Oct 18th 2017

Europe’s Attackers From Within

by Joschka Fischer

Joschka Fischer, Germany’s Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor from 1998 until 2005, was a leader in the German Green Party for almost 20 years.



BERLIN – Europe finally appears to have moved past its multi-year economic crisis, but it remains unsettled. For every reason for optimism, there always seems to be a new cause for concern.

In June 2016, a slim majority of British voters chose nostalgia for the nineteenth-century past over whatever promise the twenty-first century might have held. So they decided to jump off a cliff in the name of “sovereignty.” There is much evidence to suggest that a hard landing awaits the United Kingdom. A cynic might point out that it will take a properly functioning “sovereignty” to cushion the impact.

In Spain, the government of the autonomous region of Catalonia is now demanding sovereignty, too. But the current Spanish government is not prosecuting, imprisoning, torturing, and executing the people of Catalonia, as Generalissimo Francisco Franco’s dictatorship once did. Spain is a stable democracy and a member of the European Union, the eurozone, and NATO. For decades now, it has maintained the rule of law in accordance with a democratic constitution that was negotiated by all parties and regions, including Catalonia.

On October 1, the Catalan government held an independence referendum in which less than half – some estimates say a third – of the region’s population participated. By the standards of the EU and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the vote could never be accepted as “free and fair.” In addition to being illegal under the Spanish constitution, the referendum did not even have a voting register to determine who was entitled to participate.

Catalonia’s “alternative” referendum invited a clampdown from Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s government, which intervened to shut down polling stations and prevent people from casting ballots. This proved to be a political folly of the highest order, because images of the police swinging truncheons at unarmed Catalan protesters conferred a spurious legitimacy on the secessionists. No democracy can win in this kind of conflict. And in the case of Spain, the crackdown conjured up images of the country’s 1936-1939 civil war – its deepest historical trauma to this day.

Were Catalonia actually to achieve independence, it would have to find a way forward without Spain or the EU. Spain, with the support of many other member states that worry about their own secessionist movements, would block any Catalan bid for EU or eurozone membership. And without membership in the European single market, Catalonia would face the grim prospect of rapid transformation from an economic powerhouse into an isolated and poor country.

But independence for Catalonia would pose a fundamental problem for Europe, too. For starters, no one wants a repeat of the breakup of Yugoslavia, for obvious reasons. But, more to the point, the EU cannot countenance the disintegration of member states, because these states comprise the very foundation upon which it rests.

The EU is an association of nation-states, not regions. Although regions can play an important role within the EU, they cannot stand in as an alternative to member states. If Catalonia were to set a precedent of secession, encouraging other regions to follow suit, the EU would be thrown into a deep, existential crisis. In fact, one could argue that nothing less than the EU’s future is at stake in Catalonia today.

Moreover, the original purpose of the EU was to overcome nation-states’ deficiencies by means of integration – the opposite of secession. It was meant to transcend the state system that had proved so disastrous in the first half of the twentieth century.

Consider Northern Ireland, which has turned out to be a perfect example of how integration within the EU can overcome national borders, bridge historical divides, and ensure peace and stability. Incidentally, the same could be said for Catalonia, which after all owes most of its economic success to Spain’s accession to the EU in 1986.

It would be historically absurd for the EU’s member states to enter a phase of secession and disintegration in the twenty-first century. The sheer size of other global players – not least China, India, and the United States – has only made strong intercommunity relations and deeper European integration even more necessary.

One can only hope that reason will prevail, particularly in Barcelona, but also in Madrid. A democratic, intact Spain is too important to be jeopardized by disputes over the allocation of tax revenues among the country’s regions. There is no alternative but for both sides to abandon the trenches they have dug for themselves, come out to negotiate, and find a mutually satisfactory solution that accords with the Spanish constitution, democratic principles, and the rule of law.

