Is EU end nearing?
The ripple effects from the Catalonia referendum are the worst crisis the Union has faced since its inception
Prof. Mihail Konstantinov
7 October, 2017
The referendum results are actually more decisive than expected as the ratio between those who want to leave Spain and those for staying is 6:4. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has already made some fundamental mistakes in this situation. We are witnessing a critical moment and so Rajoy needs to act with wisdom and restraint. Thankfully, there have been no casualties of the clashes between riot police forces and protesters but this could still change in the coming days. We should prevent such a development at all costs because dead bodies in the streets would spell the end of the European Union.
In the eyes and minds of the local people this referendum is valid. Besides, if they are intent on seceding from Spain, nothing will stop them. Admittedly, the referendum was not held in a normal environment but the reason for this were people who did not want the poll to take place. Rajoy had time to respond in a different way but now it is too late. A declaration of independence seems inevitable.
This case showed the EU as a union of cowardly and indecisive people. The EU leaders did not rise to the challenge. This situation has exposed them as incapable of governing in a time of severe crises. Some nations even distanced themselves, arguing that these are domestic matters. The right approach was to let people vote, once they expressed their wish to do so, and use the ensuing campaign to promote the Spanish position. This could have been a repeat of the outcome of similar episodes in Quebec and Scotland. The British allowed these two referenda and they changed nothing because, at the end of the day, most people wanted to stay.
A domino effect is completely possible here, as there are strong centrifugal forces in play in several Member States. As strange as this might sound, France is one of those. The Island of Sardinia is also ready to secede, although I have no idea what would be the plan after that. Another country facing the threat of disintegration is Belgium, where the structure is extremely porous. Italy is also characterised by such domestic tensions, as people in the south work far less than those in the north. Scotland may conceivably want independence again and nothing would stop it from holding another referendum. You can clearly see the processes developing. There have been several examples of disintegration in Europe’s modern history. The first one was the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, which took the lives of about 100 people. Then former Yugoslavia fell apart after a brutal civil war. Czechoslovakia split in 1993 in a peaceful and civilised manner. So Europe has seen different scenarios. I hope that people in Spain will exercise common sense and go their separate ways peacefully. Bloodshed would serve no one.
As it turns out, the Spanish constitution is extremely ambiguous and so both sides are able to find justification for their actions in it. Moreover, Spain is a strongly decentralised state. Each of the provinces has a different level of autonomy, with Catalonia leading the pack in that regard. People obviously want to be even wealthier. What is more important in this case is the psychological aspect. The local authorities want to become national authorities. The political elite are striving towards an even loftier status. As I understand it, Catalonia has no threshold for referendum turnout. Besides, turnout is largely a moot point here given that people were prevented from voting. It is most likely over 50% anyway, as there are more than 700,000 ballot-papers seized. People were voting wherever they could. In terms of exercising the right to vote, it was all a big farce. But that farce was caused by the centralised Spanish authorities exercising force. If they thought the referendum was illegal, they only had to argue that it has no binding power. Instead, they shamed themselves before the entire world. This is why I believe that Rajoy should step down immediately, setting the stage for snap general elections in Spain. This is the only way the situation can be defused.
Martial law is not out of the question. But it would mean bloodsheds and not prevent a secession of Catalonia. I sincerely hope that such a scenario will be avoided, because it would truly spell the disintegration of the EU, which is facing the worst crisis since its inception. This case is even more serious than Brexit, which represents divorce by mutual consent. Catalonia leaving may prompt the collapse of other countries with multi-ethnic population. It is worth considering that if Catalonia secedes peacefully, it may still stay in the EU. It may also leave but I do not see anyone benefiting from it. By the way, in the aftermath of Brexit, Scotland has a huge reason to want independence too because things are changing. The situation is complex and volatile.
I have no idea how the migrant crisis will pan out, but right now this is the most daunting test for the EU because it involves violence. There is nothing more horrendous than taking human lives and we should steer away from it.
What we see in Spain evokes memories of a brutal civil war. Spain is at risk of repeating a tragic episode of its past. One thing is certain, after the recent events there is no chance of Catalonia staying in Spain. If a peaceful referendum was held, Catalonia would have gotten even greater autonomy and received as much as it invested. But now there is no turning back. The genesis of all this is in 1974, when Northern Cyprus seceded and brought Greece and Turkey to the brink of war. Then came the independence of Kosovo, which truly opened Pandora’s Box. This was followed by the war in Georgia and the secession of South Ossetia and Abkhazia with military force. And most recently, there was the Crimea case.
The opinion was expressed in an interview with the Monitor News Agency.