>Since then the movement has amplified. The first large demonstration in Strasbourg drew between 6500 and 15000 people. This has been followed by various demonstrations but also people proudly displaying the historical Alsatian flag, the <em>rot un wiss, </em>rarely seen for many years. In the meantime the French government remained deaf to the demands of the Alsatian people and politicians. When the matter was discussed in the national assembly, Manuel Valls , French the prime minister, stated that there “is no such thing as the Alsatian people, only the French people exist”.</p> <p>“Valls told the assembly that there is no such thing as the Alsatian people. Thus, if we don't exist, it is easier to dilute something that doesn't exist.” analyses Mr Wittmann. “This was the final straw. One day I should write Valls a letter to thank him for all his declarations. Never would we have been able to wake up the Alsatian people otherwise. I have been to the demonstrations in Strasbourg and in Colmar. Never would I have thought that this would still be possible in Alsace.”</p> <p>The overwhelming majority of the Alsatians and their elected politicians oppose the merger of Alsace with other regions. The reasons are not only sentimental. Many fear that it will have negative consequences for the Alsatian economy. Alsace heavily relies upon the neighbouring Germany for the cross- border economical exchanges.</p> <p>“How will we conduct cross border agreements with the Baden-Wurttemberg state in Germany?” wonders Mr Wittmann. “We will have to ask Lorraine and Champagne-Ardenne for permission because we will be a minority in the new region. It will be impossible.”</p> <p><span>Many also fear for the fate of bilingualism in Alsace. Historically many Alsatians have worked in Germany and Switzerland, precisely because they were able to speak both German and French. Bilingualism in Alsace is therefore considered an economical asset, something which is much less the case in Lorraine and Champagne-Ardenne.</span></p> <p><span>“Lorraine has shown that it isn't interested in bilingualism: in Lorraine you have Moselle, a German-speaking area. There are one or two bilingual schools there but otherwise nothing at all has been done to promote the regional language.” regrets Mr Wittmann, “It is a problem that doesn't interest them. We will come with our concerns and also our experience. When it will come to voting for funding for these schools it will be very difficult.”</span></p> <p><span>The government has redrawn the map without consulting the regions involved. The Alsatian regional council opposed the plan and an overwhelming majority of local politicians also opposed this fusion. Even the French senate opposed it. Yet, the French parliament, which has the final word, decided otherwise and voted in favour of this new map of France. No Alsatian member of parliament has voted in favour.</span></p> <p><span>Luca Basso has few illusions about the state of the democracy in France: “The state of the democracy in France is poor; people vote but they do not know who or what to vote for. We are not being listened to in any way. In Paris they do to us as they please, they do not care at all that we do not agree, they are not even interested in discussing with us.”</span></p> <p><span>Bernard Wittmann agrees: “This reform is a denial of democracy. In no Western democracy have we seen a government divide up the country in one night, without asking the people concerned anything. They have decided over our lives one night in Paris without asking us anything! It is incompressible.”</span></p> <p><span>“Autonomists in Colmar challenge Paris” headlined the front page of one of the main regional newspapers the day after the demonstration in Colmar. A similar headline has probably not graced the cover of a newspaper since the inter war years. The word “autonomy” which has for a long time been a taboo in Alsace has now found its way back to the public debate.</span></p> <p><span>Bernard Wittmann has long advocated autonomy for Alsace: “We are being pushed in this logic. How can we escape otherwise from this “mega-region” he says “The only way to get out of it is to demand autonomy. This is the only solution. From now on this is what the demands will be because there is no other possibility. If we want to affirm our particularities there must be a particular status.”</span></p> <p><span>In the recent years, what is referred to as stateless nations have won increased autonomy. In Italy, the Germanic region of South Tyrol has managed to resist the assimilationist policies of the state. They have conquered a considerable degree of autonomy and language rights thereby becoming the richest region in Italy. In the United Kingdom, Wales and Scotland have obtained devolution. Yet France remains one of the most centralized states in the European Union, with all powers concentrated in Paris, with only mere crumbs left for local authorities.</span></p> <p><span>“Fighting for autonomy is the trademark of the times we're living in. Behind this autonomy there is also an idea of man.” argues Mr Wittmann. “We, autonomists consider mankind to be responsible. The Jacobin in Paris is suspicious of the people. So everything is directed from the top because for them only the top can think. It is pyramid: at the bottom you have the citizens and the orders come from above. We autonomists believe that you have the people, that you can trust the people, and that people can have responsibilities”</span></p> <p><span>Both Bernard Wittmann and Luca Basso both agree that things will not go back to as they were: “We will seek to build a large movement, to synchronise all the efforts” says Lucas Basso “we are no longer expecting 1000 people, we expect 10 000. We will continue with actions every week. The struggle continues and we will not stop.”</span></p> <p><span>Bernard Wittmann is convinced that the movement is not a flash in the pan “I am persuaded that people are becoming conscious and when you have become conscious that you have been in a relation of dominating–dominated, from that moment onwards you do not go back. And that is exactly what will happen.”</span></p> <p><span>As Europe is celebrating the centenary of the First World War, many will remember the promise made by the French general Joffre to the Alsatians in 1914: “France will bring you, with the liberties it has always stood for, the respect of your liberties, of the Alsatian liberties, of your traditions, your beliefs and you habits. I am France: you are Alsace. I bring you the kiss of France.” It seems that one hundred years later, Alsatians are more united than ever in their determination to make sure the kiss of France will not be the kiss of death.&nbsp;</span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/hugo-tran/fighting-for-brittany-autonomy-in-centralised-state">Fighting for Brittany: autonomy in a centralised state</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/eve-hepburn/what-next-for-independence-movements-in-europe">What next for independence movements in Europe?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> France </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? France Lucas Goetz Joining the dots on independence movements in Europe Sun, 07 Dec 2014 19:29:31 +0000 Lucas Goetz 88547 at Fighting for Brittany: autonomy in a centralised state <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p class="Standard">Events in Scotland and Catalonia have given Bretons hope as they continue to fight for devolution and cultural preservation against the ultra-centralised, anti-regionalist French state.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="Standard"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Reunification demonstration Nantes on 19/5/14. Agence Bretagne Press. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p class="Standard"><span>On 25 November, a new law on the territorial organization of the French regions was passed by the National Assembly, by a very small majority. Of the 530 expressed votes, 277 were for and 253 were against.</span></p> <p class="Standard"><span>Two main regions are “victims” of the new organization, Alsace and Brittany.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><p class="Standard"><span></span><span>Alsace, because it simply disappears into a huge, new region regrouping Champagne-Ardenne, Lorraine and Alsace, in effect meaning that Alsace itself won't exist anymore as a political or administrative entity.</span></p> <p class="Standard"><span>Meanwhile for Brittany, the law confirms the amputation of its territory, rebuffing the return of the fifth historical department of Loire-Atlantique and the historical Breton capital of Nantes to the region of Brittany.</span></p> <p class="Standard"><span>For Brittany, which began life as kingdom in the ninth century, evolved into a duchy, and since the French Revolution has been a region, this was chance to regain its historical integrity. During the Second World War, the fascist Vichy government took the richest of Brittany’s five departments, Loire-Atlantique, and used it to create a new, artificial region called Pays de la Loire, which still exists today.</span></p> <p class="Standard"><span>After several demonstrations and public debates, 85% of the Bretons in the administrative region of Brittany and 70% of the Bretons in the Loire-Atlantique department claimed to be clearly in favor of the reunification. Still the government and the National Assembly said no.</span></p> <p class="Standard"><span>The official reason given by the government is that it wants to optimize the existing regions, making them more powerful and able to compete at a “European level”. But a reunified Brittany would have respected all the objectives wanted by the government, as Breton MPs have argued.</span></p> <p class="Standard"><span>The “No” to a Breton reunification, and the choice to dilute Alsace, are explainable by a non-official reason. After having watched with fear and apprehension what happened in Scotland and Catalonia, the French centralized state used every legal trick to prevent any risk of such situations in France in the future. The aim was, is, and will be, to weaken any regional or cultural identities that are not explicitly “French”.</span></p> <p class="Standard"><span>With such lofty goals in mind, it is not surprising that regardless of the legitimate justifications for reunifying Brittany, the government would never allow it. It is not surprising either that Alsace was condemned to be consigned to the dustbins of history.</span></p> <p class="Standard"><span>It is important to understand that in France - by law – there can be no other people than the “French” people. Bretons, Alsatians, Corsicans…they may exist as administrative curiosities for local populations, but legally – they do not exist. Since the Revolution, France is “One and Indivisible”, and the different identities and territories can only be considered as folkloric particularities, certainly not specific political entities of any sort. It is the reason that France is the only country in the Council of Europe - apart from Turkey - to have not signed the European Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.</span></p> <p class="Standard"><span>In fact the original goal of the French government was to make Brittany disappear altogether by fusing it with the neighboring region of Pays-de-la-Loire to create a huge and illogical “Grand-Ouest”. That particular catastrophe was avoided at the last minute thanks to an active Breton lobby close to the President.</span></p> <p class="Standard"><span>So why does France fear a united and strong Brittany so much? There are five main reasons:</span></p> <p class="Standard"><span>1)&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; The Bretons are becoming more and more aware of their status as a distinct Celtic People, albeit happy to be part of France and be French citizens.</span></p> <p class="Standard">2)&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Bretons have a strong regional identity that is just as important as their national (French) identity.</p> <p class="Standard">3)&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; A unified Brittany, including the Loire-Atlantique region, would have a population of 4.5 million. This is far greater than either Alsace (1.8 million) or Corsica (320,000). For comparison, the population of Scotland is 5.3 million.</p> <p class="Standard">4)&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; The territory of a reunified Brittany would be 34,000km/2, which is larger than Belgium and almost as large as the Netherlands.</p> <p class="Standard">5)&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; The return of the wealthy Loire-Atlantique department to Brittany would allow the region to develop in more autonomous way.</p> <h2><strong>What do Bretons actually want?</strong></h2> <p class="Standard"><span>Of course the main problem with all of this is that the majority of Bretons don’t actually want independence. Realistically speaking, only about 5% of the population see independence as a concrete political objective.</span></p> <p class="Standard"><span>This is perhaps the most important point to have in mind about the Breton political situation. Nobody in Brittany sees a contradiction with being both Breton and French. The struggle for independence is an old dream, part of the Breton Celtic culture and history, but not considered a serious ambition by Bretons today.</span></p> <p class="Standard"><span>Still, it is and has always been one of the biggest fears of the central power, heightened by the recent Scottish referendum and Catalan consultation. Even though nobody, in Brittany or in Paris, among the members of the government or the parliament dares speak openly about Breton independence, it remains a taboo, albeit a “false taboo”.</span></p> <p class="Standard"><span>What the majority of the Bretons really want is more decentralisation, more local powers, and maybe the beginning of ‘devolution’. Historically and politically, Brittany has always been less dependent on Paris than other regions, and it is only very recently (1789 and the Revolution) that Brittany had to give up its local powers and institutions – including its local parliament and local supreme court of justice - to a new conception of a centralized Republic.</span></p> <p class="Standard"><span>In a way, the political existence and autonomy of Brittany has been the victim of a victorious Jacobinist and then Bonapartist spirit, which never let Brittany recover its former status. Today the population of Brittany still miss, consciously or not, such a state of political existence, increased by a geographic situation and a revival of a “Breton” awareness thanks to artists, doctors, researches, contacts with the other Celtic nations and the new concepts of Peoples and Stateless nations.</span></p> <p class="Standard"><span>Despite this, Bretons are still very attached to the French Republic, and the main autonomist party, the UDB (Breton Democratic Union), tends to get very few votes. The traditionalist and republican nature of Brittany means that when it comes to elections, voters naturally favour the main French parties. It is something of a contradiction that many Bretons take the idea of autonomy seriously, but don’t take the main autonomist party seriously at all.</span></p> <h2><strong>A brief history of Brittany in France</strong></h2> <p class="Standard"><span>Since the French people became “One and Indivisible” after the Revolution, the Bretons have been subjected to ridicule, marginalization and persecution. Understandably against the centralization and de-regionalisation of the country since 1789, many Bretons fought back. There were pro-monarchist uprisings and pro-Catholic demonstrations against secularization in the early years – both violently quelled. The Breton language – part of the Celtic family and thus mutually unintelligible with French – was banned, and traditional Breton social bonds based on historical parishes were abrogated.</span></p> <p class="Standard"><span>Brittany suffered economically too. Geographically isolated, nothing was done to industrialize or modernize the region along with the rest of France. Many Bretons were forced to emigrate to foreign countries or to Paris. Many joined the National Coast Guard, where they put their skills as a nation of sailors to good use.</span></p> <p class="Standard"><span>Brittany gained a sad reputation as a place of poverty and superstitions, of alcoholic and backwards people. Until the first half of the twentieth century, in newspapers and sometimes in official speeches, references were made to the “Breton savages” or to a colonized people that had to be “enlightened” by a French civilization.</span></p> <p class="Standard"><span>Even if such persecutions stopped after the Second World War, France is still the heiress to a very centralized conception of power. Even if the regional identities and people are not officially considered as threats to the Republic, they must not be recognized as legally existing.</span></p> <p class="Standard"><span>The Breton language is no longer banned, but is still prohibited in public and legal life. The Bretons can learn it if they want, they can use it in their private life, and Breton lessons even exist in some schools, but it is illegal to use it in the public institutions. It is forbidden to use it in courts, in the Parliament, or in any official document.</span></p> <p class="Standard"><span>In the latter part of the twentieth century, the Bretons gained a reputation as hard workers, honest, straight and brave people. It is now a region recognized as highly educated and producing a lot of artists, doctors, army officers, and politicians. Nationally and internationally, the Bretons have a good reputation as cultivated, friendly, and very festive people.</span></p> <p class="Standard"><span>But that new image is tolerated as far as no political demands are made. We clearly saw that at the occasion of the territorial reform. As soon as the Bretons express the wish to regain their territorial integrity, unified Brittany and a true and official recognition for its people, all the hate, the distrust, the prejudice and the clichés suddenly wake up from the past. Very shocking reactions appeared among the political class just as among the French population, and many words and declarations could have been punished by the law.</span></p> <p class="Standard"><span>But no criminal prosecution can be pursued against such racism, because officially in France there is just one people, so no discrimination or racism can strike a people that does not exist. The conclusion is that the Bretons are liked and promoted by the French public opinion, on the one condition that they submit to the political system and organization and spirit of a centralized state.</span></p> <p class="Standard"><span>The Breton movement arguably reached its peak in the 70s and 80s when two groups, ARB (Breton Revolutionary Army) and FLB (Liberation Front of Brittany), chose the path of violent resistance, committing a series of bombings against French governmental buildings in the region. The groups always made sure to carry out the bombings at night, when they knew the buildings were empty. However, when in the early 90s a young girl was accidentally killed by one of their bombs, the two groups gradually faded out of existence.</span></p><p class="Standard"><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Gathering of the "Red Caps" in western Brittany. Public domain.</span></span></span><br /></span></p> <h2><strong>Going forward</strong></h2> <p class="Standard"><span>Culturally speaking, the Breton movement has always had, since the 70s, the support of the majority of the population, and today more than ever. But it has been difficult to unify the Bretons politically behind a pro-autonomy party.</span></p> <p class="Standard"><span>In 2013 there was a huge popular revolt in Brittany against the imposition of a new tax. The revolt started in western Brittany and was lead by workers and farmers. Traditionally Brittany has always been a region of popular movements based on social justice, drawing people from all parts of society from cobblers to lawyers.</span></p> <p class="Standard"><span>The Bretons have a tradition of protest and resistance against decisions taken in Paris, and several times it have managed to make the central power amend or abandon laws or projects because of the Breton mobilization.</span></p> <p class="Standard"><span>However, last year’s popular revolt gave birth to the “Bonnets Rouges” (or “Red Caps”) - a reference to a significant historical protest against the royal policy in Brittany and the creation of new taxes in the duchy of Brittany without the consent of the Parliament of Brittany in 1675. More than being a simple revolt against unpopular decisions, it became the public striking force for more autonomy in the region of Brittany. Today, and after what happened in Scotland and Catalonia, as well as the popular protests against the territorial reform law, a serious movement appeared among the Breton population, at every social or professional level.</span></p> <p class="Standard"><span>Among the 27 MPs from Brittany, only 9 or 10 fought for the reunification of Brittany in the National Assembly, and were present during the popular demonstrations in the region. The Regional Council of Brittany is also clearly in favor of the reunification and more local prerogatives, but has very little power and can only really add moral, rather than political, weight to the cause.</span></p> <p class="Standard"><span>The Scottish referendum has certainly raised spirits and eyebrows in Brittany. A few days after the vote, 30,000 people demonstrated in Nantes, the capital of the department of Loire-Atlantique and historical capital of Brittany, asking for a reunification. Placards displayed the slogan ‘DEMOCRACIE – UK:1 / FRANCE:0’.</span></p> <p class="Standard"><span>Of course any kind of referendum or public consultation in Brittany is a long way off, due to the ultra-centralised French state and their dogmatic “one and indivisible” ideology. But events in Europe have given Bretons hope that change in cultural preservation and devolution can be achieved peacefully and democratically within states.</span></p> <p class="Standard"><span>With the concept of the right to self determination for the people of Europe, the Bretons are more and more tempted by a local referendum, or even just a local consultation, to ask simple questions to the population on matters of autonomy or territory. The Breton movement would like to use such results to legitimize their demands.</span></p> <p class="Standard"><span>What may increase tensions is the fact that the government has clearly said that no such thing would be organized or tolerated. The government reminds us that under our Constitution, the decisions are taken by the President and its government, and validated by their majority at the National Assembly. The Breton matter shows the prescient contradiction between the will of more democracy and the intention to keep the decisions in the capital in the hands of the executive power. In the few past months we have observed that the more the spirit of subsidiarity and local democracy evolves in Europe, the more France returns to a state of complete centralisation.</span></p> <p class="Standard"><span>Having rebuffed the reunification of Brittany, and refusing it the right to consult its population, the French government has made it understood that it wouldn't be against at least one change and one evolution in that region. There is indeed a wish to create an Assembly of Brittany, imagined by Breton MPs and thinkers, and inspired by the Assembly of Wales concerning its potential constitution and prerogatives, which would replace the different councils of departments and the council of the region.</span></p> <p class="Standard"><span>Such an opportunity would be officially justified by a simplification of the multiple administrative entities, but in the heart of the Bretons it would clearly be a first step to the recovery of any sort of autonomy. The Breton movement is already asking for it to be accompanied by a political status for the region, but the words ‘autonomy’ or ‘federalism’ make the French state very uncomfortable.</span></p> <p class="Standard"><span>However, after what happened during the territorial reform, the Bretons are disappointed and skeptical, and the government has lost their trust for good. Once again the majority of the Bretons would agree with such an Assembly, and even proclaim it publicly, but once again the government will decide it on its own, from Paris, and with all its antagony towards the potential “secessionist” region of Brittany. Hopefully Europe, and the French government, will eventually wake up and smell the coffee.</span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/farimah-daftary/after-scottish-referendum-corsican-contagion">After the Scottish referendum: Corsican contagion? </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/eve-hepburn/what-next-for-independence-movements-in-europe">What next for independence movements in Europe?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> France </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? France Hugo Tran Joining the dots on independence movements in Europe Fri, 05 Dec 2014 15:59:22 +0000 Hugo Tran 88496 at Minister Boschi, South Tyrol is autonomous and rightly so <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The Italian minister publicly claimed she would personally get rid of the country’s self-governing regions – an ill-informed, controversy-stirring populist claim.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="230" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Elena Boschi (second from right). Flickr/Palazzo Chigi. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p><a href="">Maria Elena Boschi has recently caused a stir</a>: the Italian minister for constitutional reforms publicly claimed that Italy should get rid of its autonomous regions (4) and provinces (2) with a special statute. South Tyrol is one of them. The others are Trentino, Aosta Valley, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Sicily and Sardinia.</p> <p>As we all know Italy is facing troubling times. Besides, such regions are seen by the rest of the country as enjoying unjustified privileges, was the subtext. Money gets syphoned off by corrupted functionaries, so they say. Over the years, successive governors of the Veneto – a region with ordinary status – complained vehemently about the supposed unfairness, i.e. the arbitrary splitting between normal and special regions. Public debate there has been reignited by the Northern League’s secession campaigning. A disparaging scenario, highlighting the complete lack of cohesiveness Italy is yet again facing.</p> <p>Boschi’s was a telling episode born out of a certain environment and culture. Let’s take a look into this. Most weeks Italy gets devastated by storms and floods. The resulting deaths, injuries and damage make for an extremely distressing sight. The landslides are also the metaphor of a country that is crumbling economically, socially – there’s hardly any intergenerational empathy left – and, most importantly, politically.</p> <p>A significant part of Italian citizens feel abandoned; they don’t believe in any institutions any more. Any whatsoever. Consider this. The inhabitants of Tor Sapienza – a chronically neglected neighbourhood in Rome – told some Five Star Movement activists to get out: politicians are not welcome. Despite the new movement having worked so hard to present itself in a different light: they are not politicians, they are neither left nor right, they say, they represent a new political order, closer to ordinary people, making old-school politicians accountable. Many people don’t believe that any longer (back in 2012 many seemed to, instead).</p> <p>One thing is certain, in Italy there have been decades of wild, unregulated building. Nature and the outdoors have been literally trampled on in many places, from Liguria to Sardinia, from Milan and the Po Valley to many areas in the south. “In Genoa we should just call in the bulldozers and tear down entire neighbourhoods,”&nbsp;<a href="">claims</a> Fabio Luino, a geologist from the CNR Institute for hydrogeological protection. And so on.</p> <p>Since the sixties, over 3,000 Italians have died as a result of floods, landslides and mismanaged ambitious hydrological projects such as those in <a href="">Stava</a> and <a href="">Vajont</a> in the northeast, a section of the country that is often showcased as being at the forefront of land management – even there atrocities have occurred. Over such a period of time, half a million individuals have been displaced. And this is in a country that’s supposed to be amongst the most developed in the world, a member of the G7, a co-founder of the EU, a key Eurozone market. It all sounds grotesquely incongruous. It also sounds a bit like post-1949 China: mad developments, no regulatory plans, try to concrete over as much as you can. Build, build, build. Make money. (Although Mao’s and Deng’s country was supposed to be entirely and purely communist and equal – it clearly wasn’t and Italy, in all fairness, never pretended to be).</p> <p>Now Italy needs to develop a long-term programme to rebuild half of itself. No joking. Prime minister Matteo Renzi appears to be floundering. He started off by accusing the regions of never having implemented proper land development planning. This is business as usual. When things don’t work, the state blames the regions and vice versa.</p> <p>A chronic malaise. Each to their own and each looking after their own. In a country that’s been long divided, cooperation is now needed among its various entities. Badly. Proper federalism should be the corner stone propping Italy up. Germany, with its similar past of territorial fragmentation, is today a federalist nation. A country of thousands of dialects, like Italy, it’s managed to reabsorb Eastern Germany and mop up the Elbe last year in no time. Surely that’s something to do with proper administrative and political organising. No condoning geared towards electoral gain, but more vision for what the common good means and more awareness as to how to debate decently and work shoulder to shoulder to find feasible, reasonable compromise. Surely that’s nothing to do with embezzlement of public money, misuse of public office and prima donna politicos. </p> <p>Italy never managed to establish itself as a federal country the way Germany did. The northern neighbour has a lot to show for its <a href=""><em>Länder</em></a> quasi independence. Italy’s autonomous regions are nothing but a botched federalist agenda, one that never fully developed. Central governments were historically cautious handing out power. Perhaps due to the fear of unwittingly promoting further corruption and supporting organised crime. For too long Rome thought it could single-handedly keep everything and everybody in check. Eventually it was organised crime who made it to Rome, as the much acclaimed Sicilian novelist and playwright Leonardo Sciascia recounted in <a href="">The Day of the Owl</a> (1961).</p> <p>Senator Francesco Palermo has tried to minimize the impact of minister Boschi’s words. He said these were uttered at a Partito Democratico (PD) gathering and that the PD-led government has no official plans of attacking special statutes.<strong>&nbsp;</strong>Palermo also said that there’s been much ado about nothing. Well, when a minister speaks publicly and the media are invited to listen and report, then it just becomes like any other stage. Words can just as easily become inflammatory. It’s naive at best and misleading at worst to claim the opposite. </p> <p>Whilst Palermo’s comments on the one hand have a calming effect with the view, maybe, of building a constructive, thoughtful debate about Italy’s federalism, on the other his attempt to hush polemics by saying that Boschi’s affirmations are not newsworthy sounds somehow suspicious. Let’s not forget, however, that Palermo holds a PhD in comparative constitutional law, is an expert in federalism and minorities’ rights and has been a university professor in the US, Germany, Switzerland as well as Italy. A force to be reckoned with, by any means: Palermo is quite possibly the most clued-up one on the topic in his country. So why minimise Boschi’s unwise and untimely affirmations then?</p> <p>South Tyrol’s self-government – for after a longish premise we are here to focus on this particular case – is fully legitimate. Its legitimacy – aside from all political and juridical pacts, their detailing here would require room we don’t have – is essentially a moral one. One that goes beyond the 1915 Treaty of London, a secret pact between the Triple Entente and Italy. Its purpose was to get Italy to oppose its former German-speaking allies. South Tyrol was the reward for Italy’s change of sides. Sheer opportunism. Sidney Sonnino’s Italy was hungry for new land. In Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, Lenin referred to Italy’s imperialistic ambitions as a “colonialism of misers”. </p> <p>History is full of things like that. To rectify its disastrous outcome – snatching a chunk of a proper German-speaking territory from its Austrian motherland, i.e. from the core of a defeated empire, not one of its remote provinces that spoke Ukrainian, Rumanian or Italian. An exception to the rule that has caused so much controversy. A due reminder.</p> <p>A self-governing status is thus only fair. Boschi should have quickly acknowledged that her remarks didn’t include South Tyrol. Not so difficult to remember, after all. How many other parts of Italy are further away from the sea and speak a foreign language, the language of Germany and Austria? Certainly more conspicuous than the proverbial fly in the ointment. The fact she didn’t, goes to show how far this province of just over half-a-million people is from Rome’s thoughts. That is until it becomes too late to apologise (Boschi later on succinctly <a href="">retracted</a> what she’d boldly claimed as pressure had obviously mounted from within PD). “Get rid of them” is a sweeping populist remark – these special regions are all different from one another; some of their statutes are more justified than others. A bit of tinkering is required, but generalisations are unhelpful.</p> <p>Landslides – which do occur in the very mountainous South Tyrol, but are never devastating because they are almost invariably professionally and timely contained – symbolise both the astonishing lack of ability to focus on what’s what and the widespread use of a vicious blaming culture that’s so typical of the Italian establishment. From there it ensues a moral high-ground from where you can conveniently escape the literal deluge all round. A high-ground that is in theory as much moral as it is in practice smug. Rome’s government can’t micromanage, can’t even contemplate beginning to do so. It can’t afford to. The appropriate administrative tools have not been sharpened regularly. As it stands, today, they are blunt; totally ineffective. And it just shows.</p> <p>Regions have a role and can’t be wiped out. Regions made up Italy long before Rome did (the country had two other capitals before the Eternal city). Rome is there as a halfway relay in between north and south; a bridge of sorts. A romanticised and emotionally charged icon. But the country needs to be managed locally by raising tax locally to be used there and then. In Italy, tax payers’ money is moved around the country like crazy with people unable to see – with reason – why they should help others’ mismanaged regions. Italy as a whole is a vision shared only by a few; most think it’s a faulty system.