The experiences of Spain’s friends and allies could be helpful here. Germany, unlike Spain, is organized as a federation. Yet even in Germany, nothing is as cumbersome and difficult as the never-ending negotiations over fiscal transfers between the federal government and individual states – which is to say, between richer and poorer regions. But an agreement is always eventually reached, and it holds until another dispute arises, at which points negotiations begin anew.

To be sure, money is important. But it is not as important as Europeans’ shared commitment to liberty, democracy, and the rule of law. Europe’s prosperity depends on peace and stability, and peace and stability in Europe depend, first and foremost, on whether Europeans will fight for these values.


Joschka Fischer, Germany’s foreign minister and vice chancellor from 1998 to 2005, was a leader of the German Green Party for almost 20 years.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2017.
www.project-syndicate.org

 


This article is brought to you by Project Syndicate that is a not for profit organization.

Project Syndicate brings original, engaging, and thought-provoking commentaries by esteemed leaders and thinkers from around the world to readers everywhere. By offering incisive perspectives on our changing world from those who are shaping its economics, politics, science, and culture, Project Syndicate has created an unrivalled venue for informed public debate. Please see: www.project-syndicate.org.

Should you want to support Project Syndicate you can do it by using the PayPal icon below. Your donation is paid to Project Syndicate in full after PayPal has deducted its transaction fee. Facts & Arts neither receives information about your donation nor a commission.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Nov 25th 2020
EXTRACT: "To paraphrase Charles Dickens, this is the best of times and the worst of times. As financial markets celebrate the coming vaccine-led boom, the confluence of epidemiological and political aftershocks has pushed us back into a quagmire of heightened economic vulnerability. In Dickensian terms, to reach a “spring of hope,” we first must endure a “winter of despair.” "
Nov 22nd 2020
EXTRACT: "Under a sane national policy, the federal government would spend as much money as it takes to generate the demand necessary to make it worthwhile for employers to re-hire this one-twentieth of the working-age population. Worries about what we can afford would be set aside until the day the world’s savers no longer regard US government debt as a special, singularly valuable asset. That day may never come."
Nov 19th 2020
EXTRACT: "The EU can’t afford to compromise on the rule-of-law provisions. How it responds to the challenge posed by Orbán and Kaczyński will determine whether it survives as an open society true to the values upon which it was founded."
Nov 11th 2020
EXTRACT: "In the interim, he will be nurturing an insidious threat he has left in his wake – a potential low-grade insurgency bubbling beneath the surface. It may well be that America it is about to experience a political paramilitary insurgency. Many of Trump’s supporters are “rough people” who are armed, fiercely patriotic, and firmly believe what Trump has been selling for the past four years – such as that America is being overrun by “colored” people and immigrants, is under attack, and that Canada is a national security threat. Many of them also believe that Trump was cheated out of a second term. They may or may not want civil war, but they will surely want to ensure that havoc and chaos prevail following Trump’s forced departure from office."
Nov 10th 2020
EXTRACT: "The year was 1932, and the transition from Herbert Hoover to Franklin D. Roosevelt occurred in the midst of an unparalleled economic depression and banking crisis. The outgoing president, Hoover, had an intense aversion to his successor,…….. There are two lessons here. The president-elect and those around him need to take extra precautions for their personal safety, given the inflamed political climate and Trump’s ongoing efforts to fan the flames. And Biden now, like FDR then, must reiterate his message of hope and unity as an antidote to the coronavirus and political division. In 1933, it was “fear itself” that Americans had to overcome. Today, when it is fear of each other that Americans must overcome, Biden’s affirmation that there are “no red or blue states, just the United States” is a good start."
Nov 10th 2020
EXTRACT: "It seems clear that, as Donald Trump said a few weeks ago “This will not end well.” Far from being over, this election may very well continue to play out for weeks to come. Trump and the GOP have been telegraphing their strategy for over a month now. They will continue to challenge to validity of the vote in court. They will demand recounts. They will incite their followers to demonstrate at vote-counting facilities. In the end, many Americans will lose faith in the electoral process and America’s democracy will be tarnished in the eyes of the world. That much is clear. "
