Have a Look at Catalonia!

Today the official election campaign for Catalonia’s regional election has started. It would be good if the Europeans follow this campaign as close as possible. If Prime Minister Mas wins, then Catalonia would be one step closer to independence from Spain – by the way an option which would for sure not require new EU accession  negotiations, as the citizens there are since 25 years in the European Union, want to remain there, want to continue to pay with the Euro, and want gto preserve the whole acquis of the EU (what has been achieved so far). So no reason to send them behind any accession candidate; this is just a new discussion for the EU, without precedent.

It is also useful to observe Catalonia as this shows the erosion of national states in the EU. Since years I have predicted an approach movement between the EU (supranational) and regional (subnational) levels to the detriment of the national ones. This is evident:

1. The national state was rather centralist and not able to integrate the regional demands for being heard and above all financially considered. These was no real federalist structure, up to now. There are now calls for Spanish federalism (or call it whatever you want), mainly by some of those opposing independence, but I fear this is too late, and it is also unclear if the Spanish central state will react positively to these proposals.

2. There is a Europe-wide tendency to regionalism, where there are centralist systems. Not in France which has managed a certain decentralisation, involving many politicians on the regional level, between the échelon départemental and the national level. There is an element of post-material thinking hidden in this, where „Heimat“, or the smallest possible level also for a state, (re-?)gains momentum. This again is due to the effect of „hi tech – hi touch“, a reflection of the highly technicised world in which we live, with communication tools, Internet, robots  etc.  Exactly the same leads lawyers, engineers, surgeons, PR experts etc. to work a season as a shepard in the Alps – in a functional variation. ´This notion of „Heimat“, however, is not anymore linked to „Blut & Boden“ („blood and land“ – god thanks not anymore!), but to an overseeable state, to a fiction of a community without sorrows, to an „idyllic“ narrowness, however one where openness can be preserved. This is exactly the same emotion which leads many people to appreciate to be on an island (often as a visitor) – a territory with finality.

3. There are also functional reasons, defined by taxation feedback deficits, home rule deficits and above all many infractions of the subsidiarity principle. Even the official European Union has now the Committee of Regions which can be a forum where one can find counterpart elements against state centralism.

In Germany people think mostly federalist, i. e. they are accustomed to federalism, since many generatons, with the interruption of 12 years all over Germany and 45 more years in the East [but there has been information  from the West, on which the fast switch could be based]. This word „federalism“ is e.g. in France, the UK etc. something un-wanted, due to historically different definition. Call it decentalisation, function sharing, devolution or whatever … In Germany (and also in Austria) the Slovakia secession was taken note of only. We also see the Catalonian (and Scottish) movement either with a certain sympathy, as a real German federalist is always, in case of doubt, sympathetic to the regional level, or at least indifferent.

Both sides – the „Spanish“ and the „Catalonian“ one – should make extensive use of the German experience in federalism. About what should be made – and what not. If everyone wants to remain in the EU, and this is the case, then it does not matter, if we have 1, 2 or 3 or so Spains or UKs. We said the same around the turn into the 1990s, when East Germany faded away as a state. At that time one coukl find many politicians who said it does not matter how many parts of Germany there would be, provided they had a democratic, human rights-based system, a social market economy, and open borders. But this was never in serious discussion, as the whole country looked back on a very long experience in federalism.

After all, hoping that BOTH sides are discussing calmly the pros and cons, the Catalonia election will be an interesting showdown example.

Hans-Jürgen Zahorka

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