</p> <p>No wonder there’s still on-going, creeping stigma and racism within the country itself, among Italians themselves. A horrible and highly derogatory word like <a href=""><em>terrone</em></a><em> </em>is now heard everywhere, used nonchalantly among friends, on social media, in clubs and associations, in the press, on the radio and in films (it’s an offensive term against southern Italians). It’s fun using it, apparently. It’s like outdoing a taboo. It’s like being modern. Haha. Dictionaries say the term is occasionally used with a hint of humour… Well, it’s mostly not the case. And where’s the humour anyway in implying that somebody is lazy and retrograde because they are from the south? Crass. Attitudes like that contribute to weakening the base of Italy’s civil society, playing into the hands of intolerant, factional, clannish, bigoted politicians.</p> <p>An insult that’s in reality an obvious and a sad sign of no cohesion (football grounds’ racist and sectarian chanting has liberated its widespread use, propagated by the ubiquitous, twenty-four-seven televised matches). Or worse, it perhaps represents the unwillingness to search yet again for cohesion, after so much time spent without finding any (see for instance the case of the doomed <a href="">Cassa del mezzogiorno</a>, the Aid for Southern Italy). </p> <p>Italians have given up on it – cohesion? Who cares now. Resources are badly redistributed because the mechanism that should be in charge of promoting cohesion and sharing – the glue of a country – doesn’t function. Proper federalism is required. The alternative is a useless pointing the finger at others. Or cancerous envy.</p> <p>Therefore, sweeping statements like blaming the floods on regions, or the regions are Italy’s evil and should be dismantled, is tantamount to cheap demonizing that doesn’t help the thoughtful and serious debate which Italians badly need. Now, more than ever. </p> <p>The debate in question ought to be on how to rebuild the country: materially and politically. Which of the two aspects comes first is a question of the chicken and egg. They should go hand in hand, proceed shoulder to shoulder, like two oxen labouring hard in a field, going backwards and forwards. The economy is the plough, it follows suit.</p> <p>A former chunk of Austria that has lent itself to a Mediterranean folk could be the lighthouse in a foggy bay. However, on the proviso that its legitimate autonomy <a href="">is not questioned as being amoral</a>, but observed very closely instead to see what’s in it that Italy could benefit from. Maybe it’s all in a number. Ninety. <span><span>The ninety per cent of locally raised tax revenue that as a region you should keep for yourself</span></span>. Rome will manage just fine with the remaining ten. It’ll have to.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/arianna-giovannini/arrivederci-veneto">Arrivederci, Veneto? </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/eva-klotz/fighting-for-selfdetermination-in-south-tyrol">Fighting for self-determination in South Tyrol</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Italy </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? Italy Alessio Colonnelli Joining the dots on independence movements in Europe Sat, 22 Nov 2014 20:44:06 +0000 Alessio Colonnelli 88091 at What next for independence movements in Europe? <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The EU – and its member-states – should not rest on their laurels: these independence movements are only going to get stronger.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//[1].jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//[1].jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Members of the European Free Alliance in Edinburgh on the day of the referendum. EFA. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>One can imagine that the European Commission breathed a collective sigh of relief when the results of the Scottish independence referendum were announced on 19 September 2014. </p><p>The independence referendum had created a headache - if not a chronic migraine - for officials in Brussels, in trying to figure out whether Scotland would have to leave the EU and then reapply for membership (under Treaty 49, which was the official preference of <a href="">former President Barroso</a> and the Better Together campaign) or if it would allow Scotland to remain in by amending the EU treaties (under Treaty 48, the preferred choice of Yes campaigners and some dissident Commission officials). </p><p>If the process was seen as too easy, there were fears amongst the anti-independence camp (and parallel hopes amongst pro-secessionists) that this would cause a domino-effect across the continent as other stateless nations with aspirations towards independence in Europe would jump onto the indyref bandwagon. </p> <p><span>But was this sigh of relief premature? For one thing, Scotland hasn’t been the only territory with an independence referendum on the cards this year. All eyes turned to Catalonia last weekend, where a non-binding vote on independence was held on Sunday 9 November. The Catalan authorities had previously planned to hold an official referendum on Catalan’s future, but this was suspended by the Spanish Constitutional Court. Judges and politicians in Madrid have viewed the referendum as illegal and an egregious affront the notion of indissoluble Spanish sovereignty. </span></p><p><span>Madrid’s stern views scuppered a similar proposal in the Basque Country in 2008, whereby proposals to hold an independence referendum, which were passed by the Basque regional assembly, were ruled down by Madrid as unconstitutional.</span></p> <p><span>These stern warnings did not stop the Catalan authorities this time, however. The unofficial poll was a success for Catalan independence-seeking parties: 80% of those who participated (about 2 million people) voted in favour of independence. While it is difficult to argue that the vote in favour of independence is binding with a turnout of 37%, it is an undeniably strong indication that Catalans want constitutional change.</span></p> <p><span>The poll, however, has amplified the Commission’s migraine. Unlike the Scotland-UK case, whereby the UK Government agreed to holding the independence referendum in Scotland and promised to abide by the outcome (in the ground-breaking ‘Edinburgh Agreement’ of 2012), the ‘democratic will’ of the Catalan people has been slapped down by Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy, who has forbidden any future referendums and has attacked the recent poll as </span><a href="">‘political propaganda’</a><span>.</span></p> <p><span>What should the EU do? At the moment, the official position is to keep its head down and say nothing about the internal affairs of one of its valued member-states. But will this strategy work when more independence referendums – official or unofficial – add more cracks in the sovereignty of the EU’s currency member-states?</span></p> <p><span>For Scotland and Catalonia are not the only cases of independence aspirations in the EU. The next country to watch, without a doubt, is Italy, whereby </span><a href="">a poll released last month</a><span> by Demos showed that 31% of Italians wanted their region to become independent, a figure that was significantly higher in several autonomist regions. </span></p><p><span>The highest was Veneto, a wealthy northern region of Italy with a strong identity, where 53% of survey participants preferred secession. This reflects the success of the nationalist parties in Veneto – most notably the governing Liga Veneta-Lega Nord (LV-LN) – in agitating for independence. The regional assembly passed a bill in June this year to hold a referendum on independence, and President of the Region Luca Zaia of the LNV promised that he would see this through. </span></p><p><span>These events follow an unofficial referendum in Veneto earlier this year in March, supported by several nationalist parties, whereby 89% of participants voted to leave Italy. While the legitimacy of the poll is questionable (as many Latin Americans of Venetian descent voted), </span><a href="">another survey</a><span> by La Repubblica has confirmed the Demos poll, showing that about 55% of Venetians want independence. And if and when the plebiscite is held, given these high numbers in favour of secession, there may be a greater possibility of success than in Catalonia or Scotland. However, everything will ultimately down to the Italian Constitutional Court which, like its Spanish counterpart, views consultative referenda on the fragmentation of the Italian state as illegal.</span></p> <p><span>An unofficial referendum was also held in the German-speaking province of South Tyrol in 2013, which lies on the northern periphery of Italy and which was previously annexed from Austria. Here, over 90% of participants expressed their support for self-determination, and the pro-independence Sud-Tiroler Freiheit went on to win its highest share of the vote in the subsequent regional elections. The issue of secession from Italy is unlikely to go away, not least because it is the ultimate goal of the South Tyrol People’s Party, which has ruled the province throughout the post-war period.</span></p> <p><span>Next up is Sardinia, an island in the Mediterranean, which contains the oldest nationalist party in Italy and one of the oldest in Europe. The Partito Sardo d’Azione, whose electoral fortunes has risen and fallen over the past century, failed by one vote to pass an independence referendum bill in the Sardinian regional assembly in 2012. It would also appear that there is some public support for the Partito Sardo’s position, even if the party itself is lagging behind in the polls. In a collaborative project with the University of Cagliari that for the first time </span><a href=";iso=893&amp;is=7">surveyed the attitudes</a><span> of Sardinians on issues of identity and constitutional change, we found that 41% of Sards wanted independence, and a whopping 87% were in favour for greater devolved powers for the island.</span></p> <p><span>These findings were confirmed in the Demos poll last month, which revealed that 45% of Sardinian participants were in favour of independence. The regional government is currently working on re-writing Sardinia’s special statute (constitutional law) to enhance the island’s fiscal, social and cultural powers. If these powers are not forthcoming, it is likely that the Psd’Az and other nationalist parties will succeed in their next motion to have an independence referendum, raising more questions for the Italian Constitutional Court on how to proceed.</span></p> <p><span>And finally, few people now believe that the question of independence has been put to bed in Scotland. With a recent poll showing majority support for independence, the SNP’s surge in new members, and the self-implosion of the SNP’s main competitor – the Scottish Labour Party - it may only be a matter of time before Scots vote again.</span></p> <p><span>The EU – and its member-states – should not rest on their laurels: these movements are not going to go away. Ironically, the EU appeared to have undercut independence demands in the 1990s by giving sustenance to the idea of a ‘Europe of the Regions’ whereby substate regions could sit alongside – or even replace – the states in the governance of Europe. However, when these hopes were dashed with the state-reifying bias of the Lisbon Treaty, nationalist movements across Europe radicalised their demands in favour of independence in a Europe of the States, as this now seemed to be the only way to get a seat on the top table of the Council of the EU.</span></p> <p><span>The onus is now on the EU to figure out how internal secession within its borders might actually work – because there are now several wannabe states knocking on its doors. If the citizenry of these ‘stateless nations’ believe that their future is best secured with the trappings of statehood, the resulting configuration would be a ‘Europe’ fractured into a number of smaller territorial entities. </span></p><p><span>Ironically, this map of Europe may be very familiar to historians. Once upon a time, before the rise of the modern nation-state in the nineteenth century, Europe was a patchwork of city-states and small self-governing regions. ‘Small is beautiful’ was the mantra then; with the spread of independence referenda, are we seeing the natural return to this model?</span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/alex-sakalis/catalonia-vs-spain-clash-of-two-debates">Catalonia vs Spain: a clash of two debates</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? Eve Hepburn Joining the dots on independence movements in Europe Sun, 16 Nov 2014 06:00:00 +0000 Eve Hepburn 87790 at After the Catalan vote, Spain needs to buy time <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Spain, and Catalonia within it, is now exhausted from an unprecedented and exceedingly destructive economic crisis which has triggered a vast social crisis that has ended up in a serious political crisis.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="289" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Flickr/SBA73. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>An unparalleled participatory process, organized by the Catalan Government through militant volunteers, mobilized 2.3 million people across Catalonia on Sunday, November 9. In an election-style press conference that same evening, Catalonia’s regional president stated: “Today, the Catalan people have looked themselves in the mirror, and they liked what they have seen.” </p> <p>Narcissistic or not, it was a massive, civic demonstration of political will and determination, and the emotional part of it demonstrates how much this is also a matter of feelings, pride and dignity, but also love, and hate. Standing up for what they called their national “right to decide”, countless Catalans deeply felt an extraordinary patriotic emotion. Numerous people sported proudly their Catalan flags and yellow t-shirts recycled from previous mobilizations, happily standing in long lines across the country, and some hugged each other in tears when they cast their ballots. For an act of defiance of the Spanish state, it was an amazingly calm process, led by highly engaged and disciplined people. By all standards.</p> <p>But, are those plentiful Catalans capable of turning that big mobilization success into a political victory, and get to vote in a fully-fledged legal referendum for independence? Addressing the international community in an <a href="">article published by the Guardian</a> on November 12, the Catalan president wrote: “A huge majority of Catalans, whether in favour of independence or not, just wanted to express their wishes at the ballot box”. Albeit that “huge majority of Catalans” meant scarcely the 37 percent of the census, of whom 80.7 percent voted in favour of independence (i.e. 1.87 million out of the 6.22 million entitled to vote). The Catalan president believes they have “earned the right to a proper legally binding referendum”.</p> <p>&nbsp;“Following the Catalans’ overwhelming backing for independence”, the Catalan president’s article goes, “Spain needs to listen”. If that 37% means a “huge majority”, or if that “backing for independence” (i.e. one out of three) is “overwhelming” or not, is debatable, and the reader can judge for themselves. But what is less debatable is the second part of the sentence, as it is self-evident that, with such a mobilization happening in a core part of its territory, the Spanish government “needs to listen”. </p> <p>What the Catalan government has been asking for is an official Scottish-style referendum, but that is precisely what has been repeatedly rebuffed by the Spanish government. What for the Catalan president, Mr. Mas, are only “legal excuses”, for the Spanish president, Mr. Rajoy, are pillar articles of the Constitution. </p> <p>Obviously, now the Spanish president is feeling the heat as he has been asked by Mr. Mas to engage in a negotiation that will entitle that referendum to happen... or face the consequences, meaning by that Mr. Mas will eventually call for early regional elections and start the process of declaring independence. &nbsp;Under an enormous amount of stress, Mr. Rajoy stood firmly in his position: if Catalans want to change the Constitution in order to allow Spanish regions to unilaterally decide whether they want to stay in Spain or otherwise, they should bring the proposal to the congress, promote a debate and, if they win the necessary backing of two thirds of the chamber, carry on and have a vote. </p> <p>Nevertheless, he added, he himself and his political party, currently enjoying an absolute majority, would firmly oppose that. As the previously existing stalemate is holding tight, some will think it was a futile exercise, and a waste of time.</p> <p>Yet, as a result of this whole process, the situation has reached a high level of emotional tension, one that it is almost acquiring an ontological dimension. As the Spanish philosopher George Santayana would have put it, we are directly heading to “the realm of essence”: There is an old nation-state (Spain) that has inside it another nation (Catalonia), where allegedly a “huge majority” now asks for its own state. And that is “overwhelming”. Under such a strain, letting that new nation-state be born is something that the old nation-state does not even consider, as it will mean allowing for its own destruction. </p> <p>Objectively, peeling off Catalonia from Spain by force will be, at least initially, an economic, social and political disaster for both sides, but especially for the latter. Yet asking somebody - even a nation-state - to commit suicide is probably hopeless. Alternatively, you might encourage a fatal disease to grow and let doctors claim it has died of old age. This is of course a caricature, but it shows the insane level of irrationality the conflict has reached in a relatively short period of time. Spain, and Catalonia within it, is now exhausted from an unprecedented and exceedingly destructive economic crisis which has triggered a vast social crisis that has ended up in such a political crisis, that it is threatening its own survival. </p> <p>There are a lot of parallels with what has been happening in Europe since 2008-2009. Impoverished middle classes have sensed they have lost their sovereignty and, as a reaction, have embraced the stream of nationalism that runs across the continent, including the British Isles. </p> <p>We have witnessed a steady deterioration of the quality of our democracies, Hungary being the most conspicuous and worrying case. Now, everybody agrees that, if we find a way of fixing the economy, we will hopefully be able to deal with its negative social impacts, and therefore end up in a better position to stop the corrosion of our political system. But this will inevitably take time, a time that some do not want to concede. </p> <p>“The hour has come and our whole hearts are in this”, concludes Mr. Mas, calling on the international community to urge Mr. Rajoy to allow a referendum, something he is obviously unable to concede at this point. Ideally, they should both sit down, talk and buy time, at least until the upcoming Spanish election cycle in 2015 (local elections in May and general elections in November) is over. The new correlation of forces will have then to decide how to deal with the deadlock.&nbsp; But are they really ready to buy that precious time? It doesn’t look like it, as everybody knows that love and hate, as thirst or hunger, are deeply rooted in a sense of urgency.&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/pere-vilanova/catalonia-referendum-reality-check">Catalonia referendum: a reality check</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Spain </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Spain Francesc Badia i Dalmases Spotlight on Spain and Catalonian independence Joining the dots on independence movements in Europe Sat, 15 Nov 2014 06:00:00 +0000 Francesc Badia i Dalmases 87789 at Catalonia referendum: a reality check <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Optimism among Catalans after Sunday's vote should not disguise the significant challenges ahead if anything is to come from their "non-referendum consultation".</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Demotix/Rosa Maria Duaso. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>First of all, let’s look at the facts.</p> <p>On November 9, an important cross-section of Catalan society went to vote. Was it a referendum? Or was it –as the Catalan government insisted – a “non-referendum consultation”?</p> <p>Technically it was neither. Instead, it was a kind of peaceful manifestation, a massive civic ceremony symbolically consisting of putting ballots inside of boxes. It did not meet even the most basic standards of an official referendum. It had no legal basis (and in fact had been suspended by Spain’s constitutional court), no list of registered voters, no impartial staff at voting booths, no legally bound electoral management bodies etc... If this were not enough, we found out on Monday that some voting venues would be open until....the end of the month!</p> <p>No this was something different: an original, massive, protest event. As such, it was highly successful, regardless of what the Spanish government says. They seem to be sticking to the ostrich’s approach.</p> <p>What do the results say? What about the numbers? Assuming that the figures given by the organisers are accurate, then around 2,250,000 people have voted. There were about 5,400,000 people on the list of registered voters in the last election in 2012. But in this “informal referendum”, sixteen and seventeen year olds could vote as well as non-Spanish immigrants. Taking this into account, the theoretical list of “registered” voters rises to around 6,250,000 people. Given these figures, it seems that only around 33 percent of people voted.</p> <p>Sure, lots of people took part, but it was still just a third of possible voters, much less than the usual turnout of between 56 and 66 percent in Catalan regional elections. But still, had there been a turnout of 65% say, voters supporting independence would still not have reached 50% of the total. Let’s not forget that around 80 percent of voters, around 1.7 million people, said yes to independence. The other 20 percent voted no or submitted a blank vote.</p> <p>Since there will never be a legal referendum condoned by Madrid, and given that it is not possible to expect a unilateral one, we only have the regional elections left. And in that situation, competition between parties will fragment those who support independence.</p> <p>Why? Because in reality, those parties that supported the referendum are divided about the heart of the matter. Two of them (ERC and CUP) want a unilateral declaration of independence, and the others – led by Catalan president Artur Mas – will not do so.</p> <p>As a result, we arrive back at two essential aspects of democratic politics: competition among parties (divisive by definition) and the question of how to take politics to the institutions.</p> <p>In the last few months, what exactly is going on in Catalonia has been attracting a large amount of attention. The dichotomy between “political” and “legal” has been at the forefront of this debate. “This is not a legal matter, but a political matter,” say many Catalans. “This is not a political matter, but a legal matter,” says Madrid. Is this true? While the Spanish government has doggedly maintained a narrow-minded and antagonistic attitude, the problem is legalistic at heart. The referendum is illegal and must be prohibited, unless we have a constitutional reform. In the meantime the Spanish government cannot sanction an illegal act – that would open up so many slippery slopes. But let’s look closer at this political/legal conflict.</p> <p>In a legal system like ours (I speak of Catalonia, Spain and Europe), politics and law are inseparably bound. When there is a problem, so to speak, the government and institutions use the law courts to justify their actions.</p> <p>The accusation that the Spanish constitutional court has been politicised is a long-standing one. It is argued that the way it appoints its justices is too political, although in Spain this is true of every institution (state, region, municipal), because dominant political parties (whoever they are) tend to want to control all democratic institutions and<strong> </strong>resources.</p> <p>In the event that concerns us however, the problem is different. The Generalitat of Catalonia, (which is above both the Catalan government and regional parliament) have made contradictory gestures. On the one hand, it urged the constitutional court to quickly decide about the suspension of Catalonia’s planned referendum. However, the body forgot that there are a few legal steps before this. For example, the constitutional court must wait for arguments from all&nbsp;of the&nbsp;concerned Catalan bodies.</p> <p>This caused a delay in the court’s pronouncement, as they had to wait for arguments from other bodies. Furthermore, the Catalan government appealed to the Supreme Court, which has no jurisdiction over the constitutional court. Every first-year law student could tell you this, so why did the Catalan government do it? In order to blur the lines between legal process and political willpower. I believe they are trying to show the ability of politics to cope with problems that the law cannot, and that they tried to counteract the weakness in the law by using political maneuvering.</p> <p>This is a big mistake because from this point, one must consider the factor of time. For two long years, some politicians believed that with a good communications team and the support of the media and civil society (including at least four huge demonstrations of popular strength), it could conceal the evidence that the legal battle was lost from the beginning. When time seemed a luxury, the game was easy to play. But the holiday is coming to an end and time is speeding up. Soon all will realise the ugly truth: politics has only stalled the law, and the law is, in the end, the legal way to express political agreements.</p> <p>Despite the big success of the civic mobilisation on November 9, political parties belonging to the sovereigntist front, and Mas, the leader of the primary one, know that in the end, they will either achieve an agreement with Madrid (unlikely), which will not be much different to their current ‘brick wall’ policy, or they will not get anything at all. In other words, nothing will really happen. Frustration among the people will increase, but no political solution will materialise. What the movement has achieved in the streets must be taken to the institutions. Otherwise, Catalans will just replace their feelings of elation with feelings of self-pity.</p> <p>In reality, this is not just a problem for Catalonia and the Catalans. It is just a part of the structural crisis, never seen before, which is affecting the whole Spanish political system, starting with its territorial structure and concluding with the trust between citizens and political elite.</p><p><em>Translated by Inmaculada Lopez Oton</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/patrice-de-beer/catalonia-has-voted-now-what">Catalonia has voted: now what?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Spain </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? Spain Pere Vilanova Spotlight on Spain and Catalonian independence Joining the dots on independence movements in Europe Thu, 13 Nov 2014 01:40:40 +0000 Pere Vilanova 87714 at Catalonia has voted: now what? <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Rajoy's iron-fisted approach to the Catalan question has only made the independence movement stronger. Now he must negotiate or risk losing Catalonia for good.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="Standard"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Demotix/Jose_Hinojosa. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p class="Standard">Catalan nationalists finally got what they wanted. 2.3 million people voted on Sunday, November 9 for or against independence in an unofficial poll which had been declared illegal by Madrid. 80% voted for independence for the autonomous region, 10% for more autonomy within Spain and 4.5% for the status quo. These are the bare results which have enabled the pro-independence movement to claim victory. </p> <p class="Standard"><span>Catalan nationalists were able to organise voting operations in the four provinces without incident and with outstanding popularity - as many people voted in the referendum as had participated in the last two demonstrations for the September 11 Diada (National Day).</span></p> <p class="Standard"><span>On the other hand, the Popular Party's (PP, right) central government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy claimed that the “N9” was a “vain travesty”, a violation of the Constitution and a political failure, as less Catalans voted than in the 2012 regional elections (3.6 million).</span></p><p class="Standard"><span></span><span>As always in statistics, everyone has been able to twist results for their own ends. But the political results are there: 90% of voters against the status quo (instead of two thirds in 2012) and a massive, peaceful manifestation - devoid of violence, Basque style - of a vast majority of Catalans for change. Whatever Mr. Rajoy – or his PSOE (Socialist) opposition, equally hostile to granting more autonomy to Catalonia – can say, demonstration after demonstration, vote after vote, have shown a growing chasm between Madrid and Barcelona politicians together with a growing dissatisfaction within the richest and most developed region of the peninsula.</span></p> <p class="Standard"><span>In Monday's editorials in Madrid, centre-left daily <em>El País </em>encapsulated the national establishment's disarray when presented with a situation they are unable to contain or repress. One editorial asked Mr. Rajoy and Mr. Artur Mas (the Catalan head of government) to “come back to the (negotiating) table”; another denounced the “day of disloyalty” in Catalonia; a third said that, now, “Rajoy knows who is the leader (in Catalonia)” and the last that “refusing to see the political effects of the N9 would be following the ostrich policy” while, in its Catalan edition, it wrote that “Mas has seized back the rudder”.</span></p> <p class="Standard"><span>The strong arm policy adopted by the PP since its victory at the 2011 national elections, has refused to engage in dialogue not based on an iron clad status quo. Meanwhile, the PP have been playing the strategy of death by a thousand cuts, i.e. of local prerogatives, first of all on language and education – considered as provocations by Catalans so proud of their own culture. With such an obstinate attitude to Catalonia, it is no wonder tensions have been increasing steadily – then dramatically – for years.</span></p> <p class="Standard"><span>What strikes one most when one looks at statistics is that, since 2010 when, at the PP's request, the Constitutional Court cancelled key provisions of a new Statute which had been ratified by referendum by the Catalans and a vote of the Spanish Cortes, the percentage of pro-independence has doubled to reach just under 50% (49.5% in recent polls).</span></p> <p class="Standard"><span>A large number of “new” nationalists have joined the “old” ones. Bourgeoisie from Mr. Mas’ centre right CiU coalition, as well as leftists from Esquerra Republicana (ERC) have united to protest the lack of prospects for their nation within Spain. Another crucial reason has been Madrid's refusal to grant Catalonia a “fiscal pact” allowing them to collect taxes, a privilege which the Basque Country enjoys.</span></p> <p class="Standard"><span>Contrary to what most Spanish politicians say, or think, Catalan leaders are not irresponsible firebrands who have been pushing Catalans to the streets only to protect their own interests (financial or others) but have merely followed their voters for fear of losing touch with them. Mr. Mas is almost as conservative, economically and socially, as Mr. Rajoy.</span></p> <p class="Standard"><span>Far from being a revolutionary he has felt the rising tide of nationalism, independentism or separatism – depending on which camp you are in – which has, since 2010, frenetically grown to the point of threatening his party's leadership, as shown in the last European elections and on recent polls showing that the ERC had passed ahead of the CiU.</span></p> <p class="Standard"><span>But, surprisingly enough, his bold move might pay off. After weeks of hesitation - one step forward towards organising his plebiscite, one step backwards when Madrid was threatening him with court action - he has finally held to his promise. </span></p><p class="Standard"><span>Unable to use government resources, as the Spanish Constitution does not allow local referenda, he has banded together with civic movements and their joint organisation has been flawless. Massive queues but no incidents. And his image as the legitimate leader of a new Catalonia might well have been boosted. He voted, and expressed himself after the vote as a statesman, by renewing his demand for negotiations on the basis of the N9 results. Far ahead of other nationalist leaders, and before his main rival, ERC's Oriol Junqueras. And he has reinforced his position as Mr. Rajoy's unavoidable interlocutor as the latter can no more bank on an illusory “silent majority”, even if many Catalans remain weary if not afraid of going it alone.</span></p> <p class="Standard"><span>That is assuming that he wants to negotiate and not to sue Mr. Mas for violation of the law. It is clear that the Spanish head of government is under tremendous pressure from his own party as well as from other national parties, including the PSOE, not to cave in to the Catalans in the name of a united Spain. A Spain still ruled for several centuries by a centralist elite in Madrid which has failed, unlike neighbouring France, to unify a diverse country.</span></p> <p class="Standard"><span>Yet, Spain is now a democracy and, despite claims from a tiny neo-fascist fringe to send the Guardia Civil or tanks to rebel Catalonia, the present crisis will have to be solved peacefully through negotiations and not by sticking stubbornly to the letter of the Constitution as more and more are now suggesting. </span></p><p class="Standard"><span>The present tactics have not worked: Catalans who were said to cave in after the first threat now look determined to soldier on. And the bunker diplomacy has shown its limits. The objective is now to reduce tensions and start talking. That is, provided both parties agree to what to talk about and have the political credibility to move forward in a country rotted to the core by corruption, which is affecting all political parties - PP, PSOE or CiU - to the benefit of catch-all “protest” parties like Podemos.</span></p> <p class="Standard"><span>All this will be difficult, as elections are looming ahead, next spring in Spain and before 2016 in Catalonia. At this time, politics usually reverts to type as parties promulgate short term vote-winning policies and try to outflank each others’ deeply-rooted nationalism, whether it be Catalan or Castillian. </span></p><p class="Standard"><span>Will PP and CiU do it and look for a - difficult - consensus? Will both sides accept their differences and be able, or willing, to make the long term necessary efforts to understand each other within a pluralist state? Will Catalan parties show enough statesmanship and band together around crucial issues or, as they often do, bicker against each other for more seats in Barcelona's Parliament? Otherwise it is clear that Catalans, and Artur Mas, will go on restlessly demanding a referendum on self determination - and the crisis will become harder and harder to resolve.