Something very special has happened in Catalonia and it may just have implications for the future shape of Europe – if it doesn’t then it should do.
Thursday’s legislative elections for members of the Catalan Parliament took place after an extraordinary chain of events. A so-called ‘illegal’ independence referendum in October, the use of state police violence against peaceful voters, the imprisonment and exile of democratically elected politicians on strange charges of rebellion and sedition for merely following the wishes of their voters. All this followed by the Spanish Government’s dissolution of the old parliament, suspension of autonomous regional government and a takeover by the central state. Throughout all this, the EU stood silent proclaiming it was an internal matter for the Spanish Government. Well, Catalans have voted again, with a participation of some 84% and given the same answer again – the independence seeking parties have the majority. So what will Spain and the EU do now?
I went to Catalonia to watch the elections and to attend a number of briefings. I tried to go with an open mind always aware that in such situations there are very much two sides to the story and expecting to find that probably there was as much to be criticised on the independence side as the Government side. I immediately realised I was wrong and should have trusted my own sentiment as to why so many of us now feel drawn to a wider regionalist cause within Europe.
It immediately becomes clear that the Catalan regionalist and independence cause is nothing radical and nasty. But rather made up of ordinary normal people: families and individuals you will meet down any street or in any work place. This is not some radical extremist political movement. It is probably likely to be the new normal in many places as citizens feel a sense of panic in the face of globalisation, a disillusionment with equally distant national politicians and seek structures and identities closer to home which offer control and community. We are surely merely seeking to put human contact and solidarity back into the way we do our politics and that is easier amongst those you are close to. However, it should not be seen as inward looking. These movements equally can accept diversity and openness and another way of doing Europe (which they thought was their ally) and so should it be it if it really honours its founding values.
Europe has always promoted self determination, regionalism, localism, diversity and so what is the problem now? The problem lies in the fact that the EU is still controlled by the big old duopoly of the ruling left and right parties in our Member State countries, meaning the centralised governments and their political parties call the shots including in the European Parliament. Anything which disturbs that cosy club is a threat to the established order of things. Spanish politicians of the right, left and indeed now centre are all pro-unionists and made sure that the EU upheld the normal order even in the face of state violence against its own citizens to which the TV watching world bore shocked witness.
This cannot continue, and especially now after a dazed and anxious Catalan population has steadfastly delivered the same result, it wants to be represented by a majority of independence seeking politicians. That is the direction of travel, perhaps now more slowly, but an agreed process in this direction has to be found. The EU should naturally facilitate this, otherwise the elections to the European Parliament in 2019 will be even more of a disaster. It is noteworthy that the establishment across Europe has found it convenient to lump Brexit and Catalonia together as unwanted expressions of misguided popular sentiment. The truth is the opposite. Those who insist on Brexit want to keep power in the hands of old centralist state elites. Catalonia is an expression of something much more progressive and open.
Indeed this should be a signal from Catalonia that we need to construct a New Europe: a Europe of states, regions and peoples, a construct that allows for that true and contemporary closer union between the peoples of Europe and not the cosy old centralised governmental club we currently witness. It’s time to open the door and so three cheers to the Catalans for turning the key. Do we now have the courage to turn the handle and push?
With former MEP colleague Raul Romeva most recently Secretary for External & Institutional Relations and Transparency in the Catalan government, happily currently released from prison after charges by the Spanish State.