EU fails the Catalan test

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Geopolitical Notes From India
M D Nalapat
THE European Union advertises itself to the world as a defender of human rights and as an ethics-based governance structure. In reality, it most resembles a USSR-era Trade Union, with its giant (and very well-paid) bureaucracy, its complex rules and its unwieldy membership. Barring the forced submission of Serbia as well as Ukraine, and the ongoing efforts to ensure the subordination of Russia to EU wishes, overall Europe has been characterised by peace, in large part because of growing prosperity in Western Europe and the desperation of the sclerotic leadership of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics to avoid any other than a verbal war with the Atlantic Alliance.
The hyper-expensive NATO military alliance was built on the myth that Moscow was on the brink of sending its troops and tanks westwards towards Germany and Austria, and that the Politbureau of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) was constantly looking at sending a rain of nuclear-tipped missiles towards Germany, France and even the US. For the entire period that it has been operational, NATO has served as a comfortable billet for all ranks of the navy, air force and army of its members. Although constantly leaking stories to a complicit media that nuclear war was just days away, each of the senior staff in NATO Headquarters at Brussels knew that the probability that the USSR would attack them was as close to zero as it is asymptotically possible to get.
Fake news about Soviet intentions and a massive conflation of the “Red Threat” caused taxpayers across both sides of the Atlantic to remain quiescent while hundreds of billions of dollars were squandered on what was essentially a Parade Ground military. Aware that NATO member-state citizenry – certainly by the time the 21st century arrived – were growing sceptical of the need to lavish money on the high cost of the upkeep of the most expensive militaries on the globe after the USSR had imploded, the concept of “humanitarian wars”, “anti-dictatorship wars” and “ counter-terrorism” battles was placed at the centre of public discourse.
After the 1991 Desert Storm, when the US armed forces expectedly made mincemeat of Saddam Hussein’s poorly led and equipped forces, the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the US and its partners took place, and in this campaign as in all others involving attacks on primitive fighting formations, Spain was in the forefront. Iraq was followed by Libya and thereafter Syria, two conflicts that caused the refugee flood into Europe and a ramping up of the terror threat in Europe, an outcome forecast by this columnist in 2011, when this ill-considered series of campaigns was launched by the leaders of France, the UK and the US. Of course, each such campaign was classified as a “humanitarian mission”, despite the immediate loss of thousands of innocent lives and the eventual deaths of several hundred thousand as a consequence of the disruptions caused by NATO’s wars in North Africa and West Asia, each against foes that compare with NATO the way a ramshackle bicycle does with a modern Mercedes Benz.
The Catalan cry for self-determination followed by independence presented a test for the EU. Given the sensible policy of accepting the wishes of the local population and absorbing Catalonia into the Union as a state separate from Spain, very little change would have taken place, except that the taxes collected within the Catalan region would not have been at the disposal of Madrid. As an EU member, Spain through its citizens would have the right of entry, stay and work in Catalonia and vice versa. However, the EU leadership has taken a very narrow, status quo-centric view of the situation, and has in effect shut the door on Catalan entry. In other words, after all the talk of human rights and freedoms, the Catalan people have been ordered by Brussels to submit to the government led by Mariano Rajoy, whose hectoring manner and intimidatory tactics have been met with silence from “human rights warriors” within the EU.
Just as NATO kills of innocent people don’t count as kills but only as “collateral damage”, EU member states have complete license to hold on to regions eager to break away, and will be backed by the other countries no matter how anti-democratic the moves made against those seeking to be free. The next time the EU or any of its numerous representatives lecture others about rights and freedoms, a reference to the way in which the Madrid government has suppressed the autonomy of the Catalans may (although this is doubtful) occasion some shame on the part of those delivering human rights homilies. The Catalan people are now being ruled by the deputy to Rajoy, a politician who has made no secret of her contempt for any notion of self-rule for Catalonia. She can be expected to rule the territory in such a way that the local people will regard Madrid with even more toxicity than presently.
Given such a situation, the manner in which the EU has fallen in line behind the King of Spain and the Prime Minister combined with the festering situation in Catalonia will show to the world their lack of sincerity in the constant chatter about human rights. Throughout Europe, there are groups that are feeling disadvantaged and which are in fact being discriminated against. This is without counting the Roma, who are being treated as fourth-class citizens in the countries in which they are located, again to silence from EU Headquarters. The ideal solution to Catalan discontent would have been for Madrid to agree to a separation, and the incorporation of the new state into the EU. By its obstinacy in ignoring principle for the sake of marching in lockstep behind the King of Spain’s Catalan-phobic reactions, Brussels has failed the Catalan test.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.
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