</span></p><p class="Standard"><span>Only history and common sense can tell us what will happen.</span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/patrice-de-beer/catalonia-vs-spain-clash-of-two-nationalisms">Catalonia vs Spain, a clash of two nationalisms</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/fernando-betancor/catalonia-vote-first-reactions">Catalonia vote: first reactions</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Spain </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? Spain Democracy and government Patrice de Beer Spotlight on Spain and Catalonian independence Joining the dots on independence movements in Europe Tue, 11 Nov 2014 10:00:44 +0000 Patrice de Beer 87630 at Catalonia vote: first reactions <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Artur Mas was suitably elated at the turnout, while Mariano Rajoy continues to denounce the "referendum" and its leaders.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>Early Sunday morning in Barcelona is not a busy time. A few cafés are open, but streets have little traffic and few pedestrians are out. As I left the hotel and walked along Carrer d’Aragó this impression was confirmed: folks were still waking up.</p><p>But when I turned the corner to visit my first polling station, the illusion was dispersed: there was a line of people stretching around the block to enter the primary school where voting was taking place. In front of the entrance, volunteers had set up a table and were checking people’s IDs to ensure that they were in the right place. In order to prevent fraudulent votes, citizens were required to show their DNI, the national identity card, and their home address on the DNI determined where they could vote.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="357" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p><p>The atmosphere was friendly; there was a great deal of lively banter at the volunteers’ table, and along the line people were conversing with those next to them. The line was a cross-section of a typical Catalan neighborhood: families bringing their kids, lots of seniors and some younger men and women. People would move aside and let the more elderly go ahead of them; and there were plenty of older persons in wheelchairs or walkers moving very slowly, but very determinedly. Everything was as peaceful and ordered as the Catalans had said it would be. There were no demonstrations, picketing or confrontations; just people lining up to vote.</p><p>The scene was repeated at the other polling stations I visited: Pau Claris, Carrer Mallorca, Casp, and Sant Felip Neri. At this last station, a location with a poignant historical significance for Catalans, I saw the only 4 Mossos d’Esquadra that I saw all day. They were off in a corner of the square, minding their own business. No one except the tourists paid them any attention.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="336" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p><p>Not even the rain was enough to keep people away. A steady drizzle began to fall around noon and lasted until around 2 p.m., but the weather failed to deter voters. The lines were just as long as before or longer, but with more umbrellas.</p><p>I talked with people as they waited in line; everyone was happy to answer questions. I asked why they had come out to vote that day:</p><p>“<em>I’m voting because I’ve been told I can’t vote.”<br />“I’m going to have my voice heard.”<br />“Because we have the right to decide our own future.”</em></p><p>Are you worried about the attitude of the Spanish government and the Constitutional Court?</p><p><em>“Of course I’m worried! But they’re not going to stop me from exercising my right to decide.”<br />“They’ve been threatening us for months, years. They’re not going to do anything.”<br />“Yes, I’m concerned, but I think they’ll have to sit down and talk when they see how many of us have come out to vote.”</em></p><p>What do you think will happen tomorrow, on 10N?</p><p><em>“I have no idea! It’s hard to imagine what might come next, but I hope they will listen to us now.”<br />“Uff! Tomorrow? Tomorrow I have to go to work.”</em></p><p><em><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="337" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></em></p><h2><strong>Spanish Government’s Reaction</strong></h2><p>Prime Minister Rajoy had already expressed the government’s official line yesterday at a Partido Popular meeting, stating that the 9 November event was anti-democratic and illegitimate. This was echoed today in an official statement by Justice Minister Catalá, who blamed President Mas for hoodwinking the Catalan people into participating in what he categorized as a “sterile and useless” piece of political propaganda. Mr. Catalá promised that nothing would come of this vote and that the Attorney General’s office would continue to investigate possible criminal charges against Catalan officials who might have violated the Constitutional Court suspension in the organization of the 9N vote.</p><p>Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez sent out a tweet in the afternoon in which he recognized the democratic impulse behind the Catalan vote and called for a “new beginning” on 10 November in relations between Catalonia and the rest of Spain.&nbsp; Mr. Sánchez expressed his desire that Catalonia become the vanguard of a federalist reform to the Spanish Constitution. Meanwhile Podemos, the insurgent party that has exploded since May to become the second political force in Spain, also congratulated the Catalans on their determination to participate in politics, to exercise their freedom of expression and their right to decide the form and future of their state.&nbsp; It should be noted that the Socialists do not officially accept the possibility of an independent Catalonia, while Podemos has not decided on an official position yet.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="258" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p><h2><strong>Generalitat’s reaction</strong></h2><p>President Mas was visibly elated with the results of the day at this evening’s press conference. This had been a huge gamble for him: he had risked fracturing his pro-consultation coalition, dividing his own party, legal action by the Spanish government (and still does) all in the belief that the Catalan people would come through on 9N and vote in numbers. He read the temper of his people well, but he must have had some sleepless nights as well. If no one had shown up on Sunday, Mr. Mas would have been politically a dead man walking.</p><p>Mr. Mas has promised to send a letter to Mr. Rajoy on Monday, urging him to heed Sunday’s results and to authorize a legal referendum. The Catalan leader was asked if he would call snap elections; he acknowledged that this was a possibility, but that it required a degree of consensus between the Catalan political parties which did not yet exist.&nbsp; Mr. Mas also called for an “internationalization” of the Catalan question: if the Spanish government continued to put up a “Berlin Wall” of legal obstructionism, the Catalan President hoped that other democratic nations would bring pressure to bear on Madrid. His ideal would be a negotiated referendum like in the United Kingdom and Canada.</p><p>Duran i Lleida, leader of the federalist Unió faction, called for Mr. Rajoy to take notice of this manifestation of Catalan popular will and to negotiate seriously and in good faith. “A better deal for Catalans” pleaded Mr. Duran i Lleida, before the division between Catalans and Spanish became “irreparable”. &nbsp;Meanwhile, Oriol Junqueras of Esquerra Republicana continued his call for precisely that: immediate elections as a&nbsp;<em>de facto</em>&nbsp;referendum on independence.</p><h2><strong>First Impressions:</strong></h2><p>The official count of today’s participation is not yet complete. As I’m writing, about 12% of returns remain to be counted; however the estimated total will be close to 2.2 million. Consider the following turnouts in Catalonia for past official and legal referendums:</p><p>1986 NATO membership &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; 1.46 million<br />2005 European Constitution&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; 1.36 million<br />2006 Reform to the Statute of Autonomy &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; 1.88 million<br />2012 Catalan Parliamentary Election &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; 3.66 million</p><p>The fact that 41% of the Catalan electorate turned out today for a vote with no legal validity, and under threat from the central government, cannot be ignored. Messrs. Rajoy and Catalá are correct that the vote has no legal significance, but it has a very considerable political significance. It ought to &nbsp;dispel any lingering illusions that Catalan separatism is the work of a small clique of ANC malcontents or the Machiavellian Mr. Mas. If anything, Mr. Rajoy is the greatest argument in favor of Catalan separatism; every time Education Minister Wert opens his mouth, independence gains a percentage point. Since Rajoy assumed leadership of the Partido Popular, pro-independence sentiment rose from its post-transition baseline of 15% to 20% and is now very nearly 50%.</p><p>The Prime Minister will now be under intense pressure from within his party. The hardline Aznar faction cannot be pleased with Mr. Rajoy’s handling of the situation. After pushing for two Court injunctions against a separation vote, he then fails to enforce either one of them. Hardline conservatives will argue that Rajoy’s vacillation (their expression) places in doubt the authority of the central government over Catalonia and its ability to enforce its laws and decrees. If the Generalitat can make a mockery of that, they are halfway to independence already. Or so that argument will go.</p><p>However, if the government “overreacts” and tries to bring charges against members of the Catalan Parliament and the Generalitat, they may end up provoking the very declaration of independence that they are trying to avoid. Any attempt to indict a sitting member of the Parlament comes up against their legal immunity (aforamiento) which would require the case to be brought before the Supreme Court of Catalonia. How that plays out is difficult to predict; but I don’t imagine that Artur Mas’ political plans include going quietly into that good night.</p><p>President Mas would prefer to proceed legally, which is why he renewed his call for a negotiated referendum in the near future. That seems highly improbable, even without taking into account the official government position. &nbsp;Mr. Rajoy faces municipal elections in May next year and a general election that must occur before December 2015: he cannot perform so stunning a reverse just before these elections without provoking a backbencher’s revolt in his party and perhaps handing the government of Spain to Podemos.</p><p>Neither side therefore has room to negotiate and there appears to be no middle ground left. This vote has served to make that crystal clear, if it wasn’t before. The 1.6 million “Sí-Sí” voters would abandon President Mas if he accepted any deal less than an officially sanctioned referendum; while Mr. Rajoy is not in a position to even begin negotiating unless the Catalans unconditionally drop that demand.</p><p>The next few months will most likely be calm, unless the Spanish government attempts to indict major Catalan politicians. That calm will hide some very intense back-room negotiations between the pro-independence Catalan parties who will be trying to agree to a formula for a united front in the upcoming elections. Mr. Mas will insist he has earned the right to be at the head of that list, a claim Mr. Junqueras might choose to dispute.</p><p>On Monday morning, markets open and it will be interesting to see if bond investors start selling Spanish debt. That would be a very bad sign for Mariano Rajoy; it would seriously undermine any hope for economic recovery through 2015. A triple dip recession and a few more corruption scandals could be devastating for the Partido Popular’s electoral chances. Next year promises to be far bumpier for Spain.</p><p><em>All photos used with permission of the author of this article.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/joan-costa-alegret/independence-at-eleventh-hour-rise-and-rise-of-catalan-indepen">Independence at the eleventh hour: the rise and rise of the Catalan independence movement</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Spain </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? Spain Fernando Betancor Spotlight on Spain and Catalonian independence Joining the dots on independence movements in Europe Mon, 10 Nov 2014 10:34:42 +0000 Fernando Betancor 87607 at European integration and the winds of secession <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>European integration has made secession more viable and less costly. Expect Scotland to be the first of many nations to take their calls for self-determination to the ballot box.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Flickr/Phyllis Buchanan. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><h2>The economic trade-off and the size of states</h2> <p>Over the past decades, the idea that regions such as Cataluña, Scotland or Veneto would become independent seemed unreasonable and unfeasible. However, along with historical and cultural reasons, the dimensions of the states also depend on economic trade-offs, as explained by Alesina and Spolaore in their book <em><a href="">The Size of Nations</a></em>.&nbsp;</p><p>The advantage of large nations is represented by economies of scale in the production of public goods, while the disadvantage is the increasing heterogeneity of a population as its size increases. </p> <p>A big nation can benefit from economies of scale in the production of many public goods, such as infrastructure and defence, but is more likely to face the “one-size-fits-all problem”. In fact, larger nations tend to be characterized by more heterogeneous population, for instance in terms of religion, language and traditions. In these cases it is harder to meet their needs when policies are designed at the central level. </p><p>By contrast, in small states characterized by a more homogenous population, public policies can better meet the needs of citizens. However, small states are less efficient since they are less able to benefit of economies of scale. Another important point is the access to the market. The size of the market is important in that the more limited the market, the more limited the productive potential of specialization, and specialization is the key source of productivity growth. In large countries, firms also have access to a larger market.</p> <p>The federated states are precisely a synthesis on this trade off. In the U.S. for instance, the autonomy of the single states allow them to meet the preferences of their citizens, while the presence of a federal state allows for economies of scale in the management of a number of public policies, such as defence, monetary policy, trade policy, and it also represents one of the biggest markets in the world. </p> <p>Heterogeneous countries are often characterized by a delicate balance between the benefits of being part of a larger nation and the cost of a less suited policy. The last cost is especially high for citizens that are different from the majority for various reasons, religion, ethnic, etc. Therefore, there are large costs associated with secessions (let us called them “secession costs”).</p><p> For instance, an autonomous state of New York or Massachusetts would no longer benefits from economies of scale associated with the production of several public goods at the federal level; they would no longer benefit from a large army; and they would no longer benefit from the big bargaining power of the U.S. within international organizations and in bilateral negotiations.</p> <p>The central argument of this column is that this no longer applies to European regions that aim to be independent. An independent Scotland, Cataluña, or Veneto would be attracted into the European Union. A counter argument could be that once a region becomes independent it is excluded from the European treaties. At this stage the European states could impede the new state from joining the EU. This becomes a complex political issue to deal with, but it appears hard to impede Scotland or Catalonia to join the EU while other countries like Croatia are joining the EU.&nbsp;<span>The reason is that, in fact, </span><span>one of the side effects of the creation of the EU is the sizeable reduction of the secession costs.</span></p> <h2><strong>The impact of the European Union</strong></h2> <p>The creation of the European Common Market in 1992 and the subsequent process of European integration in a number of areas have led to a considerable reduction of secession costs. In the first place, the dimension of the market is no longer limited by national borders, but it is represented by the European Common Market, in fact one of the biggest in the world. The currency and the monetary policy are already managed at the European level by an independent and respected central bank. Several other policies, such as the agriculture and environment policy are increasingly shifting from the national to the European level. At present, the EU already sits in the most important international organizations, e.g. the WTO, the G8, and it manages important commercial bilateral agreements, such as the <a href=" ">Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership</a> (TTIP).</p> <p>As long as the European Union will centralize more political power in other areas, e.g. foreign policy and labour market, the secessions costs will decrease relentlessly. As a result, claims for autonomy will become more feasible and credible along with political integration.</p> <p>For these reasons, an independent European region that would join the EU would bear far less costs than an independent American state or herself before the creation of the EU. In terms of the benefits, secession would allow rich regions like Cataluña and Veneto to retain the whole amount of their citizens’ revenues, while separatist regions would benefit from a complete autonomy. Scotland for example was envisaging introducing a reform in her welfare state in order to make it more similar to the Scandinavian model. As a matter of fact, Scotland, Catalonia or Veneto are not smaller than the Netherlands or Belgium.</p> <h2><strong>Conclusions</strong></h2> <p>To conclude, one the one hand it is often argued that social cohesion in Europe depends on a deeper political integration and more centralization of power. On the other hand, this column has argued that this process will encourage further claims of independence in several countries. A larger European budget with redistributive policies across Europe, along with reforms of decentralization and devolution can offset this (unintended) consequence of the process of integration. But are Frau Merkel, Monsieur Holland, and Signor Renzi ready to give their power away both upward and downward?</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/alex-sakalis/now-scotland-has-had-its-say-who-is-next-to-vote">Now Scotland has had its say, who is next to vote?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? Andrea Filippetti Joining the dots on independence movements in Europe Mon, 13 Oct 2014 15:50:16 +0000 Andrea Filippetti 86778 at After the Scottish referendum: Corsican contagion? <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In the wake of the Scottish vote, Corsicans are trying to gain publicity for their own, often neglected, struggle for self-determination. Could we soon see an independence referendum on this small, Mediterranean island?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Nationalist graffiti in Corsica. Flickr/Ari Brose. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>On the day of the Scottish referendum of 18 September 2014, a group of Corsican nationalists travelled to Edinburgh as part of a delegation of the Brussels-based European Free Alliance (EFA),&nbsp;along with representatives of 27 other nationalist, regionalist and autonomist parties to support fellow member SNP and the ‘yes’ camp. Headed by the President of the EFA François Alfonsi, a pro-autonomy Corsican politician and former MEP (2009-2014), the seven Corsican members were pro-autonomy members of the largest nationalist party in the regional Corsican Assembly&nbsp;<em>Femu a Corsica</em>&nbsp;(‘Let’s Make Corsica’). Five separatists travelled separately – a reminder of the strong internal divisions within the Corsican nationalist scene.</p><p>Their presence was an indicator of efforts to draw attention to a conflict which has traditionally been considered a special case and a purely internal matter for the French government, and to capitalise on the momentum generated by the Scottish and Catalan debates, despite the significant differences between them.</p><h2><strong>The Corsican Question</strong></h2><p>Lacking a kin state to advocate on its behalf, and having been incorporated by the French state in 1768 following a brief period of independence, Corsica has struggled within this rigid unitary and centralised framework to gain recognition of its specific identity, language and history and to obtain a degree of internal self-determination.</p><p>While Scotland can boast significant natural resources and draw on its history of sovereignty, independence hardly seems a viable option for this small Mediterranean island largely dependent on subsidies. With a population of about 322,000 and the lowest population density of all metropolitan French regions,&nbsp;Corsica is dependent on migration flows to counter its low fertility rate and seasonal workers to fill jobs in the service sector (mainly tourism – which accounts for one third of Corsica’s GDP, making it particularly vulnerable to terrorism).</p><p>Only about 10-15% of Corsicans (consisting of a majority of the titular nation, about 20% of mainland French and slightly under 10% of foreigners) support independence. According to a&nbsp;<a href="">2012 poll</a>, 12% overall and only 42% of those who voted for the separatist electoral list in the 2010 regional elections were in favor of independence.&nbsp;Support for independence hit a low of 6% following the murder of the Prefect of Corsica in February 1998.&nbsp;<a href="">In contrast</a>, support for independence is as high as 30% in France as a whole.&nbsp;<a href="">On the other hand</a>, 51% favoured expanded autonomy, of which two thirds wanted ‘slightly more’ rather than ‘much more’ autonomy.</p><p>Corsica’s specific economic and social problems and challenges are strongly linked to insularity. In Corsica itself, these problems and political violence are seen as a consequence of failed state policies. The modern phase of the conflict dates to the mid-1960s when, following a post-war period of economic, demographic and cultural decline, a number of environmental and autonomist groups were formed. The failure of regionalist party formation as well as the government’s refusal to identify the roots of the crisis resulted in a radicalization of the movement.&nbsp;The founding of the Corsican National Liberation Front (FLNC) in 1976 marked the beginning of a cycle of terrorist violence against the ‘colonial oppressor’ and state repression. The nationalist movement has since been crippled by infighting.&nbsp;</p><p>While the concept of a Corsican people remains controversial, there is a consensus that Corsicans possess distinct characteristics. Territory is the primary reference point for identity. The second vector of identity is the language,&nbsp;<em>Corsu</em>. Although it has no official status and is rapidly declining, it is still believed to be spoken by about 45% of the population.</p><p>Local politicians were originally very hostile to the nationalist discourse which attacked the power of the political ‘clans’ who were seen as sharing responsibility for Corsica’s problems. However, elements of this discourse have become part of the mainstream because of their mobilizing potential, namely the protection and promotion of the Corsican language, balanced economic development and the need for institutional reform.</p><h2><strong>A laboratory for institutional experimentation</strong></h2><p>Demands for internal self-determination date back to the publication of a document entitled&nbsp;<em>Autonomia</em>&nbsp;in 1974. Protest has yielded certain benefits as Corsica enjoys administrative autonomy and specific institutions, although the existence of a separate Corsican people has never been officially recognized. The fact that it constitutes one of the 22 regions of ‘metropolitan’ rather than ‘overseas’ France has placed severe limitations on the extent of institutional experimentation. Furthermore, each new statute/law (1982; 1991; 2002) has been followed by a wave of decentralization granting similar measures to the other French regions, thereby diluting to an extent the specific nature of the Corsican reforms.</p><p>The Corsican Assembly enjoys regulatory competencies but cannot legislate. The ‘Matignon Proposals’ of July 2000 negotiated between representatives of the French government and regional Corsican councillors, including recently-elected separatists, had included an experimental power to adapt national laws. However, the implementation of these political proposals required significant legislative work. While a Corsica law was adopted on 22 January 2002, the process was not completed due to the censure of the French Constitutional Court and the defeat of Prime Minister Jospin in the 2002 presidential elections. A significant transfer of areas of competence was nevertheless accomplished although overlap between the competencies of the Assembly and those of the institutions of state administration associated with the two departments of Upper Corsica and South Corsica remained. Efforts to expand the teaching of the Corsican language at the primary level also faced constitutional obstacles.</p><p>An unexpected new wave of decentralisation in March 2003 introduced by newly-elected President Sarkozy allowed for the granting of experimental powers to adapt laws for a limited period and under the supervision of Parliament as well as greater financial autonomy to all French territorial entities.</p><p>Mainstream parties continue to dominate both in Corsica and in Paris. The two regional councils of Upper and South Corsica, the Corsican Assembly and the Executive Council are all led by politicians from mainstream French parties. The four deputies and two senators elected to the French Parliament from Corsica have also always belonged to French parties. Corsica is not officially represented in the European parliament but has twice had a MEP representing the south-east of France: Max Simeoni (1989-1994), one of the founding members of the pro-autonomy movement and, more recently, François Alfonsi (2009-2014), who is also a member of a pro-autonomy party and President of the European Free Alliance.</p><p>While in the minority, nationalists nevertheless represent an important political force in the Corsican Assembly, currently holding the most seats (15 in total out of 51) since its first election in 1983. The largest nationalist party currently represented is the pro-autonomy&nbsp;<em>Femu a Corsica</em>&nbsp;(11 seats) which obtained over 25% of the votes in the second round of the 2010 regional elections. One of its two leading figures is the young mayor of Bastia, Gilles Simeoni, the son of the founding father of Corsican nationalism Edmond Simeoni, and one of the lawyers representing Yvan Colonna, the convicted murderer of Prefect Erignac. The separatist<em>Corsica Libera&nbsp;</em>(CL), believed to be linked to the&nbsp;<em>Front de Libération Nationale de la Corse – Union des Combattants&nbsp;</em>(FLNC-UC) and whose leader Jean-Guy Talamoni participated in the Matignon Process, has three seats (a fourth CL councillor is now unaffiliated).</p><p>Separatists first gained access in 1992 by running together with pro-autonomy parties and were the only nationalists represented in 1998-2004 (8 seats).&nbsp;Pro-autonomy candidates were elected in 2004 through a joint electoral list. The failure to form a pre-electoral coalition in the latest&nbsp;<a href="">2010 elections</a>&nbsp;does not bode well for the mobilizing potential of the nationalists and underlines the importance of continuing efforts to enlist partners from the mainstream partners.&nbsp;</p><p>A principal motor for change has been the President of the Executive Council of Corsica, Paul Giacobbi (<em>Parti Radical de Gauche</em>– PRG) and one of Corsica’s four deputies in Paris. He supports the move by the Corsican Assembly on 25 April 2014 to introduce a five-year residency requirement in order to purchase property in Corsica (The original proposal had been to impose a ten year requirement. Special measures had been promised for the Corsican diaspora).&nbsp;</p><p>This controversial proposal (18 voted against) is intended to curtail real estate speculation and to allow locals access to affordable housing (around 40% of residences in Corsica are holiday homes). It must be approved by the French parliament to become law and, according to constitutional experts, this is unlikely as it contravenes the principle of equality of French citizens before the law.</p><h2><strong>A Corsican referendum on independence?</strong></h2><p>Reactions to the Scottish referendum have ranged from relief on the part of those who feared a “contagion effect” to disappointment, although Corsican nationalists have been unanimous in praising the democratic consultation of the Scottish people and have emphasized that the mere fact of holding such a historic referendum has set a precedent within the European Union and should be seen as a political victory for the Scottish National Party (SNP). Certain Corsican politicians, both nationalists and mainstream, have pointed to the Scottish case as a warning to Paris to tackle the Corsican Question before it is faced with a similar radicalisation of public opinion. However, one can also argue that the Scottish case illustrates precisely the opposite, since the current degree of devolution and the promise of more contributed to averting secession.</p><p>The attention of the international media which Corsica briefly enjoyed, e.g.,&nbsp;<a href="">in the&nbsp;<em>New York Times</em></a><em>,&nbsp;</em>has been in itself of significant psychological significance for this hotspot which is usually not taken seriously domestically.</p><p>Given the failure of the Scottish referendum, weak support for independence amongst the Corsican population and the still relative weakness and divisions of Corsican nationalists, a sweeping victory of Corsican separatists in the next regional elections (2015) followed by a referendum on independence, as happened in Scotland, seems inconceivable. Even if they manage to form a pre-electoral coalition with other nationalist groups, they are not likely to obtain more than 30% of votes.</p><p>Furthermore, the risk of being excluded from the European Union in the event of independence is likely to exert a significant sobering effect, perhaps even more so than in Scotland, as Corsica is still very much dependent on EU subsidies (about 300 million Euros in 2014–2020) and sees in Europe the driving force for the recognition of its regional and linguistic distinctiveness.</p><p>Thus, the focus is on autonomy yet again and Corsicans will no doubt be following ‘devo max’ in Scotland as well as developments in another ‘nation without a state’: Catalonia. Pressure for greater autonomy is likely to build up in the run-up to the 2015 regional and 2017 presidential and parliamentary elections in France although&nbsp;<em>Corsica Libera</em>&nbsp;has been distancing itself from this catch-all concept and is advocating ‘devolution’ instead, while remaining confident that independence will be placed on the political agenda in the&nbsp;<a href="">more-distant future</a>.&nbsp;They are also calling for popular mobilisation in support of the right to self-determination.</p><p>The Corsican Assembly is working on a new set of proposals for institutional reform, to be submitted to the French government in November.</p><p>Since the constitutional revisions of 2003, (non-binding) consultations may be held by any region, department or commune. The failure of the Corsican referendum of 6 July 2003 (51% of Corsicans voted against) should be seen not as an outright rejection of autonomy but rather an expression of disappointment by many that it concerned simplification of Corsica’s institutional structure only (the abolishing of the two departments and their associated general councils) rather than a comprehensive plan for increased autonomy.</p><p>Perhaps the most important lesson to be learned from the Scottish referendum is that the self-determination question was placed at the top of the political agenda in a democratic fashion and without resorting to violence. On 25 June 2014, following in the footsteps of ETA and in recognition of the Corsican Assembly’s residency requirement proposal, the FLNC-UC&nbsp;<a href="">announced</a>&nbsp;that it was demilitarising.&nbsp;It remains to be seen whether this signals a new, non-violent phase or whether this is, yet again, a short-lived political manoeuvre.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/xabier-letona/scotland-big-push-for-basque-sovereignty-supporters">Scotland: a big push for Basque sovereignty supporters</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/cecile-rossi/there-was-group-of-capable-people-but-they-killed-each-other-corsica">&quot;There was a group of capable people, but they killed each other&quot;: The Corsican struggle forty years on</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> France </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? France Farimah Daftary Spotlight on France Joining the dots on independence movements in Europe Tue, 07 Oct 2014 21:54:33 +0000 Farimah Daftary 86608 at Scotland: a big push for Basque sovereignty supporters <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Despite the referendum result, Basque nationalists still see Scotland as an inspiration for their own national struggle for self-determination.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Basques march to protest to the Spanish government's policy on Basque prisoners. Demotix/Javi Julio. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>In the early hours of September 19, when news broke that the pro-independence vote had lost the referendum in Scotland, Basque nationalists were deeply saddened. But when hours and days went on, a sense of happiness about the whole process began to emerge.</p> <p>Basque Nationalism has fond memories of the referendum in Quebec in 1995. Nowadays that is both far away in time and distance. Scotland, however, is much closer to the Basque Country and its September referendum took place while the echoes of the armed struggle are fading further and further away. </p><p>This along with the referendum announced by the Autonomous Catalonian government is having an effect on the political panorama in the Basque Country even though the proposed referendum has been temporarily suspended by the Spanish Constitutional Court.