Nov 9th 2020
EXTRACT: "When CBS, NBC and ABC cut away from President Donald Trump’s news conference at the White House on the evening of Nov. 5, they took pains to explain why they were shutting off the nation’s commander-in-chief...... It was a moment that for me, as a journalism historian, carried echoes of the 1954 takedown of another flamboyant populist demagogue, Sen. Joe McCarthy."
Nov 1st 2020
EXTRACT: "Prominent evangelical pastor and author John Piper has likewise drawn on several biblical texts when writing about the choice facing voters: “There is a character connection between rulers and subjects. When the Bible describes a king by saying, ‘He sinned and made Israel to sin’ … it does not mean he twisted their arm. It means his influence shaped the people. That’s the calling of a leader. Take the lead in giving shape to the character of your people. So it happens. For good or for ill.”......In this reading, the Bible does not have a category for a good leader with bad personal character. Nor does it seem to imagine that a nation can remain untainted by the perceived moral failures of its leaders. "
Nov 1st 2020
EXTARCT: "This pandemic will undoubtedly go down in history as a contrast in political ideologies as much as in the battle between mankind and nature, and the hopeful triumph of medical technology. It is putting to the test the political, economic, social, and cultural diversity of the world’s nations as never before, and has already proven just how fragile the world’s functional ecosystems are in the era of globalization. In laying bare the strengths and weaknesses of the world’s nations, it is also serving to challenge some conventional wisdom about what is, or is not, a preferred method of governance. In this battle, America is badly floundering while China has put itself in a position to dust itself off and move on."
Oct 30th 2020
EXTRACT: "At this stage, the Trumpian personality cult has completely dispensed with the need for actual plans and proposals (indeed, the Republican Party, which Trump now controls, did not even bother to offer a policy platform for the election). Trump embodies whatever his supporters want, even when they themselves don’t know what that is. This is all too typical of fascist leaders, who usually function as a father figure for those susceptible to the appeal of an authoritarian personality. As the father of the “MAGA” nation, Trump decides what is best for his children, and it is this patriarchal authority that provides the rationale for violence, lies, and even dictatorship."
Oct 28th 2020
EXTRACT: "One thing is certain: a highly contested election would cause further damage to America’s global image as an exemplar of democracy and the rule of law, eroding its soft power. Particularly over the past four years, the country has increasingly come to be regarded as a political basket case. While hoping that the chaotic outcomes outlined above do not come to pass – polls still show a strong lead for Biden – investors should be preparing for the worst, not just on election day but in the weeks and months thereafter. "
Oct 27th 2020
EXTRACT: "China’s approach today is similar: first, insulate its citizens from a virulent pathogenic contagion with draconian public-health measures aimed at containing and mitigating the spread of the disease, and then – and only then – make judicious use of monetary and fiscal policy to reinforce the post-lockdown snapback. This is very different from the approach taken in the US, where the post-lockdown debate is more about using monetary and fiscal policies as front-line instruments of economic liberation, rather than relying on disciplined public-health measures aimed at virus containment........ This underscores the sharp contrast between China’s COVID-first strategy and the America-first approach of US President Donald Trump’s administration. In China, unlike the US, there is no political and public resistance to masks, social distancing, and aggressive testing as requisite norms of the COVID-19 era. Meanwhile, the US is in the midst of its third serious wave of infection while China continues to exercise prompt and effective control over new outbreaks. Earlier this autumn, for example, some nine million citizens in Qingdao were tested in just five days after a relatively small outbreak affecting fewer than 20 residents. By contrast, Trump wears his own experience with COVID-19 infection as some perverse badge of courage, rather than as a warning of what may lie ahead."
Oct 20th 2020
