ATHENS – To revive the ailing European project, the ugly conflict between Catalonia’s regional government and the Spanish state may be just what the doctor ordered. A constitutional crisis in a major European Union member state creates a golden opportunity to reconfigure the democratic governance of regional, national, and European institutions, thereby delivering a defensible, and thus sustainable, EU.
The EU’s official reaction to the police violence witnessed during Catalonia’s independence referendum amounts to dereliction of duty. To declare, as the President of the European Commission did, that this is an internal Spanish problem in which the EU has no say is hypocrisy on stilts.
Of course, hypocrisy has long been at the center of the EU’s behavior. Its officials had no compunction about meddling in a member state’s internal affairs – say, to demand the removal of elected politicians for refusing to implement cuts in the pensions of their poorest citizens or to sell off public assets at ridiculous prices (something I have personally experienced). But when the Hungarian and Polish governments explicitly renounce fundamental EU principles, non-interference suddenly became sacrosanct.
The Catalan question has deep historical roots, as does nationalism more broadly. But would it have erupted the way it recently did had Europe not mishandled the eurozone crisis since 2010, imposing quasi-permanent stagnation on Spain and the rest of the European periphery while setting the stage for xenophobia and moral panic when refugees began crossing Europe’s external borders? An example illustrates the connection.
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