</p> <p>All these elements are having a great impact in Basque society, and especially within the pro-sovereignty movement. It strengthens the belief that Basque society has the right to decide its own future. On June 8, 140.000 people joined the two main Basque cities – Durango and Iruñea/Pamplona – with a 120 km-long human-chain. It was the biggest mobilization in the last 40 years.</p> <p>During the transition from dictatorship to democracy in Spain, two autonomy statutes were set up in the Basque Country. On the one hand, three provinces were put together to create the Basque Autonomous Community; and on the other, the province of Navarre, considered by Basque nationalists to be the cradle of the Basque nation, became a separate &nbsp;autonomous community, something which has remained an open wound in Basque society ever since.</p> <h2><span>Armed conflict and territoriality</span></h2> <p>It was not only the territory which was split in two. Basque nationalism was also was divided. On the one hand, the PNV (Basque Nationalist Party) accepted the path of autonomy. On the other, the left-wing nationalist movement did not. The separatist armed group ETA was in this second group, and it continued with the armed struggle it had begun during the Franco regime. Its main political claims were Basque Country's self-determination and territorial unity. ETA rejected the armed struggle in 2011 without achieving any of these claims.</p> <p>Today, the left pro-sovereignty movement is trying to push forward a peace process to focus on the effects of the armed conflict, but the Spanish ruling right-wing party PP has not joined in these efforts and prefers to let the situation go to waste, hoping that the whole Basque nationalist movement, including the PNV, will go with it. </p><p>Nowadays, around 400 ETA members and dozens of political prisoners are dispersed among various Spanish prisons, most of them hundreds of kilometres from their homes. An attempt to come to terms with both the thousands of victims – among them around 800 people killed by ETA – and the hundreds of prisoners who remain in Spanish jails, remains an ongoing issue.</p> <p>The Spanish government wants to stymie the new approach of the Basque pro-sovereignty movement. And it might be said, with regards to the peace process, it is achieving the goal. At least for now. </p> <p>But the same thing can’t be said about the pro-sovereignty movement, which became strongly galvanised after ETA gave up its armed struggle. For example, the pro-independence left party formed the coalition EH Bildu with other Basque pro-sovereign parties, and in 2012 it became the main force in some elections, challenging the dominance of the centre-right nationalist party PNV.</p> <p>But even within the PNV, the pro-sovereign trend has taken big steps in the last 15 years. For example, the PNV has claimed that the Statute of Autonomy created after the Franco-era is no longer valid. In addition, in the last decade the president of the PNV, Juan Jose Ibarretxe proposed to Madrid the idea of a Basque autonomous country freely joined with Spain. The regional residents had the right to decide their own future. In 2005, the Spanish Congress killed the chance of a referendum on the matter taking place. </p> <p>For many reasons, it was a big defeat for Basque nationalism, but at the same time, it strongly increased awareness of the right to self-determination. From then on, that right would be based on the idea that Basque society has to decide its own future democratically, as in Quebec, Scotland and Catalonia.</p> <p>But the Basque pro-sovereign movement still has two main problems to solve. Firstly, wounds opened during the armed struggle have to be closed in order to strengthen reconciliation and to solve the political conflict in a democratic way. Secondly, the problem of territoriality has to be resolved. </p> <p>The Basque Country is divided into three administrative territories: two of them in Spain, and the third in France, without any autonomy. So who can vote in a hypothetical Basque referendum? Moreover, Basque nationalists are only a majority in one of the three territories (64% of representation in Parliament). How do we move forward in obtaining the right to decide, and how do we do it in a united way when in only one of the three administrative territories &nbsp;–where 70% of population live – is there a clear democratic mandate?</p> <p>Within the confines of Basque nationalism, it hasn’t really been discussed or even thought about, but in the last number of years , doors have been opened, and certainly in the near future this subject will be talked about and discussed with much more normality. For now, independence seems very far off in Basque society, for many reasons. The Spanish wall is there, as can be seen in the Catalonian process. Still, the Spanish government exhibits anti-democratic behaviour in prohibiting - in Basque Lands or in Catalonia - a non-binding inquiry where citizens can say what their opinion is.</p> <h2>Spain: a federal state?</h2> <p>Spain can offer a carrot to Basque or Catalan nationalists and put a brake on the growing pro-sovereign process, as happened in 1978, by offering a higher level of self-government, but closing the door on the right to decide. That is, allow the vote, but only on one thing: more self-government, yes or no? And in these cases people usually answer yes. In many cases the states try to split independence sentiments this way. </p> <p>The pro-sovereignty movement have realised that it is easier to reach the people with the right to decide than with the right to self-determination, that wide sectors can join the idea of separating from Spain, especially if this country is ruled by the right wing, destroying the welfare state and deepening the neoliberal model. </p> <p>Unlike in Scotland and Catalonia, the bonds between sovereignty and a better standard of living are not yet properly established in the Basque Country, but the doors have been opened. The coming months may lead to important changes: in May 2015, provincial and municipal elections will be held, and at the end of 2015, general elections in Spain. The unionist right-wing may lose power in Navarre, and the PP will almost surely lose the absolute majority in Spain. The Catalan independence process will continue to move forward and the Basque pro-sovereign movement will continue flying the Scottish and Catalan flags, trying to pave the road to sovereignty.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/pello-zubiria/human-chain-demanding-basque-right-to-decide-gathers-150000">Human chain demanding the Basque right to decide gathers 150,000</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Spain </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? Spain Xabier Letona Joining the dots on independence movements in Europe Tue, 07 Oct 2014 21:23:17 +0000 Xabier Letona 86615 at Fighting for self-determination in South Tyrol <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In 1983, I was first elected to the South Tyrolean Parliament. Since then I have continued to fight for the self-determination of the South Tyrolean people, as our movement goes from strength to strength.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Sign in South Tyrol. Wikimedia. Public domain.</span></span></span></p><p>In 1919 the region of Tyrol was forcibly divided when the southern part was incorporated into Italy. The entire Tyrolean population rebelled against this measure and claimed the right of self-determination, just as the American president Woodrow Wilson had promised to the peoples of Europe.</p> <p>However this injustice has remained until today, but still the desire for self-determination is still alive. In South Tyrol it is getting stronger and stronger.</p> <p>In 1977 Italy signed the UN Covenants on Human Rights. In article 1, it says that peoples are granted the right to self-determination. Before that year, Italian citizens risked life-long imprisonment if they openly demanded the exercise of this right. Therefore, this right could only be demanded openly by the freedom fighters who lived in Austrian exile. Amongst them was my father, Georg Klotz.</p> <p>After Italy had ratified the Covenants on Human Rights, a group was immediately formed to work towards the exercise of self-determination. I also took part in this group. We invited well-known experts in international law – the law of the peoples – to give lectures, we brought our concern before the politicians in the whole Tyrol, in Vienna and in Rome. We distributed memoranda and scientific papers and stood for political elections.</p> <p>In 1983, I was elected to the South Tyrolean Parliament as a representative of the ‘Südtiroler Heimatbund’ – a pioneering political party which sought to fight for the self-determination of the South Tyrolean people. From that moment, the democratic struggle for the exercise of this fundamental right had entered the national political realm.</p> <p>At first we were ignored, then we were ridiculed because of our claim for self-determination and – eventually - we were attacked. I was personally exposed to mockery and malice, but I never resigned. On the contrary: together with the few brave people who always believed in the principle of self-determination, I kept on fighting.</p> <p>Since 1983 I have, with increasing public support, been re-elected into the South Tyrolean Parliament every five years. In 2013 it was for the seventh time. Since that year, myself and two others have sat under banner of our party ‘Sud-Tiroler Freiheit’ (‘South Tyrolean Freedom’) in the 35-member Parliament of the South Tyrol. In the course of the last year, we have been able to initiate more programs for the exercise of the law of the peoples.</p> <p>A big step forward was our membership of the European Free Alliance (EFA) in 2009, a European political party in which all European regional parties fighting for self-determination work together. With our combined numbers, the forces for freedom can no longer be ignored.</p> <p>The Scottish National Party (SNP), the Esquerra Republicana Catalana (ERC), the Nieuw Vlaamse Alliantie (N-VA), but also other movements for independence, have been receiving increasing support in recent years. The SNP now represents the government in Scotland and has forced the implementation of self-determination by democratic means. For all the other peoples not being able to identify themselves with the state in which they live – such as the South Tyroleans, the Catalans, the Basques, the Flemings – the development in Scotland is exemplary, and the process of freedom in Europe is unstoppable!</p> <p>Following the example of Catalonia, in August 2013 the South Tyrolean Freedom party initiated a self-determination referendum in South Tyrol, in which over 90% of the participants expressed their support for&nbsp;self-determination for their region. Although the result is not legally binding, this action did cause a very lively discussion, and the rest of Europe has now understood that, in addition to the Scots, Catalans, Basques and Flemings, the South Tyroleans are riding the freedom train as well. Our actions caused a stir in the Italian state, mainly because Veneto also carried out a similar self-administered referendum around the same time.</p> <p>The support for the independence of Veneto is very large now. Just as the Spanish government wants to deny the Catalans the exercise of self-determination by pointing out that the unity and the indivisibility of the state is enshrined in the constitution, the Italian government does the same in the case of South Tyrol and Veneto. However, more and more people are coming to the opinion that a democratic constitution can never be a long term peoples’ prison.</p> <p>South Tyrol is a very clear case for self-determination: to this day the people have never been allowed to vote on whether they agree with belonging to Italy. So far in South Tyrol one party has always decided. In 1969 this party gave its consent to an autonomy agreement not deserving of its name. Even this rudimentary autonomy agreement has been repeatedly undermined by Italy, so that in the end not much of it has remained.</p> <p>In the meantime this is also visible in the economy: being a part of the Italian state, South Tyrol is deteriorating along with country. Unemployment is increasing in all areas, funds have to be shortened not only because the Italian state will not pay the amounts of money that it owes South Tyrol, but also because it retains the taxes being levied in South Tyrol and sends them directly to Rome. In this situation, more and more people notice that, within Italy, South Tyrol has no future, and that the South Tyroleans could solve their problems far more easily without Italy.</p> <p>Therefore, after the referendum in Scotland, the South Tyroleans are now eagerly looking to Catalonia. All those voices claiming for decades that self-determination brings war and distress are finally silenced. The vote in Scotland has shown how political issues can be resolved without violence but with democracy. It has shown how much the political debate has been stimulated by the self-determination initiative and how well the discussion has done democracy as a whole. The freedom issue has become a central theme, and Europe will therefore have to seriously deal with it.</p> <p>The reconstruction in Europe towards a continent with natural regions and with free nations has not been accelerated to the same extent as it would have been after a majoritarian Scottish “yes”, but changes will occur: Europe will host its policy according to the will of the peoples and will have no other choice but to help the right to self-determination which is breaking through!&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/marco-brunazzo/south-tyrol-from-secessionist-to-european-dreams">South Tyrol: from secessionist to European dreams</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Italy </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? Italy Eva Klotz Joining the dots on independence movements in Europe Wed, 24 Sep 2014 15:05:57 +0000 Eva Klotz 86207 at South Tyrol: from secessionist to European dreams <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Will the Scottish vote strengthen the secessionist movement in the restive Italian province of South Tyrol?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The town of Corvara, South Tyrol. Wikipedia/Kuebi. Public domain.</span></span></span></p><p>The Scottish vote on independence from the UK has shown, among other things, that today’s European democracies are strong enough to withstand a democratic path to secession. It is plausible that, following the Scottish example, other European secessionist movements in the next years will use more consensual instruments to obtain their aims than in the past. This will eventually be the road that the secessionist parties in South Tyrol will follow in order to leave Italy and to join the Austrian Tyrol.</p> <p>Since the signing of the Treaty of St. Germain in 1919, when Italy annexed the both province of Trentino and the region on the southside of the Brenner Pass from Austria, the history of South Tyrol has always been a struggle over the definition of the rights of German-speaking people, a minority in the Italian state, but a large majority in their specific territory.</p> <p>On the one side, German-speakers have seen the incorporation of South Tyrol into Italy as a great injustice. On the other, Italian-speakers have considered the Brenner Pass as the natural Italian border. As a consequence, just after the annexation, the Fascist regime tried to assimilate South Tyrol into Italy: the German language was banned from all public offices, state bodies, schools and health establishments. Only documents in Italian were valid. The name Südtirol (or even any reference to Tyrol) was prohibited, with the Italian name - Alto-Adige - enforced as the province's sole name.</p> <p>Moreover, many Italians were encouraged to move to Bozen/Bolzano, where Benito Mussolini had created an industrial zone. A scientific debate was even promoted by an Italian geographer, Ettore Tolomei, on how much the German-speakers were authentically Germans, and about the Italian substratum of many words commonly used in South Tyrol.</p> <p>It is not surprising that, by the end of the Second World War, the German-speaking population asked for a return to Austria. The main proponent of secessionism was the Südtiroler Volkspartei (South Tyrolian People’s Party - SVP), a party established a few days after the end of the war and able to gather consensus from left and right, peasants and entrepreneurs, inhabitants of the towns and of the valleys, that since then has represented the majority of the German-speakers. On the other side, Italian nationalists proposed that the German-speakers wishing to join Austria should be obliged to leave the territory.</p> <p>Italian policy toward South Tyrol has changed greatly since then. At the Paris Peace Conference held in 1946 and 1947, a great amount of attention was devoted to the province. The Austrian Government was invited to submit a proposal for the resolution of the conflict and, together with the representative of the SVP, it supported the idea that any agreement reached should be internationally supervised.</p> <p>This is was one of the main points of the subsequent agreement signed on 5 September 1946 by the Italian Prime Minister Alcide De Gasperi and the Austrian Foreign Minister Karl Gruber stating that “German-speaking inhabitants of the South Tyrol Province and of the neighbouring bilingual townships of the Trentino Province will be assured a complete equality of rights with the Italian-speaking inhabitants within the framework of special provisions to safeguard the ethnic character and the cultural and economic development of the German-speaking element… The populations of the above-mentioned zones will be granted the exercise of autonomous legislative and executive regional power…”</p> <p>However, the 1948 Regional Autonomy Statute only marginally achieved those aims: the main legislative power, for example, relied on the regional parliament and not at the provincial level. The emphasis on the regional institutions and their powers implied a major role of the Italian-speakers, due to the fact that the inhabitants of the Province of Trentino were almost exclusively Italian. </p><p>It is not surprising that about ten years later, the German-speaking community was out on the streets, protesting. The crisis escalated in 1956 when, for the first time, bombs were set off by secessionists seeking to draw international attention to South Tyrol. Then in 1957 the Italian Government announced the construction of a new neighbourhood in Bozen/Bolzano. German-speakers feared that behind that decision there was the intention to encourage new inflows of Italians and organized a massive demonstration at Sigmundskron (Castel Firmiano) outside Bozen/Bolzano which called for separation of South Tyrol from Trentino and also from Italy.</p> <p>In this context, in accordance to the De Gasperi-Gruber Agreement, in 1960 Austria referred the dispute with Italy over South Tyrol to the United Nations. Resolution 1497 (XV) asked the two countries to resume negotiations with a view to finding a solution for all differences relating to the implementation of the De Gasperi-Gruber Agreement: the discussion of greater autonomy, or even independence for South Tyrol, was no more an internal Italian affair.</p> <p>Nine years of negotiations followed. In the late summer of 1969 the Italian and Austrian Governments agreed a so-called “Package” of some 137 measures, most of them designed to revise the 1948 Autonomy Statute to the benefit of South Tyrol and leading to the adoption of the Second Statute of Autonomy in 1972.</p> <p>An 18-stage Operational Calendar for the Package’s implementation was also negotiated and, at the end of it, Austria would formally declare that the dispute over the fulfilment of the De Gasperi-Gruber Agreement was closed. This declaration effectively pronounced in 1992.</p> <p>Since then, the autonomy of South Tyrol is based on three factors.</p> <p>First of all, a change of attitude by the Italian state toward its minorities: the protection of local linguistic minorities is considered a national interest. Moreover, the Italian constitution has officially recognized the legitimacy of the name South Tyrol for a region that Italian-speaking people have always called “Alto Adige” (the upper part of the Italian river Adige).</p> <p>Secondly, primary legislative powers were transferred from the region (Trentino-Alto Adige/South Tyrol) to the two Provinces of Trentino and South Tyrol in fields such as agriculture and forestry, tourism, protection of the country side, public health and welfare, communications and transport of provincial interest, mining, nursery schools, school buildings and school welfare, public works, employment exchanges, and vocational training.</p> <p>Finally, secondary legislative powers were granted to the Provinces in areas like teaching in primary and secondary schools, trade and commerce, apprenticeships, promotion of industrial production, hygiene and healthcare, and sport and leisure.</p> <p>Today the region of Trentino-AltoAdige/South Tyrol has very few powers, and parties are debating on the eventual adoption of a Third Regional Autonomy Statute emphasizing the European dimension and meaning of the autonomist experience of South Tyrol.</p> <p>In recent years, South Tyrol has been particularly active in the promotion of cross-border co-operation, not only as a way to consolidate the strong economic growth obtained in the last decades that has made South Tyrol the wealthiest territory in Italy (and one of the wealthiest in Europe), but also because Europe is based on a complicated system of power-sharing that opens up new possibilities of influence for spatially limited territories on national policy-making.</p> <p>At the same time, through cross-border cooperation, South Tyrol has the opportunity to reaffirm its cultural specificity by developing closer relationships with the greater Tyrol region and, more generally, with other German-speaking regions. As a consequence, South Tyrol is one of the founding members of Arge-Alp (Arbeitsgemeinschaft Alp), a body composed of cantons, provinces and regions in the alpine areas of Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy, and one of the promoters of a Euroregion grouping together both Trentino and Tyrol.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/eva-klotz/fighting-for-selfdetermination-in-south-tyrol">Fighting for self-determination in South Tyrol</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Italy </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? Italy Marco Brunazzo Joining the dots on independence movements in Europe Tue, 23 Sep 2014 15:51:18 +0000 Marco Brunazzo 86202 at Now Scotland has had its say, who is next to vote? <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><a href=""><img style="float: right; margin-left: 5px; margin-right: 5px;" src="" alt="" width="140" /></a>The Scottish vote has shown it is possible to have an independence referendum for nations within the EU. So who are the likely candidates to go next?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Members of the European Free Alliance in Edinburgh on the day of the referendum. EFA. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p><span>The sight of representatives from some of the EU's "stateless nations" turning up in Edinburgh is a reminder that Europe is very much an unfinished continent. Many of these delegates came not just for the publicity, but also to observe the democratic process in action and take some of that knowledge back to their own nations. But of the aspiring countries present, which are the most likely to follow Scotland's lead and hold a referendum of their own?</span></p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="275" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Wikipedia. Public domain.</span></span></span></p><h2>Catalonia</h2> <p>The most visible European independence movement outside of Scotland, Catalonia has its own culture and language and is arguably the economic powerhouse of Spain. </p> <p>The raucous Catalans have seen their increasing desire for independence rewarded with a “self-determination referendum” to be held on 9 November 2014. </p><p>Catalan president Artus Mas, a recent convert to independence, is at loggerheads with the government in Madrid who say such a referendum is unconstitutional and have promised it will not go ahead. As we get closer to the vote, the tension will undoubtedly increase and it remains to be seen who will blink first in the lead up to the referendum date.</p> <p><a href="">Recent polls</a> suggest that region is fairly evenly split on the idea of becoming an independent country.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Demotix/Antonio Melita. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span><span></span></p><h2><span>Veneto</span></h2> <p>The wealthy, culturally distinct region of Veneto in northern Italy has already held its own “unofficial referendum” in March this year, where a majority of voters were in favour of independence. Although this referendum can <a href="">hardly be considered definitive</a>, it does give some indication to the feeling in the region. </p><p>Many Venetians resent the way they were initially incorporated into the Italian state, their lack of special autonomous status in the post-war Italian constitution, and the fact that they feel they are ‘handing over too much money to a venal and profligate Rome, which in turn hands over too much money to the impoverished and dysfunctional southern regions’.</p> <p>The region has long been a stronghold of right-wing parties, especially the Lega Veneto (a chapter of the Lega Nord). The region’s president, Luca Zaia, has promised greater powers for the region, although this has been stymied somewhat by numerous allegations of corruption against him (this is still Italy after all). </p><p>Although an official referendum was approved by the Veneto regional council in June, the Italian government filed a complaint with the Constitutional Court. The outcome is almost certain to go in favour of Rome, but this still won’t put an end to the so-called “Venetian question.”</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Wikipedia. Public domain.</span></span></span><span></span></p><h2><span>South Tyrol</span></h2> <p>The small, mostly German-speaking province in north Italy has never been happy with its incorporation into the Italian state. Plucked from a crumbling Austro-Hungarian Empire in the dying days of the Great War, it forms an autonomous region in Italy alongside the mostly Italian-speaking province of Trentino. </p><p>Subject to a period of forced Italianisation by Mussolini, it emerged in the 1970s with a deal that gave it a high degree of self-rule and a guaranteed protection of minority rights. Today it is one of the wealthiest regions of, not just Italy, but the European Union. </p> <p>Due to their distinct Austrian heritage, South Tyroleans feel uneasy about helping to prop up an Italian state they have little affinity for. Recently, Rome has asked them to contribute a significantly larger percentage of money to the central government, a request that was <a href="">quickly rebuffed</a> by the assembly in Bozen.</p> <p>Governed by the pro-autonomy South Tyrolean People’s Party, secession remains a minority view, although it is growing. The pro-secession South Tyrolean Freedom Party organised an unofficial referendum in 2013, which showed a majority in favour of independence, although again this must be taken with a grain of salt. </p><p>It did however provoke a response from the Austrian prime minister, <a href="">denying</a> his country had any plans to annex the territory. With a rising support for independence parties in provincial elections, the “unofficial” referendum could soon lead to an “official” one.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Lorusso. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><h2>Sardinia</h2> <p>Despite its distinct culture and language, Sardinia differs from Veneto and South Tyrol in that it is one of the poorest regions of the European Union – something which has hindered independence movements. Numerous pro-independence parties exist – notably the Partito Sardo d’Azione – and new parties are being formed all the time, the most recent being the <a href="">Canton Marittimo movement</a>, which seeks to secede from Italy and become the 27th canton of Switzerland.</p> <p>A 2012 motion to hold a referendum of independence was defeated in the regional assembly by <a href="">one vote</a>, however with the afterglow of the Scottish vote, there could well be another attempt soon to get a referendum motion passed.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Flickr/Frans Devriese. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><h2><strong>Flanders</strong></h2> <p>Belgium’s continued existence has baffled people like Nigel Farage, who famously referred to it as a “non-country” during a <a href="">speech to the European Parliament</a>. He can probably find sympathy among the many voters of the New Flemish Alliance, which has recently become Flanders’ – and Belgium’s – largest party. </p><p>The party has been pushing for increased autonomy for the wealthy, Dutch speaking province, with the eventual secession of Flanders from Belgium being its end goal. The only problem is Brussels – a mostly French speaking enclave within Flanders. N-VA politicians believe it should be a part of an independent Flanders, while the people of Brussels are strongly against this happening.</p><p> The Brussels problem is arguably the reason Belgium is still with us today, and why a referendum on independence may be some way off for Flanders.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Flickr/Ari Brose. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><h2><strong>Corsica</strong></h2> <p>Often dominated by images of bombings perpetrated by the National Liberation Front of Corsica, the Corsican nationalism movement has struggled to make political headway on the island. Many Corsicans see the French government as trying to suppress Corsican language and culture while ignoring the economic problems faced by the islanders.</p> <p>A mealy-mouthed autonomy referendum was rejected in 2003, but as the mayor of Bastia, Corsica’s second city, <a href="">said recently</a>, “We are a people like the Scots with our traditions and our identity and we should also have the right to decide.” Any such demand for a referendum is certain to be rejected by France.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Flickr/Avi Dolgin. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><h2><strong>The Basque region</strong></h2> <p>Although the Basque region extends into France, it is in the Spanish part where nationalists have concentrated their efforts. With an ETA ceasefire and Scotland (and maybe Catalonia) setting a precedent, Inigo Urkullu Renteria, the first minister of the Basque regional government, <a href="">has hinted</a> that he will try to negotiate an agreement with the central government in Madrid. The last time a referendum on self-determination was to be held in the Basque Country was in 2008. It was blocked by Madrid.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Demotix/Graham Lawrence. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><h2><strong>Wales</strong></h2> <p>The Scottish debate has galvanised Wales into seeking a greater deal out of whatever “devolution revolution” comes out of the No vote. Although Wales has an active independence party, Plaid Cymru, with 11 out of 60 seats in the Welsh Assembly, support for independence remains a minority view, at least for now.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="295" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Wikipedia. Public domain</span></span></span></p><h2><strong>Bavaria</strong></h2> <p>One of the unlikeliest delegations sent to observe the Scottish referendum came from Bavaria, where the Bavaria Party, which campaigns for independence from Germany, recently won its greatest share of the vote in the municipal elections since the 1960s.</p> <p>Although that share of vote was just 2.1%, the Bavarian Party remains optimistic. “Because of the Scottish vote, the media will no longer find it easy to negate the issue or make it ridiculous,” <a href="">said</a> a party spokesman. </p><p>Angela Merkel’s spokesperson <a href="">disagreed</a>, calling the idea of Bavarian secession “absurd.” But then, as the old saying goes, all independence movements are small – until they’re not.</p> <p>Or maybe they just stay small.</p> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? Alex Sakalis Joining the dots on independence movements in Europe Esplanade Mon, 22 Sep 2014 07:21:09 +0000 Alex Sakalis 86159 at Catalonia’s sovereignist process: the moment of truth <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The breach of the social contract is devastating. And it’s not exclusive to Catalonia and its sovereignist process—it goes much further.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="275" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Diada. Wikipedia. Public domain.</span></span></span></p><p>There is no doubt that, once again, the march held during “La Diada”, on 11 September this year, was an international success. Up to 300 international journalists (from the BBC, The Guardian, Al Jazeera, TV5, and even Russia TV) attended the march. Half a million demonstrators, by some estimates (the Spanish government’s); almost two million, according to Barcelona’s Municipal Police. If we take an average estimate, 1 million people took to the streets, covering 12 km along the two most important, longest and widest avenues in Barcelona. There were many people there, it was very calm, and there were no incidents (none whatsoever—there’s merit in that), so it was a great success. But it was a success for the people, for their hopes. It remains to be seen how, again this year, this popular success is handled by a political class that, overall, doesn’t seem to be rising to the occasion—less and less so since the first major demonstration in 2012.&nbsp; </p> <p>Politicians on all sides repeat the same arguments—they all invoke a willingness to engage in dialogue that is directly proportional to the inflexibility of the respective positions. And in the end, what? According to experts from the Advisory Committee for the National Transition (<em>Consell Assessor per a la Transició Nacional</em>), a body that the Catalan government established back in the day to present the various internal and international legal avenues that were supposed to cover the sovereignist process, there were several legal routes to the consultation. In the end, they are all reduced to one: there may be a consultation (referendum) as long as there is a pact, a legal agreement negotiated with the State, and we already know that won’t happen because the Spanish government, the Popular Party, the PSOE, and almost every other Spanish party, are against it. </p><p>There will be no pact. What’s left, then, is the famous plebiscite that, as the Catalan president<em> </em>told French newspaper <em>Le Figaro </em>a few months ago, is the most likely scenario. Calling this election is the exclusive competence of the president of the Generalitat, and therefore it’s legal. But it’s merely a regional parliamentary election, which some parties will consider a plebiscite (and will say so in their programmes), while others will not. What will change with this election is the Catalan Parliament’s party system, but not the underlying issue, because it’s not viable to illegally and unilaterally proclaim independence (and in fact, according to the latest polls, only 24% of Catalans would support such a radical move).