EXTRACTS: Disney has announced a significant restructuring of its media and entertainment business, boldly placing most of its growth ambitions and investments into its recently launched streaming service, Disney+…. From a corporate strategy perspective, the move is remarkable on two fronts. Firstly, the sheer velocity of this pivot for a company the size and age of Disney is, for lack of a better word, unprecedented….Let’s not forget that it was just last year that Disney held a near 40% revenue share of the US box office….. The fact that in just seven months of the pandemic breaking out, Disney decided to reinvent itself primarily around streaming speaks volumes about its expectations regarding the pandemic length. Clearly the group decided that waiting it out was no longer an option.”
Oct 10th 2020
EXTRACTS: "Strange as it is to say, but it is no longer uncommon to hear talk of insurrection, martial law, and civil war in the United States......... Apocalyptic warnings that next month’s election will descend into crisis are coming hard and fast....... While the atmosphere in the US is already alarming, it is worth considering just how bad things could become. There is ample reason to worry that an election-related conflict could devolve into atrocity crimes against black and brown civilians on US soil........ Genocide and mass atrocities have happened all too often, including in America. The question is not whether it could happen here, but whether it can be prevented."
Oct 9th 2020
EXTRACT: "Fifty years ago, Milton Friedman published an article in the New York Times that articulated what has come to be known as the Friedman doctrine: “the social responsibility of business is to increase its profits.” It was a theme he had developed in his 1962 book Capitalism and Freedom, where he argued that the “one and only” responsibility business owes to society is the pursuit of profits within the legal rules of the game. The Friedman doctrine put its stamp on our era. It legitimized the freewheeling capitalism that produced economic insecurity, fueled rising inequality, deepened regional divides, and intensified climate change and other environmental problems. Ultimately, it also led to a social and political backlash. Many large businesses have responded by engaging in – or paying lip service to – the notion of corporate social responsibility."
Oct 7th 2020
EXTRACT: "China is well on its way to becoming a cashless society. More than 600 million Chinese already use Alibaba’s Alipay and Tencent’s WeChat Pay to pay for much of what they purchase. Between them, the two companies control approximately 90% of China’s mobile payments market, which totaled some $17 trillion in 2019. A wide variety of sectors throughout China have since adopted Blockchain to pay bills, settle disputes in court and track shipments. The Chinese government understands that, via Blockchain, the issuance of its own cryptocurrency is an excellent way to track and record the movement of payments, goods and people."
Oct 6th 2020
EXTRACT: "The American Republic was founded by Protestants, and American elites were for a long time largely Protestant........But something extraordinary has happened since the republic was founded by Protestants in 1776. Five of the eight current Supreme Court justices are Catholics, and soon there may be six. The one Protestant on the court, Neil Gorsuch, was raised Catholic. (The other two justices are Jewish.) Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, is Catholic, as is the US attorney general, William Barr. And Joe Biden, who might be the next president, is Catholic, too."
Oct 5th 2020
EXTRACT: "...... the economic pain inflicted by COVID-19 is not being borne by publicly traded companies. It is falling on small businesses and individual service proprietors – from dry cleaners to restaurants to entertainment providers – that are not listed on the stock market (which leans more toward manufacturing). These smaller players simply do not have the capital needed to survive a shock of this duration and magnitude. And government programs that have helped keep them afloat for a while are beginning to lapse, raising the risk of a snowball effect in the event of a second wave."
Oct 4th 2020
EXTRACT: "Trump’s disinclination – and perhaps inability – to reach beyond his right-wing base, which is insufficient to elect him, also calls into question his political acumen, and is one of many reasons to doubt his basic intelligence (an issue on which he is quite sensitive). But one thing about the president is now clearer than ever: in order to perpetuate his hold on power, Trump is testing the constitution in unprecedented ways. "
Sep 30th 2020
EXTRACT: "With the US presidential election barely a month away, former Vice President Joe Biden and his advisers are devising his national-security policy and creating shortlists to fill the cabinet’s ranking positions in the event that he defeats President Donald Trump. But while presidential hopefuls traditionally have focused first on contenders to run the state, defense, and treasury departments, this time is different. With the intelligence community in an increasingly perilous state, Biden should choose a top spymaster before making any other personnel decisions."