</p> <p>At the same time, the issue of a supposed “international legality” is raised from time to time. President Mas invokes this in a mysterious tone, while the Advisory Committee for the National Transition cites various reasons—utterly inconsistent with the EU Treaty—why the government can’t guarantee any international support, because in terms of international legality, this is a Spanish internal issue. The European Union has been categorical about this, with no exceptions. Brussels has repeatedly stated that, if it secedes from Spain, Catalonia will remain outside the Union to all intents and purposes. And it’s worth recalling, by the way, that however European they may feel, Catalans are European right holders <em>insofar as they are citizens of a member State: Spain</em>. They may not like it, but this is how it is: Catalans are European citizens because they are…Spanish citizens.</p> <p>We already experienced this cycle in September 2012: a mass demonstration during La Diada (let’s be clear: it was a roaring success, and it made the headlines on CNN and the BBC). Then early elections in November 2012 and the fall of candidate Mas and his ultra personalised electoral campaign when he suddenly lost 12 seats. And then the new Diada in 2013, the success of the human chain and again the mantra “there will be a consultation on 9<span>&nbsp;</span>November, 2014” without any indication of how this would happen.&nbsp; </p> <p>This year there were European elections (by the way, sovereignist parties announced they would present a <em>single</em> sovereignist candidate—where is he?), in spring 2015 there will be municipal elections, and in autumn general elections to the Spanish Parliament; there may also be a plebiscite in Catalonia. Too many elections for the average citizen not to experience “combat fatigue”, since, election after election, nothing happens in the end. Or rather, something does happen: a growing social frustration.</p> <p>All this encourages ferocious competition among the parties, not mergers, single programmes or sovereignist movements led by a leader accepted only by his own party (with serious internal tensions). And all this—to the shame of the Catalan Parliament, which doesn’t have a Catalan electoral law (the only one of the 17 autonomous communities that doesn’t), or its own electoral board to organise the consultation—without a census, because in 34 years <em>they’ve had no time to exercise this exclusive competence</em>.</p><p> Soon an absurd Consultation Law will be passed to fill this gap, which will barely see the light before it’s appealed and the Constitutional Court suspends it as a precautionary measure. That is, there isn’t, and there won’t be, any legal framework for the consultation/referendum that is supposed to take place on&nbsp;November 9. Who is responsible for this? Catalan political parties. </p> <p>That doesn’t mean that the other side—what is colloquially known as “Madrid”—is any better. Its stasis, and the spectacle that are Congress and the Spanish political class (with very few exceptions) are the flip side of the coin—a poor replay of the most traditional nationalism/stasis, which is two centuries old. Spain was built from the centre, from Madrid, “in Spanish”. That’s why many Catalans who are not particularly politicised have gradually become more radical, because they’ve been made to feel as if they were “flawed Spaniards”, as if they had some kind of congenital defect. For a start, having their own language, and speaking it in private and in public. And by the way, all Catalans are bilingual; most other Spaniards are not.&nbsp; </p> <p>This has been going on for too long. In mid-January 2013, first thing in the morning, it was announced on Catalan public radio that the Catalan Parliament had received five resolutions or proposals regarding the <em>right to decide</em>, almost one for each party. As far as unitary <em>spirit </em>goes,<em> </em>it’s not bad. Every year since 2012, on the day after La Diada, the parties (all of them) continue to play the most classic and predictable political game, in which their top priority is to differentiate themselves from other parties, compete for a supposedly disputed electorate, and display a lofty rhetoric about lofty abstract principles, while still accusing each other of almost every flaw and ill intention. Since then, the contradictions and tensions between every party—and within parties, between their leaders and cadres, or between the apparatus and its people—have worsened, and in this regard the results of the surveys are overwhelming. And these tensions and divisions increase exponentially among the separatists, compared with the other side. Every day, and on every occasion, citizens know what each politician is going to say, even if the sound is turned off on the TV. </p> <p>In other words, the problem is not that someone—from civil society, or intellectuals and opinion-makers—needs to discover some novel idea to make this democratic deterioration—or one of its worst forms: corruption—<em>disappear</em>. The problem is much more serious: <em>ultimately, the social contract has been broken</em>, that is, the set of mechanisms by means of which a democratic society delegates in a series of people (namely, the <em>political </em>class) the delicate task of managing the common interest.</p> <p>And here another problem emerges. There will be those who say that, ultimately, society itself has failed, that in a democracy we have the leaders we elect, etc. True, but the responsibility for mending the disaster is asymmetrical. Citizens can’t fix the behaviour of the political class, at least not in the short term. <em>Because the object of such a reform are those responsible for carrying it out: political parties. </em>In this context, their <em>kleptocracy </em>(they control everything, they take everything) doesn’t refer to the economic ambitions of such and such individual, however sad a daily spectacle that may be.</p> <p>Kleptocracy here refers to the absolute control that they wish to continue holding over every public institution, from the General Council of the Judiciary and the Constitutional Court to the governing boards of public media. Thus, <em>it’s not about ideas, but about behaviours</em>. The breach of the social contract is devastating. And it’s not exclusive to Catalonia and its sovereignist process—it goes much further. But of course, going back to the by now classic analogy, what for many was going to be an unstoppable and magnificent <em>soufflé</em> seems to be going the way of a thick <em>fondue</em>. It’s not that it’s bad, but it’s heavy to digest.</p> <p>In sum, this whole ongoing political process is affected by various structural stress factors that are getting worse each year. <em>The first of these stress factors is, of course, the crisis</em>. In 2012, the rescue deal requested according to norms established outside Catalonia (and Spain)—in Brussels—was formalised. This rescue deal could be interpreted from various different political perspectives, but it was obviously necessary in the face of economic emergencies that could not be put off. Therefore, those who say that the structural solution to the crisis would be for Catalonia to unilaterally proclaim its independence this coming 9th of November, simply live in another galaxy. <br /> <br /> The second stress factor is that at no other time since 1977 have the general context and the nature of what we call European Union been so favourable to economic or political unilateralism. Does anybody believe that what Brussels, Durao Barroso, Van Rompuy, Draghi, Schultz, Junker and Merkel need now is a troublesome secession in one of its key states? And a new expansion, after the questionable results of the expansion to 28 members?</p> <p>The third structural stress factor is long-standing. It has been growing for years, but the crisis and its Catalan and Spanish versions have turned it into the main problem: <em>the failure of our systems of political representation</em>. That is, our systems of representation of social interests, which by definition are many and very diverse. Traditionally, in a representative democracy the parties, unions, associations and pressure groups were responsible for this task. The crisis has revealed an unprecedented structural imbalance, which has three symptoms (though not necessarily solutions): the rampant disrepute of party politics and its kleptomaniac appropriation of all kinds of institutions and bodies; the conglomerate of 15-M + <em>Indignados</em>, which has still not been able to successfully progress from protest to proposal (despite the new phenomenon of the Podemos party/movement, which did very well in the European elections); and an underlying misunderstanding about civil society, widely invoked by everyone, though in the end nobody knows who it refers to.</p> <p>This raises a problem that will be decisive to the outcome of the independence process: how to measure representation. Is it legitimate for citizens unhappy with the current situation to ask: “Ok, but how many people do you, the 15 M (<em>Indignados</em>) movement, represent?” The European election of 2014 began to answer this question in a significant, even spectacular, and measurable way: Podemos. It’s a lot, it’s new, it’s sociologically and politically fascinating, but it is what it is. For the time being, it’s all there is, and we’ll have to wait for future electoral processes to able to move from emotional responses to a clear verdict.<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p>But at the end of the day, one thing we can know for sure is that the current Catalan Parliament was voted by almost 3.5 million citizens, while this or that NGO, however many members it may have, represents only that number of members, even while it may also have considerable, growing, or dwindling social influence. But it remains to be proven that just because one defines oneself as “civil society”, one has as much, or more, legitimacy than the government and the parliament, elected by citizens.</p><p> Ultimately, whether we like it or not, political, legislative, and budgetary decisions are made by the appropriate institutions. Citizens may demonstrate (or not, and it’s equally legitimate), but the political class has a long way to go before it’s exonerated for its primary responsibility in the structural imbalance we are experiencing.</p> <p>The test of the successive Diadas (2012/2013/2014) is not unambiguous; the underlying problem (the relationship between Catalonia and Spain) is anything but <em>binary</em>, it can’t be understood or solved in black and white terms. Catalan society is far more complex, pluralistic and fragmented than either side asserts or claims. And above all, <em>success in terms of civic participation in one, two or three Diadas is no guarantee that society and the political class will reconcile. </em>Some clever sovereignists, point out, rightly, that if these conclusions are true, it’s going to be a long road.</p><p><em>Translated by Silvia Varela</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/patrice-de-beer/catalonia-vs-spain-clash-of-two-nationalisms">Catalonia vs Spain, a clash of two nationalisms</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Spain </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? Spain Pere Vilanova Joining the dots on independence movements in Europe Thu, 18 Sep 2014 18:25:37 +0000 Pere Vilanova 86097 at Audio report: Why do Scotland’s young want independence? <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>An audio report on the generational divide over Scottish independence, talking to experts and young people voting Yes. The first piece in the <a href="">Precarious Europe</a> project, launched today. </p> </div> </div> </div> <p>This week, Scottish voters will decide whether or not Scotland goes independent. It’s neck and neck, and divided along generational lines. Young people are more likely to want to leave the UK, with the grey vote bringing the average down. </p> <p>The <strong><a href="">Precarious Europe</a></strong> team visits Glasgow to meet some of the young people voting Yes this Thursday. We also speak to Shiv Malik, a journalist and co-author of the book <em>Jilted Generation</em>, on why a younger generation of Scots might be turning away from the Union.&nbsp; </p><p>As Carl Miller at the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media tells us, it’s not only the message but the medium. Whatever the result, the independence movement, which has drawn heavily on non-politicians, activists and civil society, has re-engaged a generation of Scots.<p>What will happen after the vote? A ‘Generation Yes’ activist assures us, it won’t be back to ‘politics as usual’. </p> </p><p>&nbsp;</p><iframe width="100%" height="450" scrolling="no" frameborder="no" src=";auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;visual=true"></iframe> <p><strong><a href="">Read more</a> about the Precarious Europe project.</strong></p> <p><em><strong>Credits: </strong>01/09/2014, produced by: Yiannis Baboulias, written and voiced by: Niki Seth-Smith.</em></p> <p>&nbsp;</p><p> <!-- /* Font Definitions */ @font-face {font-family:"MS 明朝"; mso-font-charset:78; mso-generic-font-family:auto; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:-536870145 1791491579 18 0 131231 0;} @font-face {font-family:"Cambria Math"; panose-1:2 4 5 3 5 4 6 3 2 4; mso-font-charset:0; mso-generic-font-family:auto; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:-536870145 1107305727 0 0 415 0;} @font-face {font-family:Cambria; panose-1:2 4 5 3 5 4 6 3 2 4; mso-font-charset:0; mso-generic-font-family:auto; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:-536870145 1073743103 0 0 415 0;} /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-unhide:no; mso-style-qformat:yes; mso-style-parent:""; margin:0cm; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:Cambria; mso-fareast-font-family:"MS 明朝"; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-ansi-language:EN-US;} a:link, span.MsoHyperlink {mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-parent:""; color:blue; text-decoration:underline; text-underline:single;} a:visited, span.MsoHyperlinkFollowed {mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; color:purple; mso-themecolor:followedhyperlink; text-decoration:underline; text-underline:single;} .MsoChpDefault {mso-style-type:export-only; mso-default-props:yes; font-size:10.0pt; mso-ansi-font-size:10.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Cambria; mso-ascii-font-family:Cambria; mso-fareast-font-family:"MS 明朝"; mso-hansi-font-family:Cambria;} @page WordSection1 {size:612.0pt 792.0pt; margin:72.0pt 90.0pt 72.0pt 90.0pt; mso-header-margin:36.0pt; mso-footer-margin:36.0pt; mso-paper-source:0;} div.WordSection1 {page:WordSection1;} --> </p><p>&nbsp;</p> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? Podcast Precarious Europe Precarious Europe Joining the dots on independence movements in Europe Wed, 17 Sep 2014 09:37:01 +0000 Precarious Europe 86055 at It's not just Scotland. Catalonia and Kurdistan are both fighting for autonomy too. <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Movements across the world are fighting for politicial autonomy as a route to build a better society. If Scotland votes yes, it will have profound importance for Kurds and Catalans.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="153" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The Kurdish independence movement in London, 2003, Wikimedia</span></span></span></p><p>“I don't know what the situation is like there, but I know that the Irish, the Scottish, the Catalans, they're the same as us,” a Kurdish farmer tells me, as we sit on his watermelon farm, just outside Urfa. </p><p>Admittedly, his knowledge of the politics in Ireland are slightly out-of-date, as he pledges his unwavering support for the IRA. The situations in Catalonia, Scotland and Kurdistan are all very unique, and none can quite be seen as the same as the others. </p> <p>But he does have a very good point. Perhaps many people outside Scotland don't realise that same political demands for independence, albeit in very different ways, are being made by nations across the world. There is a great deal that Scotland can learn if it looks much further south of the border, towards the Mediterranean. </p> <p>I spent the last year eight months living in Turkey, and have just moved to Catalonia. What has struck me most is how much the same arguments are being made, and many of the same processes are taking place across these different countries. The world is at a juncture, as small nations assert themselves in the face of hostile states and rampant neoliberal capitalism. The next few months will determine the course of history for Scotland, Catalonia and Kurdistan.</p> <p>As I write this, it is Catalonia´s national day. The streets in Barcelona are bubbling over with protestors, chanting for independence and socialism. Everywhere there is a great feeling of celebration and demonstration.</p> <p>Even on my street in the small rural city of Vic, every balcony is adorned with the independence flag. There are free Catalan language classes, as well as heavily subsidises courses in Catalan art, music, sculpture and story-telling – all intended to integrate political ideas of autonomy into everyday life. Here, a holiday is more than a celebration – by its very nature, it is a protest. </p> <p>Only months before, I was with friends in Istanbul, celebrating Newroz, the Kurdish spring festival. Hundreds of thousands turned up in the small suburb of Zeytinbrunu for folk-music, fire jumping, marching and dancing. </p> <p>In previous years, the Turkish government had tried to shut down any attempts at organising the festival, sometimes resulting in violent riots. This year, for only the second time, the festival was permitted to go ahead without a problem.</p> <p>Kurdish people have a long history of persecution at Turkey's hands. Kurds have been in active conflict with the Turkish government since the 1980s, when a fascist junta came to power. They banned the Kurds from speaking their own language and tried to shut down all Kurdish assemblies. In response, the Kurdish Workers' Party, or PKK, was formed to combat them. This was the beginning of the movement for Kurdish independence. Two years ago, the PKK and the Turkish government signed a peace treaty, part of which included freedom of association for Kurds within Turkey.</p> <p>At the rally, people waved flags and sang songs. They chanted slogans demanding freedom for the imprisoned leader of the PKK, Abdullah Ozcan (better known as 'Apo', the Kurdish word for 'uncle'). Over the tanoi, politicians and celebrities made speeches decrying global capitalism, asserting demands for autonomy and spelling out their vision of a socialist future.</p> <p>Such political speeches were commonplace at every subsequent Kurdish event I attended. Just as in Catalonia, the case for independence is woven into almost every aspect of cultural life. It is perhaps on this point that the Scottish campaign can learn most. For people to get out and give a positive vote, they need to believe in the cause with more than heads. They need to feel with their hearts that their culture and their community is deeply connected to a political programme. That's what these movements have achieved and it is, perhaps, where the Scottish independence movement is most lacking. </p> <p>This is not to say that the Catalan and Kurdish movements are without problems. Indeed, they face great threats. When the Catalans do vote yes, the Spanish government has already said it won´t make a difference. They´re keeping hold of the region. Memories of fascism and civil war still linger strong and Manuel Azaña, the first elected prime minister of the Second Spanish Republic, is often quoted as having said “it is a law in the history of Spain that we need to bomb Barcelona every fifty years.” Certainly, the Spanish won´t let go of Catalonia without a fight.</p> <p>While violence may be a threat to the Catalans, it´s a daily reality for the Kurds. The one area where they had some legislative control, in northern Iraq, has now been taken over by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, with dire consequences played out nightly on our newsreels. The Syrian civil war wages on and the armistice with Turkey is tentative at best. </p> <p>By comparison, it could be far easier for Scotland to go independent. If it does, this could be the start of a domino effect that will encompass the whole world. These movements are not just nationalist, but anti-capitalist and democratic, seeking to create entirely new societies. </p> <p>What people are demanding, more than just their own borders, is a meaningful democratic say over their own lives. People are calling for an end to the capitalism that has stripped away borders for profiteers and left them firmly in place for workers. It´s about resistance to our current world of war and greed.</p> <p lang="en-GB">If Scotland votes yes this month, we could move closer to that world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> uk uk Scotland's future Lev Tazir Spotlight on Spain and Catalonian independence Joining the dots on independence movements in Europe Sat, 13 Sep 2014 09:00:01 +0000 Lev Tazir 85914 at Interview: Leanne Wood - Wales and the spreading of the Scottish rebellion <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>As Scotland takes a stand against the British State, it's time for the rest of the UK to join in. Is Leanne Wood, leader of Plaid Cymru, the person to lead them?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="229" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Leanne Wood - Plaid Cymru</span></span></span></p><p>After the Scottish referendum, it's vital that the rest of the UK continues the rebellion against a broken Westminster system. If anyone's going to lead that charge, it's Leanne Wood, the leader of Plaid Cymru. With this in mind, I went to see her in her office, through the back of Richard Rogers' magnificent Welsh Assembly building. </p><p>When I met her, Leanne had just been to Glasgow to speak to the Radical Independence Campaign. “I was very encouraged about the way in which the grassroots campaign has really managed to engage with people and so I was quite keen to strike up conversations with people like taxi drivers, people working in bars, and so on... it was staggering really, the level of knowledge, the level of the debate that so far has happened. It was like nothing I've ever witnessed really.” Her genuine thrill was something I've barely ever witnessed in a politician.</p> <p>“When I was talking to people in the Yes campaign about the expected turnout being in excess of 80%, I found that quite staggering... and really exciting because everywhere else in the UK, people are disengaging from politics, yet the other side of Hadrian's Wall, people are genuinely getting engaged and thinking about the kind of future they want to have and I think that's great.”</p> <p>At times, the SNP has been accused of not being radical enough in the campaign – promising to keep the pound, the Queen, and NATO. Leanne has, in the past, been thrown out of the Welsh Assembly for calling Mrs Windsor by her name rather than her title, and has (along with Caroline Lucas), blockaded Faslane nuclear weapons base. What does she make, I ask, of her sister party's support for the monarch, a nuclear alliance, and for currency union? </p><p>“I fully understand why the SNP has taken the positions that it has.” If it was in Wales, she says, “I would be quite keen to separate the issues out... Once you achieve independence, you can then have a further referendum to decide if you want to be a republic or not. I think that's a very sensible way to approach the question.” </p><p>On NATO, though, she's is more willing to diverge “Plaid Cymru takes a different position, we would not be part of NATO, our party policy is not to be part of that alliance”. On the pound “if in Wales, we were in the same situation... then it's highly likely we would arrive at the same conclusion as the SNP.” These are, though, “periphery issues really” she says. </p><p><img src="" alt="Leanne Wood &amp; Caroline Lucas (&amp; a Dutch MP) blockading Faslane Nuclear Weapons Base" width="440" height="330" /></p><p>Are others in Wales following the referendum closely? “Few people raise it... it's either raised in “if they can do it, why can't we?”. Or it's “oh, if they go, what's going to happen to the rest of us?”... I'm sure this is true. But, by chance, as I was writing up this interview in a flat in Edinburgh, the buzzer went. It was a leafleter for the Yes campaign, wanting into the stairwell. She turned out to have come up from South West Wales to campaign – it's not just Leanne who's enthused.</p> <p>“What I noticed very strongly in my trip to Scotland... was how much everyone seems to be talking about the referendum, and the aftermath of the referendum and how all politics seems to be driven by that, and, outside of Scotland, that isn't happening at all. And so the levels of debate are very different. And the issues they're talking about in Scotland are very different to the issues talked about outside of Scotland as well, so, for example, in the media outside of Scotland, all the talk seems to be about the pound and about whether or not Scotland would be allowed to join the EU. No one I spoke to raised those issues at all. It was more about things like the bedroom tax, issues of social protection, the way that the welfare state was going. Would we in Scotland be able to preserve some of those precious things we've built up and fought for? </p><p>“The ship-yard workers speaking in the meeting I addressed with the Radical Independence Campaign... were talking about workers' rights and the right to a living wage and full employment and those kinds of questions. When you've been involved in Westminster scene politics, those issues haven't been talked about for many, many years. And so, to be able to be in a space where a different kind of politics is possible was very encouraging and very exciting indeed, even for somebody who's not actually a part of that country, I can see the possibilities for the rest of us who are outside of it. </p> <p>And is she worried that Wales will be abandoned with a much bigger, Tory England?</p> <p>“Well, things are moving in that direction anyway, if you look at the results of the European elections, there was a swing to the right, and the politics of austerity coming out of Westminster regardless of who is in control there is going to carry on. So, for us really, we are lucky to be in a position where we do have an alternative choice, just as they have an alternative choice in Scotland. And I think, if they vote yes in Scotland, people in Wales will look and see the possibilities and the opportunities that have arisen from Scotland becoming an independent country, and I think the support for more powers we are already able to evidence in the polls will increase, and people will begin to want to see us take control of our own affairs in Wales. </p> <p>“And we've had an ongoing debate for quite some time about wanting to take control of energy powers and some taxation powers and the criminal justice system, and there have been two reports produced by the cross party Silk Commission to propose those powers and more and more people want those powers here in Wales. And if Scotland becomes independent, then people will be able to see how we'll be able to go beyond the powers offered by Silk. So, I see great opportunities from this, and, to be honest with you, the alternative is a downward trajectory for Wales really, I can't see how we can benefit from it.”</p> <p>In a <a href=""><span>speech at University College London</span></a>, Leanne explained that she wanted an independent Wales to be a member of a much more active British Isles Council – in effect, a confederation of the countries of these islands. I asked her what powers the council should have – on which areas (apart from currency) does she think the nations of these isles should collaborate?</p> <p>“That's up for debate really” she shrugs “this is a debate that I'm keen for people in Wales to get to grips with and get engaged in... It should be the people who are sovereign in this.. Going through the process of having that debate, and going through the process of trying to create a constitution... if it's similar to what's going on in Scotland, should be something that is part of people's growing citizenship as well. And I'm keen to see people develop a much more solid citizens.” </p><p>In the same speech, she'd made the point that the Good Friday Agreement gives Northern Ireland's people sovereignty. The Edinburgh Agreement sets a similar president for Scotland. There's no such recognition for the rest of the UK. Is it really this sovereignty she's seeking for Wales? </p> <p>“What I've advocated is for Wales now to move on from a system of devolution. Devolution's run it's course now, the system we have is not fit for purpose. So rather than tinkering with the edges, it's time to move from a system of devolution to a system of self government. In the 2016 Assembly elections, Plaid Cyrmu will be asking the people of Wales to give us a mandate to, through an auditing council in the same way as the Edinburgh Agreement was arrived at, to get that self governing position where the people can then decide what we want to share and what we want to decide for ourselves.” </p> <p>This all seems much more gradualist than Scotland – the referendum north of the Tweed is happening because the SNP sought not a discussion about what powers should be where, but a referendum on independence. Is independence for Wales possible if Scotland votes no?</p> <p>“Yes, I'd say it is possible. Our two countries are different countries and we're on two different stages of our journey, but I think that the direction of travel is clear. We're both going in the same direction, but I don't think the destiny of Wales is dependent on Scotland and I don't think Scotland's destiny is dependent on Wales. The people in each country will decide what they want to do. But I think it may well be that we arrive at our independence in a different way”.</p> <p>One potential path to a significant increase in powers for Wales relies on Leanne's main political opponent. After the 18th, if it's a no vote, Carwyn Jones, the Labour First Minister of Wales, has said he wants to secure a UK constitution which includes a maximum level of devolution. If Ed Miliband's elected at Westminster, he'd be looking for friends in the Labour party. Carwyn Jones is currently the most powerful man in the Labour party, in terms of hard power. There's a picture you can paint of Jones securing from Miliband a codification of the powers of the various parliaments on these islands, including significantly more power. Is it plausible?</p> <p>“I don't know, I don't know. We'll have to wait and see. I would prefer for us in Wales to develop our own written constitution to meet our needs, and I've put a proposal forwards that that should be driven by the people. I think we need to take these matters away from politicians actually, and put as much power as we can in the hands of the people, because that would then address the other issue, which is increasing apathy. And if you can encourage and create scenarios where people have a direct influence and voice in the way that politics is done, then I think you've got a greater chance of reducing political apathy really.” </p> <p>This conversation is broader than Wales though, and I can't help but think that politics all across these islands could do with more leaders like Leanne Wood – or even more leadership from Leanne Wood. After the Scottish referendum there's going to have to be a major movement for serious constitutional change across all of the current UK, whatever the result. Plaid Cymru is, by electoral representation, the biggest radical party in Britain. Is she willing, I ask, to play a broader role?</p> <p>“I've always been keen to ensure that channels of communication are open between progressives, the left, in England, and in Scotland as well, but also we work quite closely with the Greens in the European Parliament and Westminster... those conversations are already happening to some extent. I tend to think, generally, that people are best placed where they are to be the best deciders of their own destiny. So in terms of going over to England and telling people what I think they should do, that's not the way I tend to do politics. People should be empowered to arrive at their own conclusions and make politics happen for themselves. </p> <p>“But of course, I will work with and support any progressive groups that see the world in the same way that Plaid Cymru sees it. There are many good reasons to work cross borders with other people who are of like mind with us. And it may well be... that in the event of a yes vote in Scotland, those relationships will actually improve because we'll be able to have a country that is developing a politics that is very different. Those metrics have already started to grow and develop and it could be that we'd be looking to our friends in Scotland for support with our politics at some point. But again, that would be in a spirit of co-operation as opposed to anybody telling anyone else what to do. People have to be empowered to self-determine.” </p> <p>I'm not quite satisfied. Isn't there a question about leadership here? If we're looking for someone in the UK who is going to be able to lead that process, isn't Leanne the obvious person? I don't see why Wales shouldn't be at the centre of UK radical politics, and I don't see why Plaid Cymru couldn't be leading it.</p> <p>“The danger” replies Leanne “has been that Wales has been a spectator nation. We've just been watching as Scotland's been doing its thing, and we need to be all in there, working on the basis of being a partner of equals with the others. And that's why the speech I gave in London was around trying to work out a way of ensuring, after September 18 that there was a forum for working out our shared goals and differences, because as 5% of the UK population, we are having our voices drowned out. And we need to be in a position, after September 18, to make sure that our voices are not lost.”</p> <p>One particular concern she has is an in/out referendum on the EU. What if the UK (with or without Scotland) votes to leave, but Wales votes to stay in? I reply, weakly, that there are three bits of Denmark: the mainland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands, and only one of them's in the EU. Why shouldn't England leave and the rest stay? But it's a serious worry.</p> <p>Moving on, I try to get deeper into her analysis of what's wrong at the moment: “what is the problem” I ask “the UK, or the British State?” - in other words, the country itself, or the way it's governance is arranged? It would have been easy for her to say both – after all, her party exists to end the UK. But she doesn't: “it's the British State isn't it? The British State is the problem.”</p> <p>“And I think that the fact that power and wealth is concentrated in one very small part of that state where that wealth happens to be headquartered is the problem, because the decisions that are made tend to be in the interests of that one very small part of the state, the centre of the state. That's why decision making needs to be decentralised, and that's one of the reasons Plaid Cymru exists is to make that happen. </p> <p>“I think that there's a danger in Wales and in Scotland of replicating the same problem and having all wealth and power concentrated in one city, whichever the country, is a bad idea. You have to make some serious concerted steps to ensure the redistribution of that wealth geographically and throughout the nation... Otherwise it will naturally tend to be sucked into the centre, unless you take steps to try and make it do something else...</p> <p>“The principal of subsidiarity is to have decision making at the lowest level, and I would say Plaid Cymru would support that principle. In some cases that means having much stronger local authorities in some cases it would mean breaking down to below local authorities. We're very keen to see, for example, a very strong network of community based councils where there's maximum participation through street level organisation.... we're having the debate now about local government reorganisation and I'm certainly going to to ensure that the Plaid Cymru contribution to that debate is the small is beautiful mantra. And stronger community councils is something I'm going to be contributing to that, yes.” </p> <p>Of course, the Scottish referendum isn't the only event coming up in UK politics. There's also the small matter of the UK general election. How many MPs should we expect Plaid to win? Her answer is cautious - “We have three at the moment”. Though she talks vaguely about potential gains, she is clearly trying not to hype it up. I push back a little. Plaid had a very good Assembly by-election up in <em>Ynys</em> Môn recently. She won't be facing Welsh Labour, who are pretty good at appealing to Welsh voters. She'll be up against Ed Miliband, who's more concerned about middle England than Mid-Wales. Does she relish facing him? Her response isn't particularly positive “I'd want to face them. The problem is that the broadcasters don't want us all to be on a platform together.”</p> <p>Faced with these difficulties, what prospects are there for broader electoral collaboration? A year or two ago Wood gave a speech where she talked about progressives across the UK working together. She's the leader of the largest, by representation, radical party in Britain. What's she doing to make that sort of collaboration happen? “there would need to be a serious debate and a recognition of the right in Wales and Scotland to self-determination if something like a broad alliance in the terms that you're talking about could really work. Because I've just had experience over many many years of the British Left not being progressive on these questions to be frank with you.</p> <p>“I've been really encouraged by some of the things that Billy Bragg has been saying recently I hope that his interventions can break the thinking of some sections who've been hostile towards the question of independence for Scotland and hostile to questions of devolution to Wales as well, but that situation is as it is. But unless that's resolved, I can't really see how I, or Plaid Cymru, or anyone else could hope to lead the kind of charge that you're talking about. </p> <p>“What I really would like to happen is see those progressive forces come from England itself, and then we could work together on the basis of equals as opposed to any one country or people from one country dominating any other. We should be able to approach politics in a partnership of equality... </p> <p>“I'm calling it the British Left deliberately, because it exists outside England, but there is definitely an attitude towards Scottish and Welsh devolution and self determination which in my view is problematic.</p> <p>In the 1990s, Plaid Cymru collaborated with the Green Party – to the extent that the first Green MP was arguably not Caroline Lucas but Cynog Dafis, a joint candidate with Plaid. What prospects are there for the relationship being rekindled?</p> <p>“I see a lot of sense in collaborating closely with the Green Party... I've had a number of conversations with the leader of the Greens in Wales around collaboration and I'm hoping we will be able to talk more and arrive at some sort of understanding for future elections, but it just seems, with a few minor differences, the platforms of the two parties are very similar, and it seems that the risk is that the vote will be split and the right will be victorious if we don't work more closely together.”</p> <p>The Scottish referendum has opened a hole in the usually closely guarded political discourse of the UK and all manner of wonderful things have poured out. After September 18, the powerful will be desperate to close it up again. If we're going to stop them, people like Leanne Wood will become vital figures, and the British Left she was talking about is going to have to look at itself long and hard and asks if it wants to continue to squeeze her and her kind out, or if it would prefer to become irrelevant.</p><p><em><strong>You can get Adam Ramsay's e-book <a href="">"42 Reasons to Support Scottish Independence" here</a>.</strong></em></p> uk uk Scotland's future Leanne Wood Adam Ramsay Joining the dots on independence movements in Europe Fri, 12 Sep 2014 07:37:51 +0000 Adam Ramsay and Leanne Wood 85831 at Time for Cornwall to step up: interview with the leader of Mebyon Kernow <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>As the Scottish referendum changes the British constitution forever, is there space for Cornwall? Or will it face the continued destruction of local government?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="// Cole at manifesto launch small.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="// Cole at manifesto launch small.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="502" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Dick Cole - Mebyon Kernow</span></span></span></p><p>First, a bit of history. On the 12th of December 2001, a delegation including Mebyon Kernow leader Dick Cole and Lib Dem MP Andrew George presented to 10 Downing Street a declaration which bore the names of more than one in ten Cornish people. It read:</p> <p><em>Cornwall is a distinct region. It has a clearly defined economic, administrative and social profile. Cornwall's unique identity reflects its <a href="">Celtic</a> character, culture and environment. We declare that the people of Cornwall will be best served in their future governance by a Cornish regional assembly. We therefore commit ourselves to setting up the <a href="">Cornish Constitutional Convention</a> with the intention of achieving a devolved Cornish Assembly - <a href="">Senedh Kernow</a></em></p> <p>At the time Wales, Northern Ireland, London and Scotland had managed to secure parliaments and assemblies from the new Labour government. They had indicated that they were keen to continue the devolution project in the remainder of the UK. So thousands of people in Cornwall asked that they be next. Their request was denied. Instead, in 2004, Labour held a referendum in the North East region, which slammed the breaks on the devolution process.</p> <p>A decade after that vote, with the Scottish referendum setting fire to Britain's paperless constitution, I jumped on a train just about as far south as you can go in the UK, to find out what was happening in Cornwall now. </p> <p>I'd never been to Cornwall before. Perhaps the most important realisation is how cut off it is – it takes longer to get from Oxford to Truro than it does to get from Edinburgh to London. What I found, I have to admit, was a little depressing. </p><p>It's not the poverty that upset me. Cornwall is the second poorest place in the UK, and you can tell as much almost as soon as you step off the train in Truro. But I was expecting that. What really got me down, talking to Dick Cole (you can find the whole interview below) was that the movement to bring power closer to communities has moved so far backwards in the last ten years. Whilst Mebyon Kernow had launched a shiny new consultation document on a Cornish Assembly, it was clear how Dick's time is really spent: defending against an all out assault on local government. And, so far, losing.</p> <p>As he pointed out, more and more bodies are being established to take power away from elected councillors and hand it to bureaucrats. Privatisation shifts control from communities to companies. It ties the people we elect into long term contracts which will outlive any one administration or electoral cycle, meaning that, whoever we vote for, our services will be delivered in the same way, but the same people, their profits protected whilst local politicians are forced to cut other services ever deeper.</p> <p>In Cornwall, as in many places over the years, local government has been centralised in recent years to cover a population of around half a million people, spread across numerous towns and villages. Perhaps worst of all, Dick has to spend his time as a councillor battling brutal austerity. </p> <p>What makes all of this most depressing, though, is the reaction. Right wing governments are often said to intentionally underfund public services so that people trust them less and they can be privatised. Dick gives an account of the loss of faith in democracy in Cornwall – how in a time of austerity it feels like a luxury, how people are too quick to support calls to cut the number of councillors, for example. If numbers are cut, he says, and so each representative is given more work, many good councillors will just leave the job. The result, of course, will be a further loss of faith in politics and so a further erosion of democracy will be easier. </p><p><br />Ultimately, this is of profound importance. The over-centralised nature of the British state is impossible to separate from the fact that nine of the ten poorest regions in Northern Europe are in the UK. Local democracy is a rare gateway into citizenship – into understanding that working together, we can change the world. If their aim is to alienate people from it then, once it is dismantled, the risk is not that we will lose the fight for its restoration. My fear is that people will have been so disengaged from politics, they will have learnt to hate democracy so much, they will spit on its grave. </p><p>There is some hope though. The Scottish debate opens up a space for broader discussion of the make-up of the UK. This is particularly true if it's a yes vote, for that will blow the constitution open. But even if it's a no, Scots will need to focus their energies on securing the significant increase in devolution that has been promised and that a vast majority want. And in these efforts, Scotland need not be alone – there are groups all across the UK working to tug power back off Westminster.</p> <p>In all of this, Cornwall can probably only play a small part. But as the one recognised nation with a geographical region but not an assembly or parliament in the UK, it has a role in unravelling the blank parchment that is our unwritten constitution and making its mark. And that's all to the good. </p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Interview: Dick Cole</strong></p> <p>“It's been a hell of a day so far.” Dick tells me as we meet in the canteen of the Cornwall Council building. “I've had a meeting all morning - they're cutting the mobile library service.”</p> <p>Dick Cole is a tall man with a Cornish accent, an easy charisma and the sort of self depreciating humour that acts as a stab proof vest for those politicians to whom it comes naturally. He's also the leader of Mebyon Kernow – the Party of Cornwall, which describes itself as a “progressive, left-of-centre party in Cornwall” and says it bases its policies on three principles: “prosperity for all, social justice, and environmental protection”. They have four of 123 Cornwall Councillors, 23 town and parish councillors, and a decades old campaign for a devolved Cornish Assembly. </p> <p>“I had an interest in Cornwall and I kind of got sucked into the Cornish distinctiveness thing” he says, “and I ended up going on the route that was the political rather than the cultural. Other people seemed to focus on the cultural which is great fun whereas I did the politics. </p> <p>He's led the party since 1997 and in 1999, got himself elected to his district council. A decade later, though, “the local Liberal Democrats and the Labour government... decided to centralise local government in Cornwall... arguing that creating a unitary authority was a stepping stone towards devolution and greater powers, which I would class as, well, either daft if you really believe that, but, it's just total bullshit.”</p> <p>When this happened, Cole was working as an archaeologist for Cornwall County Council. Because English law prohibits councillors from being employed by the council they sit on, he had to choose between his politics and his career. He went for the former.</p> <p>And what kind of politics? “Being on the left hand side of the three main London based parties isn't difficult. Go back a few years and the positions now which are deemed left wing would have been criticised then for being right wing.”</p> <p>“We've always used the term 'left of centre'... Comparing us to Plaid Cymru is very fair... sometimes they call it community socialism. We're well away from the games the Labour party is playing... it's about democracy, its about local banking, it's about environmental protection... Some days, it's really distressing, isn't it... when you've got Ed Balls competing with Osborne on who can upset me the most, it's pretty ghastly”. This politics reflects a turn that the party took to the left in 1979, when the national papers declared “reds blight the Cornish dawn”.</p> <p>“We were quite radical before, but from then on, it was clearly a very radical party. But... Since then... there's [been] a very solid, left wing basis all the way through, like our commitment to unilateral nuclear disarmament is just a given... nuclear weapons, bloody stupid idea: what more to say?”</p> <p>“It was going very well for us through the 2000s. We were starting to get some district councillors elected. We did very well in the 2007 District Council elections we got 7 members elected across Cornwall, then we got two defections immediately... But then, the district councils were abolished</p> <p>“So then when we stood for the first unitary election in 2009, 123 seats, we got 3 people elected, the year after, we won a by-election, and in effect, this last election, we stood still unfortunately. So, we're 4 elected.” The party also had five further candidates who came within a hairs-breadth of victory.</p> <p>The Duchy they serve is famous for beaches and pasties, but to this duo should be added a third word: poverty. Along with West Wales and the Valleys, West Cornwall is one of only two parts of the UK impoverished enough to be eligible for the highest level of EU regional development funding.</p> <p>“From my perspective, that shows what one of the main problems is – we live in one of the most over-centralised countries in the world, and the two areas with the lowest economic performance are two of the areas furthest away from the centre. That's not a coincidence, it's not a fluke, it just shows that the over-centralised nature of the UK does actually mitigate against economic performance the further from the overheated South East and London... </p><p>“Obviously Scotland is very different, but they've got their own institutions, and they've had good fortune, but, that Scotland's economic performance is better than the periphery of England, the periphery of Wales, and, out here in Cornwall. It does... show that economic performance is also about politics, about power.”</p> <p>Whilst this is a familiar narrative, each story of the impoverishment of an area has its own detail. A lot of the traditional Cornish industries have moved backwards in recent years, he explained. Now, “Cornwall has a lot of service sector stuff, tourism... Our problem is, we've created loads of jobs in the last few years, but we're creating jobs that are poorly paid. Our whole economy is bedded in that low productivity which really does need to change. There's positive things happening, but then again, it is where you're starting from - the people who've got the same degree of poverty as us when you plot them around Europe, it's very stark.” </p> <p>“We need to get a big debate to actually tackle the over-centralised nature of the UK, the dominance of London, the inappropriate levels of capital investment in the east of the country which freezes money out elsewhere. You listen to Boris Johnson, and he says 'we need more investment in London because we're subsidising the rest of the country'. Rubbish. Because we're so centralised, London exists off the rest of the country. We're subsidising London with our poverty and our low wages whilst those who are lucky enough not to be poor in the South East and London then have enough spare cash to buy a second home in Cornwall.” </p> <p>“It's just so wrong. Why should a house cost twice as much in one place as another. Why should people fortunate to be in one place automatically have greater chances for wealth than people born in another. Why are those disparities allowed? It does come down to democracy... Historically the focus on London and the South East is just off the scale... The investment in key arts facilitates and museums and you look at the key strategic institutions which get government investment, and where are they all? London, London, London, London...”</p> <p>One of the problems, he says, is what people outside Cornwall see. “You'll put your TV on at night, you'll have a repeat of a programme called Cornwall by Caroline Quentin, and there will be, 'oh, and here's another lovely view, and here's another lovely view, and, I'll now go and meet some people, so I'll talk to a local wine producer', or, 'I'll go to that nice little boutique estate agent which sells holiday homes', and, it's lifestyle Cornwall. And you contrast that to what we have in our daily lives, and that's life struggle Cornwall.”</p> <p>“You know, I'm here, with the phone switched on, in the hope that a housing officer will phone me back, who I'm trying to deal with some really serious housing issues, and that is the real contrast which people don't usually see.”</p> <p>Are holiday homes responsibe for pushing house prices up? “I think, if I'm honest, that house prices going up is more to do with our totally dysfunctional housing market so, it's just one element of it. Here, we get the lowest wages of the United Kingdom, our living costs are higher, well above the average, our house prices are well above the average.”</p> <p>Because they're rural? “it's rurality... it's... an example I always give is water rates. We've got the most expensive water rates in the country because we're paying for the tidying up of the coast, which falls on the inhabitants, not the visitors that enjoy staying here... We do have higher costs... lower wages, and higher housing costs. And that differential is a real fundamental issue. And then... the council houses were sold off by the Conservatives, so now the majority of the housing in Cornwall is privately owned, you've then got the buy to let market, so that many private sector lets are extortionately high, people can't actually afford, so if you look at the stats about, if you're a poor family, can you afford to put a roof over your head? And once you've got that, you question if you have enough to feed yourself.”</p> <p>Mebyon Kernow's solution to the concentration of power which Cole blames for this poverty was described in a recent <span>consultation document</span> “Towards a National Assembly for Cornwall”.</p> <p>“The basis of what we're proposing is a Cornish Assembly with powers similar to what the Scottish Parliament has. That's our starting perspective. Here in Cornwall, that is very ambitious, because the debate we're having in Cornwall is very different to the debate they're having in Scotland. The fact that the movement for greater powers for the people of Scotland is so strong and pronounced, you know, there's people campaigning for a no vote in the referendum, one of the key arguments is “you vote no, we'll give you more powers anyway” so, the SNP, and all the people who are campaigning for independence, they're in a win-win position. </p> <p>“If people in Scotland vote yes, the implications for the rest of us are absolutely massive in terms of how you re-think the country working. But, at the same time, Scotland's going to get more powers, Wales is getting more powers year on year. Throughout England, people are starting to wake up and say 'we are over-centralised, London, London, London, we need to try and re-balance the UK', here in Cornwall, we're continuing our normal, ongoing campaign. So whatever happens, there's massive implications for democracy and the constitutional future of the whole of the country.”</p> <p>Cole's party might exist to secure more democracy, but in practice, it is facing the opposite – the erosion of what democratic powers there are at a local level.</p> <p>On the one hand, he explains how privatisation ties the council into long term contracts, meaning the profits of private companies are protected even as the council faces brutal cuts from Westminster, limiting not jut how much they have to spend, but also what they're allowed to cut. Then there's “the proliferation in England and Cornwall of powers going from elected bodies towards the unelected”. He explains how “economic strategy is now set by the Local Enterprise Partnership and the democratically elected local authorities have to take their strategy and in effect follow it. You've got the Local Nature Partnership, the Health and Wellbeing Board, the Safeguarding Partnership. Infrastructure Boards. They're setting up all these entities which are actually taking away from democratically elected politicians and negating democracy even more.”</p> <p>In this context, he complains, the response from many has not been to demand the restoration of democracy, but rather to call for there to be fewer politicians. “We used to have 300 odd [councillors]. That got pared down to 123, now you look at the paper and it's like 'Cornwall's got too many councillors. I think that is ridiculous as we have a massive democratic deficit in Cornwall, but because the cuts to services are beginning to hit, suddenly some people are arguing that our local democracy is a luxury”. </p> <p>“Many of my opponents are saying: 'we've got one council for Cornwall, that's all we need', total lack of ambition, and you talk about more and it's suddenly 'more meaningless tiers, more politicians, you don't want that'... and [Mebyon Kernow's] idea of having four unitary authorities beneath the national assembly, that's come in for a lot of criticism from people outside the party, you know “ah, no, no, this is a waste of money, can't afford it.” <span>what's the point”, and then a knock on of that, you get the members who are very nervous that 'oh, we're losing the debate here. That's weakness, us talking about more politicians, can we pare back the number of politicians' and it really saddens me.”</span></p> <p>“I was happy being a district councillor with a full time job and a career. I'm now doing this full time - to represent my community where there's a lot happening with planning and other issues is a full time job plus. And the idea to reduce the number of councillors, I could do that plus a whole load more. I think they're barking mad. You either treat local democracy properly, or it just going to become a farce. And if you try and centralise it more, you're just going to have good councillors walking away, because it's not possible any more. And it's absolutely frightening. The whole austerity agenda is a massive attack on local democracy.” </p> <p>“The fact that Lib Dems and the Labour party got in and centralised local government, then you've got these people come in with their austerity agenda, then building on that to destroy even more and to totally devalue” he pauses, then adds, for punctuation “so depressed...” and a black laugh. </p><p>Why, I wonder, did they specifically opt to copy the Holyrood model, which is now up for so much debate? He quotes <span>Ron Davies</span>:</p> <p>“Devolution is a process, not an event, and things evolve, and it's about making it work, and things will strengthen... I'm just so positive it's about moving it in the right direction.”</p> <p>The referendum in Scotland in 1999 asked two questions – should there be a Scottish parliament, and should it have tax varing powers. People answered yes to both, and so Holyrood was established with the ability to vary the base rate of income tax by 3%: a power that has never been used, but which the Scotland Act 2012 extended to 10%. Would Mebyon Kernow want tax varying powers?</p> <p>“Again, it's the principle. You've probably heard this a million times... 'oh, you don't want to give a democratically elected parliament tax varying powers'. What absolute nonsense. I'm a member of a parish council. We set our own precept and raise tax. What's the problem?... </p> <p>“There was... an organisation called the [Cornish] Constitutional Convention, and it was quite interesting because it was bringing together people who weren't just Mebyon Kernow and had broad support for devolution and it was interesting, the range of opinions.</p> <p>“Some people got up and said “full independence, no equivocation”. Obviously the MK lot say “we know what our position is, it's the Scottish model”. A lot of other people there were <span> </span>saying “shouldn't we got for the Welsh Assembly model?”.</p> <p>“There were a couple of other people, from memory one of them might even have been a Member of Parliament representing the Liberal Democrats, who was arguing, is the Welsh Assembly model too much? Shouldn't it be somewhere between the unitary authority and the Welsh model? Where we are, in the debate in Cornwall, we're quite a long way on from other people who are deemed to be fellow travellers which is, to me, quite depressing. And so quite often people in Cornwall look more towards Wales, but again, how that's evolving since 1999 is massive... because they started at such a low base.”</p> <p>In general, his approach is not to argue over specific powers, but rather to push for the establishment of an Assembly in the belief that, like the Welsh and Scottish versions, it will gradually accumulate powers once its there. “I'm very pragmatic” he says “but at the same time, I've got a lot of antipathy towards those people who centralised powers, and then claimed it was devolution. Because we live in an era where it's a language of localism, the language of devolution. They're using the words, and they are betraying what they actually mean, doing the exact opposite. They're centralising in the name of localism.” </p> <p>This principle makes sense to me, but it does beg another question – what's the end point? Is there any power he wouldn't want for a Cornish Assembly?</p> <p>“I don't have an end point, I'll be quite honest. The context in Cornwall is very different to Scotland, very different to Wales... My end point will be when I run out of energy.” </p> <p>And how does the Scottish referendum impact on Cornwall and on Mebyon Kernow?</p> <p>“From an MK perspective, the independence agenda is really great for us. Because there is this summer a really big focus on people making their own decisions about the future direction of their country. At the moment, it's about Scotland but... whatever happens, there's going to be more powers heading in the direction of Scotland, and then how that happens for the rest of the United Kingdom, whether that's the remainder of the UK or the UK with Scotland still in it but in a more powerful position, there has to be a grown up debate about the future governance of the whole of the UK. </p> <p>“Cornwall has to be at the centre of that debate if we can. But it's not just about Scotland and Wales and Cornwall. The regions of England as well, those furthest away from the South East and London.</p> <p>And are people in Cornwall following the Scottish referendum? Is it coming up on the doorstep?</p> <p>“Not as much as it should be. I think it's fair to say the discussions locally, a lot of the things they'll be talking about is the proliferation of wind farms in my area, and they'll be talking about the threat to the mobile library bus...housing”.</p> <p>In the circles he moves in, it is widely discussed though, he says, and people in Cornwall are interested in Cornish devolution. It's not entirely a coincidence that Mebyon Kernow's report came out when it did, in the run up to Scotland's referendum.</p> <p>And how would a yes vote affect Cornwall?</p> <p>“What is a United Kingdom going to look like minus Scotland? Losing one of the most progressive bits of the country, you know, voting patterns, one of the two most progressive areas in the UK, what [impact] that has for longterm policy, what that has for the likelihood of debates – like this debate, devolution, powers, where they should lie. It's almost like, the debate's moving on, but then, the people in power... could be the people statistically most likely to be opposed to those sorts of movement.” </p> <p>And how would he vote?</p> <p>“Some people from Cornwall are saying “oh, vote yes” and posting things everywhere. I've always declined from doing that. But If I was Scottish and I had the same sort of views as I do down here, I can't see any way I wouldn't be voting yes. But, you know, the important thing is that it's a great opportunity for the people of Scotland to make the decision, and for those of us outside Scotland to see how their debate about democracy can be used to democratise the rest of the UK in a positive way.”</p> <p>How, then, is Mebyon Kernow going to turn the Scottish referendum into a UK-wide debate on the distribution of power?</p> <p>“The people in power who have sympathy are not in the majority. If there was a different government after the election, statistically, there's only going to be one of two people likely to be Prime Minister. And what the Labour party is saying given my experience of their centralising influence when they were last in power, I don't have any faith that they're going to come forward with anything meaningful, which is scary. They talk about devolution, they talked about English regionalism last time. They were dismissive of what Cornwall sent to them. And now they're talking about councils working together as regional power houses. Which, again, it doesn't seem very democratic.</p> <p>So, I ask him, how are we gonna make them?</p> <p>“it's never an easy answer, it's just continuing to campaign and campaign and campaign.”</p> <p>I suggest we should try to persuade Leanne Wood, leader of Plaid Cymru, to call a constitutional assembly.</p> <p>“I know Leanne made a speech the other day about the progressive parties, from Plaid to the Greens, and she name-checked MK, and... the Greens in there, these people need to be making the ground, and hoping the others will see the sense in it.”</p> <p>A Mori Poll in 2002 showed 55% support for a Cornish Assembly – what would that figure be now?</p> <p>“I would hope it would be positive. I think sadly, the standing of politicians and the standing of democracy has been negated in the meantime because of what's happened with the centralisation of local government in Cornwall, the cuts, the extra scandals at Westminster over the last 10 years, I think the standing of democracy as a whole has slipped back horrifically, that's something we've got to address. And I think some of the positives coming out [include] the fact that they're having such a positive debate in Scotland, you've got so many people coming out, you've got people like Jim Sillars going head to head with George Galloway in debate... that's fantastic!... We're just on a different plane at the moment from the debate in Scotland.”</p> <p>A key part of that debate in Scotland has been discussion of what people think an empowered Scottish parliament would do. What would Dick's first action be if he were swept to power as the first Cornish First Minister?</p> <p>“You go for the obvious left wing choices to show the positive things which can be done in a democracy” is the most I can get out of him. </p> <p>One other thing he does highlight, though is that “in Cornwall, we're always deemed to be part of somewhere different. We're a small part of the wider South West.... Making Cornwall the whole... is the issue. At the moment, people in South East Cornwall, for example, most of their health service is in Devon.”</p> <p>Presumably, I ask, it's in Devon because that's where the closest hospital would be? Isn't there an argument that that's a more practical way to run it, if you live nearer Plymouth than you do Penzance?</p> <p>“There is indeed” he replies “but then it's a question about investment in service and who pays for what and all the rest of it. So there are some real fundamentals we have to grapple with. So as well as taking our broad manifesto – protections of public services, ending privatisation, etc, the idea of Cornwall as an entity actually being the focus, being the economic focus, being the cultural focus, stopping institutions based in Bristol making decisions about Cornwall. Let's everything happen in Cornwall. </p> <p>“Why should we as Cornish taxpayers be paying money that then pays a bureaucrat in Bristol to then liaise with other bureaucrats in London to define what happens in Cornwall? These officials should be in Cornwall, working with the Cornish government, working with the local councils. They should be living here. They should be getting paid locally. They should be staying in the economy. That money should be circulating continually actually boosting the Cornish economy. And so... I think the big challenge is to get that broad picture, and actually make it work. And actually end these decades and decades of centralisation.”</p> <p>The Scottish referendum isn't, of course, the only matter at hand – there's also the small question of the coming 2015 elections. Traditionally, Cornwall has been a Lib Dem stronghold. Will people here abandon Clegg's party post-coalition and turn to Cole's?</p> <p>“[it's a] big question, how well will they do. Obviously in the last election, it was “vote Liberal Democrat, we're the only ones to stop the Tories. The word that went out was very strong. I contested St Austell and Newquay. The amount of literature the Lib Dems put out, the amount of phone canvassing was off the scale... I got 4.3%, which, given the work I put in, my track record, my community, it's not a great result.”.</p> <p>I disagree. In 2010, most candidates from small parties went backwards. Because people anticipated a close run election between Labour and the Tories, very few people outside the main parties got more than 4%.</p> <p>“but the thing is” Dick says “the Lib Dem literature, it really slammed the Tories. It had Paddy Ashdown saying 'the last time Tories were in, with their evil horns, they did this, and they destroyed that'. They even described the Tories as anti-Cornish. You name it, within like a week, they're in bed with them. The guy in my area [Stephen Gilbert] when we had the debates, we were both more left wing than the Labour candidates. And then, after the election, within ten days, he's actually a whip for Cameron. </p> <p>“The dynamic is that Labour is throwing a lot of effort into Camborne and Reduth. So there you've got George Eustice, government minister, ex-Liberal MP trying to come back [Julia Goldsworthy], then you've got another guy who's someone who's been working in the media, working in Cornwall for a number of years, but then, because of the business, I understand he's well connected, so he's actually powering a lot of money into the Labour campaign in the area. But I think, everywhere else, the Labour challenge is weak. And then there's all the other parties. And so the perception of people in Cornwall is that we're always going to end up with a Liberal or a Tory, and, so, how many people say “well, I voted Liberal last time to stop the Tories and it didn't work. And, all this stuff about mitigating the worst effects of the Tories, I sure as hell haven't seen that, and so are people gonna say, 'I didn't believe it, I'm going to vote where my true conscience is, even if I know I'm probably not going to get an MP'? It could be interesting.</p> <p>There isn't one particular seat they are planning on targetting this time, which surprises me. In 1997, the Green Party got 2.6% in Brighton Pavlion. It took 13 years to win it from there. A focussed effort can win a small party an MP.</p> <p>I start making this point to him, and he cites, from memory, the Green results in Brighton in the last few elections. But he insistst MK are in a different situation. Dick himself got 87% at the last local election across his division – surely he's in a good position to pick up former Lib Dem votes? Usually, in public at least, politicians like to project an image of confidence. Not Dick. He outlines how hard it is to win anything when people follow the elections through a national media which ignores small parties. “I don't want that to sound negative, it's just my understanding”. </p> <p>As before, he references the Green Party, so I ask him more about it – he held a joint press conference with Green leader Natalie Bennett before the European elections about support for a Cornish Assembly, and the two parties had co-operated in the past. In 2009, though, they ran their own list, across the whole of the South West (because that's the region), and beat Labour across Cornwall.</p> <p>I ask his view on more formal collaborations with Greens or other political groups in the future.</p> <p>“In terms of what I've done politically over 15 years, I've done a lot of things where it's been about bringing people together. In 1997, when I got elected leader of MK, the first speech I made was where I argued for a cross party Cornish Constitutional Convention to bring people together to build for a Cornish Assembly. That was the first speech I made as leader. I then proactively got out there, we tried to set something up called the Millennium Convention</p> <p>“We did get the Constitutional Convention going. Got people from other parties involved in it. But a lot of people who were there saying the right things really haven't delivered. Have really let the side down. You know, they've talked the arguments, and then been part of the process of centralising local government. And so maybe it's fair to say I'm a little bit jaded. Because I've been there, I've been so inclusive trying to pull people in different directions, and I think sometimes it's actually been at the expense of the political party I lead.”</p> uk uk Dick Cole Adam Ramsay Joining the dots on independence movements in Europe Thu, 11 Sep 2014 08:25:34 +0000 Adam Ramsay and Dick Cole 85827 at Post-independence in Scotland, Catalonia and the Basque Country: city-regional small nations beyond nation-states <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>We are witnessing the establishment of a new European regional order, characterised by the presence of city-regional small nations as new key players beyond their referential nation-states.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /><em>Cartoon from</em></p><p>The UK and Spain are not depicted as having the same nation-state DNA with regard to their respective histories and political-cultural traditions. A glance at the current European regional comparative context reveals that, while the UK Government has legitimised the Scottish Government and supported the Scottish Independence referendum as being a highly democratic exercise, Spain stands out as remaining normatively inflexible without, so far, even contemplating any dialogue with the presidents of the Catalan and Basque Autonomies.</p><p>Meanwhile, contemporary EU nation-states are accepting the implementation of the right of a population to decide how it is governed in relation to the UK’s inner national diverse context, which is embodied by the current position of Scotland. On the other hand, Spain has been avoiding the demands of the Catalan and Basque institutions and citizens on the basis of both historic and more recent episodes of political unrest. </p><p>As a result, it seems impossible to open any discussion about the devolution claims of city-regional small nations, particularly in terms of devising an internal, alternative and re-scaled configuration of Spain as a nation-state, which would involve modifying the 1978 Constitution. Moreover, in the case of the Basque Country, this is presented as the least likely outcome as political violence in the region has been both a major obstacle and also a source of inertia. Nevertheless, ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna), announced a ‘definitive cessation’ of its campaign in 2011 and, therefore, should welcome any kind of democratic implementation that involves devolving powers to the Basque Country.&nbsp;</p><p>Hence, can we find any remarkable differences between EU nation-states such as the UK and Spain? Indeed, I think there are plenty of them.</p><p>Within the broader global context, established nation-states are facing substantial changes, not only externally in terms of the global geostrategic game but also internally in their relations with their constituent ‘city-regions’. These ‘city-regions’ appear as dynamic, networked, territorial configurations embedded in their referential nation-states and driven by a wide range of diverse, transformative promotional policies that result in very uncertain consequences for both the ‘city-regions’ and the nation-states. However,&nbsp;clarification of the taxonomy and case-studies involved is required. As Scott (2001) pointed out, ‘city-region’ is a term that creates confusion, while Morgan (2013) added, “what is true of some city-regions is not true of all city-regions”.</p><p>Furthermore, Keating has argued (2001, 2005, and 2009) that globalisation and European integration have led to a resurgence of post-nationalism, which goes beyond nation-states. It is specifically in this context that ‘city-regions’ are making advances and, as noted by Morgan, each does so in it its own way. To put it simply, some ‘city-regions’ are promoted by economic renewal policies, while others are driven by national identity demands. </p><p>In this global trend, political devolution, economic development and nation-state re-scaling processes are merging and becoming intertwined, thereby establishing a new European regional order characterised by the presence of city-regional small nations as new key players beyond their referential nation-states. In this game, the hypothetical strategic scenarios are not clear and they remain uncertain considering, on the one hand, the heterogeneous tradition of the nation-states themselves and, on the other hand, the political histories of these city-regional small nations. </p><p>Nevertheless, it is clear that this new order must be taken seriously through close attention to its democratic dimension and to the clear territorial and political consequences for the city-regions, their related nation-states and the EU as a whole. I would like to entitle this debate ‘Postindependence’.</p><p>In an attempt to shed some light on this debate, recently, in June 2014, I presented, in the Basque Country, Spain, a book (in its Basque version) entitled ‘<a href="">Postindependence</a>’&nbsp;in which I compare eight ‘city-regions’ from the social innovation perspective that I am researching under the umbrella of the project, ‘<a href="">Benchmarking City-Regions beyond Nation-States</a>’, which is funded by the Regional Studies Association (RSA) and Ikerbasque (Basque Science Foundation) and developed through the Future of Cities Programme, University of Oxford (UK).</p><p>The book sets out to capture the different natures of the social innovation processes of these eight city-regions. It suggests a benchmarking between the eight ‘city-region’ cases beyond their referential ‘nation-states’, which are the Basque Country (Spain and France), Dublin (Ireland), Portland (Oregon), Oresund (Denmark and Sweden), Iceland, Liverpool/Manchester (UK), Scotland (UK) and Catalonia (Spain). Among these cases, there are two groups of ‘city-regions’: those that are fuelled merely by economic renewal and those driven by national identity factors. </p><p>In the first group, I include Dublin, Portland, Oresund and Liverpool/Manchester; in the second group are the Basque Country, Iceland, Scotland and Catalonia. The unit of analysis is the ‘city-region’, in which a complex networked dimension could account for different currently established socio-territorial structures, such as small nations (the Basque Country, Scotland and Catalonia), metropolitan cities (Dublin, Portland, Liverpool and Manchester), cross-border regions (Oresund) and small states (Iceland).</p><p>&nbsp;<span>The book suggests a methodological systemic framework, the 5-System Framework, to benchmark the different ‘city-region’ cases. The framework tries to capture the social innovation processes affecting the implementation of different territorial policies and strategies. The updated English version will be published in November 2014.</span></p><p><span>For the purposes of illustration, I will extract from the book some brief conclusions for each of the three city-regional small nation cases, the Basque Country, Catalonia and Scotland, in relation to their referential nation-states, which are Spain and France, in the case of the Basque Country, and the UK, in the case of Scotland. These are presented, respectively, in the table below.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><table border="1" cellspacing="0" cellpadding="0"><tr><td width="98" valign="top"><p>City-regional small nation</p></td><td width="163" valign="top"><p>Population in Millions</p><p>(Nation-State %)</p></td><td width="170" valign="top"><p>GDP contribution related to Nation-State (%)</p></td></tr><tr><td width="98" valign="top"><p>Scotland</p></td><td width="163" valign="top"><p>5.3 (8)</p></td><td width="170" valign="top"><p>9</p></td></tr><tr><td width="98" valign="top"><p>Catalonia</p></td><td width="163" valign="top"><p>7.5 (16)</p></td><td width="170" valign="top"><p>19</p></td></tr><tr><td width="98" valign="top"><p>Basque Country (Spain only)</p></td><td width="163" valign="top"><p>2.2 (5.5)</p></td><td width="170" valign="top"><p>6</p></td></tr></table><p><em>Table 1: City-regional small nations’ populations and GDP. <a href="">Source</a>.</em></p><p>The conclusions could lead us to coin ‘Postindependence’ as a new term, referring to the democratic process that each case portrays. In these final remarks, I will characterise each case from the social innovation perspective by highlighting the pervasive differences between them:</p><p>1.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;Scotland currently represents the first relevant case in which a hypothetical independence option has been agreed on by both the regional Scottish government and institutions (Holyrood) and the British nation-state government and institutions (Westminster). As a consequence, due to its substantial citizen engagement and the way in which the independence referendum has been managed democratically by both sides, this case demonstrates very good practices—efficient governance, social media usage and a rationalised dialectic. The outcome is not yet clear although there is an increasing trend pointing towards a YES option.</p><p>2.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;Catalonia is a case that should be understood in the context of the significant level of social support that has been gained (70%) for independence, which has prompted planning for a potential consultation event on 9th November and also pushed the Catalan Regional Government to accept this possibility, even against the will of the Spanish Central Government. However, it remains unclear what the socio-economic proposals of each side will be. The main debate is focused on the real controversy regarding whether or not to honour the consultation without having any information about the content. It thus seems that the confrontative and antagonistic dialectic adopted does not, in the short term, help to achieve a democratic outcome.</p><p>3.&nbsp;&nbsp;Finally, the Basque Country presents a new and positive context, which has evolved very quickly and has created an environment in which a demand for a referendum is bound to occur sooner or later as a consequence of the overcoming of the political violence that dominated the previous era. The main issue for any such referendum is the continued lack of preparation for the democratic content of the debate. Furthermore, the region may have the same difficulties as those faced by Catalonia regarding Spain’s inflexible position.</p><p><em>If you enjoyed this article then please consider liking <em><strong>Can Europe Make it?</strong></em> on <a href="">Facebook</a> and following us on Twitter <a href="">@oD_Europe</a></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/adam-ramsay/for-everyone-else-in-uk-40-reasons-to-support-scottish-independence-40">For everyone else in the UK (40 reasons to support Scottish independence: 40)</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Scotland </div> <div class="field-item even"> Spain </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? Spain Scotland Civil society Igor Calzada Joining the dots on independence movements in Europe Mon, 01 Sep 2014 13:47:25 +0000 Igor Calzada 85587 at Catalonia vs Spain, a clash of two nationalisms <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>By targeting the Mas government, widely portrayed as extremist and irresponsible, and by refusing to negotiate on key constitutional, economic, social, cultural issues, Mr. Rajoy has – willingly or not – been playing into the hands of radicals.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A human chain for the independence of Catalonia from Spain, September 2013. Karl Burkhof/Demotix. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Will 2014 be the year of Catalonia as it might be that of Scotland, whose voters will decide by referendum on September 18 if they want to regain their independence after three centuries within the United Kingdom&nbsp;? </p> <p>Five days earlier, Catalans will have taken to the streets <em>en masse</em> to commemorate the 300th anniversary of their own battle of Culloden, i.e. the fall of Barcelona into the hands of Spanish and French armies on September 11, 1714, and the end of their traditional self-rule and national identity. In 2012 and 2013 between one and two million people marched for independence from Spain, out of a population of 7.5 millions, slightly larger than Denmark.</p> <p>And, on November 9, the autonomous government has vowed to organise a referendum on Catalan residents' “Right to decide” whether they want to become a State and, if they do, whether they would choose independence or remain in the fold of the Spanish monarchy. A vote which is bitterly opposed – as unconstitutional – by the right wing PP's (Popular Party) government in Madrid as much as by PSOE (Socialist) opposition in the name of Spanish unity. For the moment, according to recent opinion polls, over two thirds of voters would vote “yes” at the first question and a small majority would opt for independence.</p> <p>But this “yes” could well turn into a “no” if the Spanish head of government Mariano Rajoy agreed to stop tampering with their linguistic and cultural rights – education is conducted in the Catalan language in the Autonomous Region – and grant a “Fiscal Pact” to Barcelona, like the one already in place in the Basque Country, allowing them the right to collect taxes.</p> <p>As a rule, Catalans distrust the behaviour of Madrid politicians who, they feel, want to curtail their linguistic rights while milking the richest economy of the peninsula. Even if they are opposed to independence or in favour of a federal Spain ( the “Third Way” advocated by the Socialists – who remain short of details on their new proposal – but firmly rejected by Rajoy). They stress that the “Estatut” (status) approved by referendum and validated by the Spanish Cortes in 2006 has been stripped of its fundamental rights by the Constitutional Court, at the request of the PP, then in opposition, and of some PSOE leaders. And that, since it was returned to power in 2011, the PP has been eating away what Catalans consider to be their prerogatives.</p> <p>In a democratic country there is nothing which could not be solved through negotiations. Provided there is a common will to negotiate, i.e., to give and take. The Catalan government, led by Artur Mas, head of Convergencia I Unio (CiU), the moderate nationalist party which spearheaded the fight for autonomy after Franco's death and who has long kept alive the hope of negotiating a better status with Madrid, is now advocating the “Right to decide”. He has announced for November 9 a referendum considered as illegal by the PP and PSOE, both of whom have vowed to oppose it by all legal means. Mas is also keeping up his sleeve the option of holding “plebiscitary” elections to the Barcelona Parliament, which would bring in a wider nationalist majority.</p> <p>While Madrid politicians, and media are staunchly opposed to a referendum which, for them, would mean secession – some having gone so far as to compare Catalan nationalists to Nazi national-socialists, portraying Mas with a Hitler-like moustache and advocating sending the army in to restore rule of law in Barcelona – the two main Spanish parties, PP and PSOE, have all but vanished from the Catalan political scene. At the same time, moderate nationalists, who have failed to bring negotiations forward, are now threatened by the rise of the old radical anti-monarchy nationalists of Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC), which has overtaken CiU in latest polls. </p> <p>Thus both sides are being radicalised. The moderate Catalan bourgeoisie, traditionally ready for compromise which would protect their business interests – and who remain, on economic and social issues as conservative as the PP – could soon be replaced by a less pliable ERC. Thus making a compromise less easy to reach, or even more unlikely. So Spain is now facing a confrontation between two conflicting nationalisms, Spanish/Castilian and Catalan.</p> <p>This is precisely what the Catalan business community, as committed to their cultural values as to their economic interest in remaining part of a larger Spanish market, desperately want to avoid and are trying to act as a go-between between Madrid and Barcelona. They have, according to the daily <em>El País</em> (17 July 2014), pleaded with Mr. Rajoy to do away with his strategy of “immobility”, of sweeping the Catalan question under the carpet in the vain hope that it will eventually fade away, and to open negotiations on three fundamental issues which would rebuild confidence, cut the grass from under the pro-independents’ feet and make irrelevant the “Right to decide”: recognizing Catalonia as a nation, full control on linguistic and cultural issues, and fiscal autonomy. So far to no avail. As the head of Barcelona's Economists Circle, Antón Costas said, “the temptation of doing nothing is only leading us towards the extremes”.</p> <p>By targeting the Mas government, widely portrayed as extremist and irresponsible, and by refusing to negotiate on key constitutional, economic, social, cultural issues, Mr. Rajoy has – willingly or not – been playing into the hands of radicals like the ERC or social organisations like Omnium Català and ANC (Catalan National Assembly), who are behind the latest massive demonstrations. New local elections would probably bring to power a coalition led by ERC. Specially as a significant number of neo-Catalans – immigrants from the rest of Spain and abroad – have recently joined the traditional independence camp. While, at the same time, neither the PP nor the PSOE want to be seen by their traditional Spanish voters as giving away to “separatists”. Rajoy knows that his party's radical wing, influenced by his predecessor Jose Maria Aznar, could threaten his leadership. While PSOE leaders are well aware that no Socialist government could be returned to the Cortes without the Catalan votes.</p> <p>The contrast with the more realistic position of the British government is glaring, which has accepted the Scottish referendum, while campaigning – like the Labour Party – for a “no” vote on independence. And moreover letting it be&nbsp; understood that this “no” vote could be followed by devolution of more federal powers to the Scots.</p> <p>Of course, both London and Madrid have been trying to frighten away voters by threatening them with expulsion from the European Union, exclusion from their present currency – the Pound or the Euro – and dire economic and social consequences if they make the wrong choice. This is fair game. But, as well as independence – especially on unfriendly terms – meaning serious economic difficulties for sure, and long negotiations with Brussels on access to the EU, it could also be costly to Spain. And perhaps more. The Kingdom would, in effect lose its richest region, its second city and its main port, but also one of its only road and rail connections to the rest of Europe, (the other being through the Basque Country, also tempted by greater autonomy, or more). The EU, meanwhile, has rejected Rajoy’s plan to open up a new route to France through the central Pyrenees. All this could strip Spain of its place among EU major powers and reduce it to the humiliating status of a “middling” country. Hard for a nation which has, for centuries, considered herself a world power.</p> <p>For their part, a spectacular scandal has just marred the image of Catalan nationalism when it was made public that the charismatic father of Catalan's autonomy and long-time head of the Barcelona government, Jordi Pujol, had squirrelled away millions of family money into foreign banks. This scandal, front-paged in all the media, is seen by many, in Spain as in Catalonia, as a nail in the coffin of the pro-independence crusade. </p> <p>It is true that the very image of Catalanism has been tarnished, this time by the moral failure of its major icon. Yet, Sr. Pujol is far from being the most corrupt of Catalan, or Spanish (left or right) politicians, who took advantage of the last economic bubble to enrich themselves or to illegally finance their parties. Some have been sentenced to jail while judiciary enquiries are dragging on for others. Who could realistically believe now that independence would necessarily mean a cleaner or more efficient government? But maybe Catalans prefer being ruled – for better or worse – by their own kith and kin!</p><p><em>Read Patrice de Beer's followup article, <strong>Catalonia revisited: farewell to great expectations</strong>, <a href="">here</a>.</em></p><p><em>If you enjoyed this article then please consider liking <em><strong>Can Europe Make it?</strong></em> on <a href="">Facebook</a> and following us on Twitter <a href="">@oD_Europe</a></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/patrice-de-beer/catalonia-revisited-farewell-to-great-expectations">Catalonia revisited: farewell to great expectations?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/alex-sakalis/catalonia-vs-spain-clash-of-two-debates">Catalonia vs Spain: a clash of two debates</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Spain </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? Spain Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government International politics Patrice de Beer Spotlight on Spain and Catalonian independence Joining the dots on independence movements in Europe Thu, 14 Aug 2014 08:54:50 +0000 Patrice de Beer 85196 at Catalan independence: the necessary choice <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">After many years of beating our heads against the wall of the Spanish state, trying to reform it into something more multi-national, we’ve come to the conclusion that it is best to simply jump over that wall.&nbsp;</span><em>Interview with the Catalan National Assembly (Assemblea Nacional Catalana).</em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Catalan National Assembly. Wikimedia commons. Public domain.</span></span></span></p><p>I had the opportunity to interview members of the Catalan National Assembly and ask them questions regarding the “Catalan way”, the current state of Spanish politics and their vision of the future. We met in their headquarters in Barcelona and conversed in Spanish. The following is a summary of our interview, not a verbatim transcription. The opinions expressed in this article are not mine and none of the factual statements made have been verified by me. Any errors or misrepresentations of the statements of the speakers are entirely my own responsibility. This transcription has been reviewed and approved by the participant.<span></span><span></span></p><p><strong>Present:<span></span><span></span></strong></p><ul><li><span></span>Ricard Gené, Secretariat<span></span><span></span></li><li><span></span>Maarten de Jongh, Economy Sectorial<span></span><span></span></li><li><span></span>Irene Martín, National Secretariat Nacional and coordinator of “El País de Tots”<span></span></li><li><span></span>Josep Pedrol, Secretariat<span></span><span></span></li><li><span></span>Anna Salvans, Public Relations<span></span><span></span></li><li><span></span>Josep Vazquez, Economy Sectorial<span></span><span></span></li></ul><p><strong>Section:&nbsp;</strong>Politics<span></span><span></span></p><p><strong>Questions:<span></span><span></span></strong></p><p><span></span><strong>1.&nbsp;</strong><strong>What is the Catalan National Assembly?<span></span><span></span></strong></p><p>We are a voluntary association of individuals who are dedicated to obtaining the independence of Catalonia. It is a citizens’ organization with between 500 and 550 territorial assemblies in Catalonia, more than 30 abroad and more than 50 sectorial assemblies. The territorial assemblies are constituted through local initiatives and require 20 signatures in order to be recognized. The foundational assembly was constituted on the 10th&nbsp;of March, 2012 and has since grown to include 32,000 to 33,000 dues paying members and more than 20,000 associate members who cooperate with us, but do not pay dues.<span></span><span></span></p><p>We leave ideology at the door. Above party politics, the ANC is composed of people dedicated to the common project of building up the nation. Almost all of the Catalan parties are represented in our ranks, but no one is allowed to take a partisan position in any official act or statement for the Assembly. This has been a tremendously enriching experience which has opened the minds of many of our members; it has obliged us to work with other Catalans that may have radically different opinions from ou own, except on the question of independence.<span></span><span></span></p><p>Five years ago, for many of us, independence would have inconceivable. The decision by the Constitutional Court to reject large parts of the Catalan Statutory Reform in 2010 acted as a catalyst to convince many people that there was no longer any other solution open to the Catalan people. It began before that even, when the People’s Party organized a campaign to gather signatures against the statutory reform. The People’s Party tried to convince Spaniards through these campaigns that “Catalonia is trying to rob us” which was humiliating and served to increase tensions. Although the People’s Party was aiming to score points against the governing Socialist Party, they were actually slapping the Catalan people in the face. There have been many other deceptions and disillusionments, but that one was the worst: it was the one that made us realize that there could never be an understanding with the rest of Spain.<span></span><span></span></p><p>In truth, the situation had begun to deteriorate rapidly in 2003, which is when we finally decided that it was necessary to reform our Statute of Autonomy; precisely because the old charter was being whittled away and ignored from some time. There are many laws the government is not complying with, such as the law returning the archives of the Civil War years to Catalonia from the National Archives in Salamanca. Or the ruling by the Constitutional Court in favor of the Generalitat in the management of university grant; that ruling still hasn’t been implemented. We could give many more examples. The Council of Statutory Guarantees (Consejo de Garantía Estutaria) publishes a list of infractions and violations of the competencies pertaining to the Autonomous Communities, which now amounts to a very sizeable tome. Foreigners can’t believe that this is true, that no one demands accountability or are ignored, but that is how it is. When some people say that the demand for a referendum is principally due to the impact of the financial crisis, it is a lie: it might have exacerbated the situation for some people, but it was never the principal motivation.<span></span><span></span></p><p><span></span><strong>2.&nbsp;</strong><strong>What does the ANC do?<span></span><span></span></strong></p><p>We have lots of very capable volunteers who are collaborating with us in our work.<span></span><span></span></p><p>In the Secretariat, we organize official acts and events, prepare and send out communications. We work with the very practical objective of trying to convince the public. Basically, we are working on five projects at this time:<span></span><span></span></p><ul><li><span></span>·&nbsp;<span></span>“El País de Tots”(Everyone’s Country):&nbsp; a space where we want to provide information and arguments to convince undecided and uninformed voters, as well as for maintaining social cohesion, something that Catalonia has always enjoyed;<span></span><span></span></li><li><span></span>·&nbsp;<span></span>“El País que Volem” (The Country You Want): an open platform where any and all citizens can participate, leaving their views on what they would like a new Catalan state to look like. It was launched three weeks ago and is starting to gain traction. Anyone can propose anything, and these ideas will be presented for consideration to the first Parliament of an independent Catalonia;<span></span><span></span></li><li><span></span>·&nbsp;“Cataluña al Mundo” (Catalonia to the World): we are trying to capture international attention, working with journalists – or with anyone interested in speaking with us – not with the purpose of convincing them, it’s not about that; rather with the goal of explaining our point of view and our reasons for believing what we believe. We’ve come to realize that understanding can often depend on cultural context. Anglo-Saxons tend to understand us quite well, because they are cultures focused on democracy and citizen empowerment; while Italians and Germans, because of their recent history of national consolidation, sometimes see things differently;<span></span><span></span></li><li><span></span>·&nbsp;“Signa un Vot” (Sign For Your Vote): we propose to collect signatures to present a mass petition to the Catalan government and elected officials, based on our right to petition government; which is a fundamental civil right codified in Spanish law, in European law and in International law;<span></span><span></span></li><li><span></span>·&nbsp;<span></span>“De La Desobediencia a la Soberanía” (From Disobedience to Sovereignty): we are trying to paint the picture of the change that is coming in order to prepare people for it. They are going to go from being accused of civil disobedience by the Spanish state, to being sovereigns in their own new Catalan state. This is a big change in perspective and takes some getting used to.<span></span><span></span></li></ul><p>Our basic and most important objective is to remain true to our democratic and non-violent principles. After that, we obviously want to secure the right to vote; and once we secure the right to vote, we want to convince citizens to vote “yes”.<span></span><span></span></p><p>In the Economy Assembly, we have volunteer economists working to analyze relevant economic information, especially to clear up the doubts and uncertainties that the people entertain. We work closely to help our colleagues in the other assemblies by preparing different types of analysis regarding the most interesting and frequently asked topics: what will happen to jobs, to pensions, to infrastructure. There is much more we’d like to do, but it is still slow going. Our biggest success came at the end of March, we organized a forum in Barcelona of internationally recognized Catalan economists; this event was very successful and had a global reach.<span></span><span></span></p><p>The territorial assemblies are in touch with the people; the sectorial assemblies provide the information and analysis that the local assemblies request; we prepare documents, presentations, we’ve even written a book, though it is not yet translated into English. One of the principle studies we are currently undertaking is the analysis of the Catalan contribution to the Spanish budget and how much of it is returned to Catalonia as investment.<span></span><span></span></p><p>Another of our current campaigns is “Declárate a Cataluña” (Declare Yourself Catalonia): once our citizens have filed their income tax returns to the Spanish Treasury, we are asking them to share that information with the Catalan government. This is so that a future Catalan Treasury would have the necessary tax data for its own citizens, something that the Spanish Tax Authority refuses to share. Even when it is the Catalan Parliament that asks for the information.&nbsp; There is a provision in the reformed Catalan statute which requires the joint management of Catalan fiscal matters by the Generalitat and the Spanish Tax Authority by means of a consortium. This provision was not among those annulled by the Constitutional Court’s ruling; notwithstanding, there has not been the slightest effort made to develop it.<span></span><span></span></p><p>The statute also established a bilateral commission between the Spanish and Catalan governments whose purpose was to oversee the transfer of those competencies which were to be devolved to the Generalitat. During what was left of the PSOE’s second administration, the commission did meet, though with meager results. The commission has not met even a single time in two and a half years, ever since the People’s Party won an absolute majority in the last general elections; despite repeated and insistent petitions by the Generalitat that it should do so. It is curious to us that the People’s Party should demand that Spanish laws be obeyed, when they are the first to ignore and violate them. After all, the Catalan Statute is a Spanish fundamental law (Ley Orgánica), approved by the Spanish Parliament; it is not an invention of the Catalan Parliament. It is also a political pact, and that pact is not being respected.<span></span><span></span></p><p><span></span><strong>3.&nbsp;</strong><span></span><strong>The Spanish government insists that, in 1978, Catalans voted in favor of the current Spanish Constitution and cannot unilaterally ignore it.<span></span><span></span></strong></p><p>Yes, in ’78 we voted in favor of the Constitution, because Catalans wanted to recover their democratic rights and put an end to Francoism. Since then, however, what we have seen is that promises are broken, the legal framework doesn’t protect us and since we are a minority – and always will be – we have no possibility of reforming the constitution. What does it matter that our fathers’ generation voted in favor of the constitution thirty years ago? The majority of the Basques voted against it; so? Does that mean they can leave anytime they want? Apparently not. That argument suffers from a grave legal fallacy: the right to self-determination is not exercised a single time and then lost, it is a perpetual right. A new generation of Catalans now claims that right in order to decide whether or not they will live under the same constitution.<span></span><span></span></p><p>After many years of beating our heads against the wall of the Spanish state, trying to reform it into something more multi-national, we’ve come to the conclusion that it is best to simply jump over that wall. A country where the rule of law is treated so frivolously – not just towards Catalans, but towards all Spaniards – is not a serious country.<span></span><span></span></p><p><span></span>4.&nbsp;<span></span><strong>What is the relationship of the ANC with the Catalan government?</strong><span></span><span></span></p><p>There is a commission in the Secretariat that meets once a month with all political parties that support the referendum; evidently we don’t meet with the People’s Party or Citizens. With the Catalan government there are no official ties, only through our dialogue with the parties. There could be personal contacts between members of the ANC and the government, but nothing official and there is no political coordination. Nobody here wants to make trouble for the government, they have worries enough as it is. It is not true, as some suggest, that the ANC is setting anyone’s agenda in the government.<span></span><span></span></p><p><span></span><strong>5.&nbsp;</strong><span></span><strong>How do you evaluate the results of the European elections? The Republican Left (Esquerra Republicana) won a historic victory over their partners in government, CiU: what lessons do you take from these results?<span></span><span></span></strong></p><p>It’s not exactly true that CiU lost the election – they ended up winning 100.000 more votes. But Esquerar did win a higher percentage than CiU.<span></span><span></span></p><p>The reading we have is that people voted on the basis of each party’s stance on the referendum and the party that gives the best guarantees of that is ERC. These elections were turned into a sort of “pre-vote” on the referendum and that’s how people saw it. With CiU, people have more doubts about their commitment to the consultation, especially after some comments made by Mr. Durán I Lleida. Also, one of the euro deputies from CiU (the one from Unió) will be sitting with the People’s Party delegates in the same European Party alignment, which generates even more doubts in people’s heads.<span></span><span></span></p><p><span></span><strong>6.&nbsp;</strong><span></span><strong>What impact will the abdication of King Juan Carlos I and the succession of his son as Felipe VI have on the “Catalan way?” Has this event change the political calculus in Catalonia?<span></span><span></span></strong></p><p>The ANC doesn’t have an official position on the king’s abdication. It is obvious that the Prince will want to offer an alternative – a “third way” – and perhaps to introduce some rationality and moderation to the situation. The fact that he speaks Catalan is well and good; but when the Prince came to Catalonia last time, he met with a very small group of Catalan businessmen, primarily those with substantial business interests in the rest of Spain. Very good: but if he really wants to participate in the debate as a good faith negotiator, he ought to meet with the people that actually want independence, and explain to us why we should change our minds. The monarchy talks about changing its image, but the day after the abdication announcement, they celebrate an official event with the King and Prince in military uniform, surrounded by military officers, Civil Guards and priests. That is very much the old and disreputable image of the monarchy; they ought to have done a better job of scheduling events! It won’t be enough to speak Catalan with a certain degree of proficiency to convince the people to give up their rights.<span></span><span></span></p><p>We don’t expect much to change; at least those of us in the Assembly have no interest in maintaining any link to Spain or the monarchy. If their purpose was to distract us, they will not succeed. If the monarchy had really wanted to make progress in Catalonia, they should have taken steps a long time ago: now we really can’t see that there is anything they could do to change the situation. Our objective is to continue organizing the independence referendum in accord with our firm conviction that the Catalan people have a right to decide their own future.&nbsp; We say that with all due respect to the Spanish Crown and the Spanish Key, but that’s how we see them: as pertaining to Spain, not Catalonia.<span></span><span></span></p><p><span></span><strong>7.&nbsp;</strong><strong>The new party Podemos has erupted onto the political scene as a potential third force at a national level, yet it received almost no votes in the Catalan provinces. What is the CNA’s position with respect to Podemos and their program? To what do you attribute the lack of support for Podemos in Catalonia?<span></span><span></span></strong></p><p>Primarily because Catalonia has the added dimension of the independence movement and so the traditional (Catalan) parties were not punished as severely as in the rest of Spain, as was the case with the People’s Party and the Socialists.&nbsp; In fact, CiU ended up winning more votes in absolute terms, thought they lost in relative terms to ERC.<span></span><span></span></p><p><span></span><strong>8.&nbsp;</strong><strong>The performance of the Catalan human castles was just celebrated in 7 European cities in support of a Catalan referendum. How do you see international opinion towards the plebiscite? Has it evolved or is it still the same?<span></span><span></span></strong></p><p>The objective of the castellers&nbsp; was to reach places we had not yet reached, to be seen on front pages and on TV in countries that had little or no knowledge of the objectives of the Catalan process. In Germany, for example, we had a lot of coverage thanks to the unexpected appearance of Pep Guardiola; in London, there was a great photo of the castellers in front of London Bridge; in Paris, with the Eiffel Tower; in Brussels, in front of the European Parliament. The idea was also to demonstrate the values of the independence movement; of a human project, working together, as a team, with great effort and coordination; in the end, more than 5,000 castellers gathered in over 80 cities, though it was the performances in the seven European cities that received the most attention because they were staged simultaneously and were thus easier to communicate to the local press.<span></span><span></span></p><p>Compared to 2 years ago, yes, there is a lot more international awareness; before there were no articles in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Financial Times or the Guardian, but now there are. Besides, the international press is starting to understand the important issues at stake, like democracy: why can’t there be a democratic referendum in Catalonia like there is in Scotland? It’s also true that a few years ago, lots of international papers depended on their local correspondents in Madrid, who had a very definite opinion. They accused of us being a bunch of wealthy elites who wanted our independence in order to pay less in taxes; but bit by bit, the international press is changing its message and focusing on the Catalans arguments.<span></span><span></span></p><p><span></span><strong>9.&nbsp;</strong><span></span><strong>Is there any acceptable alternative to independence? Is there any possibility or interest of maintaining some link to Spain – for example, a dynastic union under the Bourbon crown or a Federalist model?<span></span><span></span></strong></p><p>At the end of the First World War, the last Kaiser of Austria-Hungary, Karl I, brought together the representatives of the Slavic people of the Empire and proposed to them a pact to change the Dual Monarchy into a Triple Monarchy and so avoid the fragmentation of the Empire. But the Slav delegates answered: “Your Majesty, that is what we have been asking for all these years; but now it is too late.”<span></span><span></span></p><p>From our point of view in the Assembly, no other possibility exists. A dynastic union between the two states as independent and equal, rather than confederal, is simply not credible: they would not offer it and we would not want it. Such an offer might have been acceptable years ago, but not anymore. Regarding a constitutional reform to create a new federal structure for the state: if they don’t even obey the current constitution, why should we believe that they would obey a new one? Independence is the only guarantee that we have – that they’ve left us – of our rights.<span></span><span></span></p><p><span></span><strong>10.&nbsp;</strong><span></span><strong>How would you explain the “Catalan way” to an American audience?<span></span><span></span></strong></p><p>We are in a situation where our constitutional right to autonomy is not and never has been respected. Not only is there a complete lack of willingness to develop the degree of autonomy in Catalonia that had been agreed upon, there is in fact a grave regression in terms of powers that had already devolved. Some examples of these include: the new Education Law; the Law on Market Unification; the Law on Rationalization of Local Administrations (municipalities and provinces); the Law on Commercial Operating Hours; the obstruction of the restitution of the archives stolen and relocated by Franco; the proposal to re-centralize responsibility for workplace and labor conditions inspections; the protection of the centralized and monopolistic airport administration prior to a partial privatization in the future; and the reform of the Law of Ports.<span></span><span></span></p><p>There is also the question of incompatible values. New laws that are examples of political and social regression that affect all of Spain such as: the proposed Law on Abortion; the proposed reform of the Administration of Justice; the promotion of bullfighting; the limitations imposed on free access to the justice system; among others.<span></span><span></span></p><p>Since we are a minority in the country, and always will be, and faced with the definitive rejection of negotiation by the Spanish government, we recognize the utter impossibility of reforming the status quo. For these reasons, the solution is independence. We’re not talking about changes in national ideology, shifts to the left or the right that might suit us more or less; we are dealing with a situation in which we either submit to permanent political and cultural subjugation or else we free ourselves. With the former, we face the extinction of our freedom, of our language and of our culture.<span></span><span></span></p><p>In the end, our political cohesion has been broken: but it has been broken by the Spanish government, not by the Catalans.<span></span><span></span></p><p><strong>Section:&nbsp;</strong>Economy and Business<strong><span></span><span></span></strong></p><p><strong>Questions:<span></span><span></span></strong></p><p><span></span><strong>11.&nbsp;</strong><span></span><strong>Recently there has been good news about private investment in Catalonia. How do you see the evolution of the Catalan economy this year? Which are the most attractive sectors for American investors?<span></span><span></span></strong></p><p>Catalonia is a technological leader in Spain. For example, the sectors of medical research and development, the bio-pharmaceutical industry, the agro-food sector, the automotive industry, the audio-visual industry. This information is available to foreign investors on the webpage: “Invest in Catalonia”.<span></span><span></span></p><p><span></span><strong>12.&nbsp;</strong><strong>Certain Spanish politicians and analysts have said that the independence of Catalonia would ruin the Catalans. How do you view this forecast? If you disagree with it, could you please explain why?<span></span><span></span></strong></p><p>The only one who could ruin the Catalan people is the Spanish government. None of the calamities these people warn of come directly out of our independence, rather they would be the fruits of the Spanish government’s revenge. The expulsion of Catalonia from the Euro, the imposition of frontiers and trade barriers where none exist; all of these would be imposed by the Spanish government as they certainly don’t interest the Catalan government in the least. In other words, the pain inflicted on the Catalans would come from the settling of accounts of a vengeful Spain. But if there is a negotiated solution, there will be no catastrophe: and it is in the Spanish government’s best interest to negotiate so as not to be saddled with the entire national debt, which they could not repay.<span></span><span></span></p><p><span></span><strong>13.&nbsp;</strong><strong>The same authors warn of massive capital and deposit flight in the event of a declaration of independence. How do you evaluate this possibility’ What guarantees or measures are being contemplated by the Catalan government in the event of a “yes” victory to prevent this from occurring?<span></span><span></span></strong></p><p>There would be greater legal guarantees in an independent Catalonia than in Spain today, where no one respects the laws or signed covenants, like in the energy sector. In any case, the Catalans haven’t lost their minds and our objective isn’t revolutionary, it is democratic. Private investments would continue to be treated according to the existing laws and would be protected absolutely. It should be obvious that the multinationals that are investing in Catalonia today aren’t in the least bit worried: it is simply not credible that they would have started so many important projects in 2013 -&nbsp;&nbsp; nearly half of all industrial investment in the whole of Spain for that year – if the investors were worried about what might happen in Catalonia. In spite of the scare tactics employed by the Spanish government, we should add.<span></span><span></span></p><p>Spanish legislation is already adapted to European standards; and any new legislation or standards adopted subsequently by an independent Catalonia would also be in accordance with European norms. That is why investors don’t care whether Catalonia is independent or not; nothing would change. What might matter more is the possibility of a Spanish boycott on Catalan products after independence; but in fact, we are already living with this boycott since 2005/2006. One study done a few years ago estimated that the boycott could be costing us as much as 2% of our GDP every year. But, in some sense, this has actually benefited Catalan businesses, who had to turn to exports and were thus better prepared to deal with the crisis when it came.<span></span><span></span></p><p><span></span><strong>14.&nbsp;</strong><span></span><strong>What would be the attitude of the Catalan government with respect to the Catalan public debt and the Spanish public debt in the event of independence? What guarantees could the new state offer to protect invested capital and assure the payment of interest?<span></span><span></span></strong></p><p>That is more properly a question for the Generalitat, we can’t answer it from the Assembly. Nevertheless, it is probable that the Spanish government will have to negotiate: European and international creditors will want what is owed them, and so they will put pressure to come to an agreement on how to divide the public debt. What’s more, what happens in Spain will affect the rest of Europe and the Euro. It is hard to believe that the Spanish government’s intransigence will be allowed to ruin the whole European Union.<span></span><span></span></p><p><strong>Thank you for this interview.</strong></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/fernando-betancor/just-who-are-podemos">Just who are Podemos?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/kepa-artaraz/for-spanish-democrats-this-is-time-to-demand-reinstatement-of-republ">For Spanish democrats, this is the time to demand the reinstatement of the republic</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Spain </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? Spain Fernando Betancor Spotlight on Spain Joining the dots on independence movements in Europe Fri, 20 Jun 2014 21:22:50 +0000 Fernando Betancor 83885 at Human chain demanding the Basque right to decide gathers 150,000 <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>On the 8 June 2014, thousands of citizens from the Basque Country demanded the right to decide their future by creating a human chain of 123 kilometres between the town of Durango and the city of Iruñea (Pamplona).</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="The human chain through the Basque region on 8 June 2014. Demotix/Javi Julio. All rights reserved." title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The human chain through the Basque region on 8 June 2014. Demotix/Javi Julio. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>On the 8 June 2014, thousands of citizens from the Basque Country demanded the right to decide their future by creating a human chain of 123 kilometres between the town of Durango and the city of Iruñea (Pamplona).</p><p>Anjel Oiarbide a leader of the social movement behind this gathering, known as “Gure esku dago” (It´s up to us), has declared his joy at the success of the initiative while assuring that further gatherings will follow.</p><h2><strong>Breaking all expectations</strong></h2><p>Today's initiative was proposed a year ago by a movement created in 2007 in the district of Goierri (Gipuzkoa) in support of the right to self-determination. They were following the steps taken by the Scottish people regarding Scotland's independence. 50,000 people were required to create a human chain in order to cover the 123 kilometres between Durango and Iruñea but in these last weeks the event has gone beyond all expectations; just a week ago up to 100,000 people showed their support in order to participate in the event. In the end, more than 150,000 people joined the initiative, according to the organizers.</p><p>The volunteers grouped behind the initiative “Gure esku dago” have achieved a double objective. On the one hand they have been capable of bringing together people from different political backgrounds under the same flag. The support shown during the last weeks to the human chain by different political leaders of a variety of political parties and trade unions is but a reflection of it. And the support shown to the initiative by the political movement “Podemos” (We can), that shines like a new star in Spanish politics since the last European elections, is a fact that should be taken into account.</p><p>The second test that the organisers of “Gure esku dago” have had to face with, has been that of the infrastructure and the organisation. Thousands of people have been taken in around a thousand buses to the place in which they had to cover their kilometre within the human chain and different parking spaces and other services had to be assured for the security of the event. Without a doubt, this giant mobilization that has been going on in the last months will leave its own mark in the Basque Country.</p><h2><strong>The echo of “The march for freedom”</strong></h2><p>Searching into history, this giant human chain of 2014 has a precedent. In 1977, during the political transition that followed after Franco’s death, “The march for freedom” flowed though Basque towns until its arrival to a field in Ororbia, near Iruñea (Pamplona). It was in this field that the march proposed by the historic separatist leader Telesforo Monzon ended after a massive political meeting. That gigantic popular movement ran in parallel with the first Spanish elections and with the political negotiation that went on among certain politicians in order to facilitate the process of transition and the Spanish constitution itself. </p><p>This time it has been the turn of “Gure esku dago”, at a time in which Spain is again going through a major crisis or a transition in which it has to deal with the anger spread in society due to the consequences that the major crisis of the 21st century has generated. A time in which the Spanish monarchy, one of the essential parts of the Spanish political system is drowning in a sea of scandals. A time in which the Spanish State’s unity is cracking due to Catalonia’s wish to become separated from Spain.</p><p>Anjel Oiarbide of “Gure esku dago” has already announced that other events will follow during autumn. It will be interesting to observe how this popular demand for the right of self-determination matches with the negotiations that supposedly are going on between the major political parties in this new period of political transition for Spain.</p><h2><strong>The Basque media united</strong></h2><p>Most of the citizens interviewed by the media have stated that the human chain has been a major success and that its consequences will be felt in the following days and weeks. As for the media, the success had arrived a day earlier. Several news agencies, including ARGIA, have worked as a network in order to spread the word about the event, augmenting that the message that “Gure esku dago” has been promoting over the last months. Our common needs, wishes and interests must prevail over our differences.</p><p><em>This article was originally published in Basque on <a href="">Argia</a>.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/guy-hedgecoe/sortu-and-eta-basque-politics-spanish-law">Sortu and ETA: Basque politics, Spanish law</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/juan-jos%C3%A9-ibarretxe/progress-with-roots">Progress with roots</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Spain </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? Spain Pello Zubiria Spotlight on Spain Joining the dots on independence movements in Europe Tue, 10 Jun 2014 14:27:35 +0000 Pello Zubiria 83593 at Arrivederci, Veneto? <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>What was behind the "unofficial" referendum on Venetian independence? Why was it so popular? And could we soon be saying <em>arrivederci</em>&nbsp;to Veneto?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="Demotix/Antonio Melita. Some rights reserved." title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Demotix/Antonio Melita. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>The independence referendum held in Veneto between the 16 and 21 of March adds to a growing list of struggles for territorial autonomy within established nation states and advanced democracies in Europe. As is well known, this year <a href="">Scotland</a>&nbsp;will go to the polls to decide whether it becomes an independent country. <a href="">Crimea</a>&nbsp;has also&nbsp;recently made the headlines for its sudden desire to secede from Ukraine and re-join Russia – a decision supported by a landslide victory in a recent, if contested, popular referendum.</p><p>And yet, in many respects, the Veneto independence referendum cannot be directly compared to these cases. In the first place, the referendum was unconstitutional and defective. According to the Italian Constitution (Article 5) “the Italian Republic is one and indivisible” – which, put simply, means that no referendum could ever be lawfully called to question or change this principle.</p><p>Another issue concerns the way in which the political group <em><a href="">Veneto Indipendente</a></em> managed and organised the referendary ballot, mainly through the web platform <em><a href=""></a></em>. Unlike other cases in Europe, in fact, the result was not legitimate because the vote followed unconventional rules&nbsp;– i.e. people could cast their vote online, via telephone or at polling stations&nbsp;improvised in town squares across the region. Hence, when the organising committee declared with enthusiasm that the referendum was won with an overwhelming majority (89%, with nearly 2,5 million votes cast), many politicians and commentators hurriedly shelved the issue, arguing that the vote was only hypothetical and not verifiable, and therefore null.</p><p>Moreover, the political movement behind the referendum is neither a strong nor a coherent political force. <em>Veneto Indipendente</em> (and the so-called ‘Venetists’) brings together a number of small and fractious autonomist groups and ‘leagues’, which over the years have never managed to coordinate their forces to create a credible agenda or gain any real political clout. As a consequence, the Venetists and their claims have never been taken seriously by the Italian political class.</p><p>In spite of these flaws, there are several reasons that explain why the Veneto Independence referendum should not be discarded as a trivial matter. First and foremost, the vote reflects the presence of widespread feelings of malaise and dissatisfaction in the region, which were successfully channelled by Veneto Indipendente. This is confirmed by the findings of a survey conducted on the 20 and 21 of March by the Italian Research Centre <a href="">Demos&amp;Pi</a>, and published by the political analyst <a href="">Ilvo Diamanti</a> in the daily <em><a href="">La Repubblica</a></em>. </p><p>The research draws on a representative sample of the electorate of the Veneto Region. The <a href="">results</a> show a downsized and yet very significant picture of the referendum outcomes. Interestingly, nearly half of the Veneto electorate claim to have voted or to intend to vote in the referendum, and 78% of them are in favour of the referendum question (i.e. “Veneto should be an independent and sovereign republic”). This view is also shared by one third of those who said they did not intend to vote.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="376" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="459" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p><p>Overall, the majority (55%) of the electors included in the sample are in favour of Veneto becoming an independent and sovereign republic, whilst 39% are against this option. This is very important data, which shows the presence of a wide (although maybe not purely <em>plebiscitarian</em>) support towards independence across the region.</p><p>In addition, the results of the survey help to understand the social profile of those who favour the independence option. The bulk of support comes from businessmen, entrepreneurs and manual workers – who represent the traditional social fabric of the region. On the other hand, the idea of a sovereign republic of Veneto is less popular among the younger generations and students. This seems to suggest that independence is endorsed in particular by the ‘older generations’, i.e. by those who have worked hard to make the region prosper, and are now hit hard by the economic crisis and the austerity measures of the central government. </p><p>From this angle, they perceive independence as a way of changing the state of things – taking ownership of Veneto and its future from the bottom, bypassing <em>Roma ladrona</em> (‘Rome the thief’ is a popular slogan of the Northern League).&nbsp;Furthermore, it is interesting that independentist views are particularly popular&nbsp;among right-wing voters in the region (i.e. Forza Italia, 80%; the Northern League, 87%; and of course other autonomist parties/movements, 99%) as well as among supporters of Beppe Grillo’s 5 Star Movement (55%). </p><p>Politically, Veneto has long been a centre-right stronghold – although recently the 5 Star Movement has attracted a growing number of votes in the region, signalling a mounting sense of disengagement towards mainstream party-politics in general and the Northern League in particular. Unsurprisingly, only a minority (34%) of supporters of the centre-left and the Democratic Party (that is leading the current coalition government) are in favour of independence.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="393" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="362" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><br />So what emerges from the findings of this research is an image of Veneto as a region with a growing sense of detachment towards the institutions of the Italian State, and its political system. These anti-politics feelings provide fertile ground for a form of secessionist populism of a regional nature, which has been effectively exploited by the Venetists. In exploring the nature and the reasons for the success of independentism in Veneto, it is therefore essential to understand the roots of this anti-politics and populist drift, and its potential consequences.</p><p>Firstly, the Veneto independence movement is not based on any overtly ethnic claim. Although some references are made, for example, to the use and promotion of the regional language, cultural heritage is not seen as the primary issue at stake in the quest for independence. Instead, the predominant cleavage in the narrative of the Venetists is of an explicitly economic nature. In this sense, the distinctive values of the region are not purely cultural, but they refer to hard work and productivity – traits of which the Veneto population is particularly proud, and that are key in defining its territorial identity. </p><p>In fact, Veneto is one of the wealthiest and most productive regions in Italy – which contributes considerably towards the national GDP, and that as a consequence, contributes more taxes to the national coffer than other areas. These, however, are then redistributed across the country, so as to support the regions lagging behind (e.g. the southern areas). </p><p>Such a trend is not new, but in the context of the recent economic crisis and the subsequent austerity measures, most of the small and medium enterprises in Veneto feel that the Italian State has tightened its stranglehold on them, and that they give much more than they receive. In the wake of these feelings, taxation (and a resolution to achieve total fiscal exemption) has been <em>the</em> leitmotif of the Venetists’ campaign.</p><p>Centre-right political parties had previously taken this case on board, promoting measures of fiscal decentralisation that intended to relieve the burden placed on Veneto (and other productive regions in the north of Italy). In particular, in the past few decades, much of the success of the Northern League (NL) drew on its political claims for fiscal devolution, which gained the party votes in regions such as Veneto and Lombardy.&nbsp;<span>Its experience in government with Berlusconi’s People of Freedom aimed at ‘bringing to Rome the issues of the North’, and the creation of a system of&nbsp;fiscal federalism was the flagship policy of the Northern League’s agenda.</span></p><p>However, once in public office, the party did not go far in this plan – showing its inability to contribute to change and influence the centre in the interest of the North. Besides, throughout the years, some of the NL’s key figures, including its founding father and former leader <a href="">Umberto Bossi</a>, were involved in cases of <a href="">political corruption</a> – much to the detriment of the party’s image as an alternative to the mainstream politics of the centre. These factors played a role in creating a critical gap between the party and its electorate, based on a feeling that neither the NL nor the centre-right are capable of delivering, leaving the needs of Veneto unanswered. This was clearly reflected in the <a href="">results of the 2013 general election</a>, in which the NL managed to get only a fistful of votes, with considerable losses in its strongholds (i.e.gaining a mere 10.5%, with a loss of -16.6%, in Veneto). Tellingly, the rising star of the Northern League and governor of the Veneto region Luca Zaia, with his unfailing flair for the pulse of the region, has promptly endorsed from outside the case of independence, possibly in view of the next election when he may jump off the derailing wagon of the NL, and create his own civic list.</p><p>The recent success of the independence movements in Veneto grafts precisely onto&nbsp;this crisis of the Northern League, combined with a widespread perception that the&nbsp;region has been exploited and ignored by the centre for way too long. Hence, it can be argued that the Venetists have successfully filled the political void created by the decline of the party – and the independence referendum has provided a means to voice the discontent of the citizens of Veneto that had previously been mobilised by the Northern League.</p><p>This suggests that, no matter how inflated or unverifiable, the results of the independence referendum in Veneto should be taken very seriously – because they provide a clear picture of the state of exasperation in local society. For the population of Veneto, independence claims constitute a way of exposing and denouncing, in an extreme way, their disquiet with the central State, and their dissatisfaction with the political class and the government both at national and regional level.</p><p>These feelings might be particularly pronounced in Veneto but, as the results of the 2013 general election clearly demonstrated, they are echoed also across the whole country. Therefore, the main political parties and the government should not discard the independence referendum as a farce. The Venetists are already joining forces with other regions (e.g. Sicily and Sardinia) to promote the organisation of other independence referenda – with a potential to fuel further centrifugal and autonomist claims across the country.</p><p>Waving the flag of independence does not necessarily mean that Veneto wants to (or will) secede from Italy in the near future. As Demos&amp;Pi’s research shows (see figure 4) what the people of Veneto really want is a more efficient political class, capable of tackling the most pressing issues that affect the region. Hence, the independence referendum should be understood as a ‘cry for attention’ on the part of the people of Veneto, which is directed towards the wider Italian political system and institutions.</p><p>What remains to be seen is whether the Italian parties will prove capable, this time,&nbsp;of undertaking this challenge in an effective way, before events escalate. A clear&nbsp;example of the risks at stake is provided by a <a href="">recent plan</a> developed by an extremist wing of the Venetists, and thwarted by the Italian police on the 2nd&nbsp;of April, to deploy an armoured vehicle in San Marco Square in Venice on the eve of the European elections in May. From this angle, the EU vote will certainly be a measure of the magnitude of anti-politics sentiments not only in Veneto but in the whole country – and also an important test (or wake up call) for the Italian political class.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/fernando-betancor/la-serenissima">La Serenissima</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/leonardo-goi/lega-nords-last-temptation-anti-politics-in-time-of-grillo">Lega Nord&#039;s last temptation: anti-politics in the time of Grillo</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Italy </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? Italy Arianna Giovannini Spotlight on Italy Joining the dots on independence movements in Europe Mon, 07 Apr 2014 17:18:14 +0000 Arianna Giovannini 81140 at