The Spanish Cockpit

3 Oct

I can’t say I know that much about Spanish, particularly Catalonian, history. I’ve studied the Spanish Civil War, as a prelude to World War Two, but I haven’t looked at the post-WW2 country with any great depth. Certain things can be said – Spain spent plenty of cash it didn’t have during the EU boom, rather akin to Greece – but I didn’t realise that there was a push for Catalonian independence until the whole matter started to explode last week.

The crux of the matter, as far as I can tell, is that Catalonia feels that it gives more to the federal (Spanish) government than it gets in return. This may actually be true. Furthermore, Catalonia believes that is a distant entity within Spain, rather than merely another country or region. There is a long history of revolts, repressions and more revolts, with the current federal government quietly ignoring laws and agreements that don’t suit its purposes.

That doesn’t matter, not now. What does matter is that the federal government was prepared to use force – perhaps deadly force – to prevent a referendum on Catalonian independence.

That is, in many ways, a sign of weakness – or a lack of confidence that the voters will vote the right way. Worse, it is a sign that the federal government is prepared to override the will of the people – Spain already claims that the referendum was neither legal nor valid – and is prepared to sacrifice its own legitimacy in a bid to stop it. In doing so, it has destroyed any faith the Catalonians might have in the federal government – there seems to be little reason for anyone to have any faith in the federal government – and risked outright civil war.

The EU has said nothing, which is (unsurprisingly) odd. On one hand, if you believe that nations have the right to make decisions for themselves, you have to support a reasonably fair referendum; on the other hand, if you are bent on avoiding a second state (or part of a state) withdrawing from the EU, you certainly don’t want to allow Catalonia to leave. I suspect that a great many people in Brussels are hoping that the whole matter will go away, instead of either resulting in independence or civil war. Either way, the EU would be in serious trouble.

I cannot predict where this will go. But, in some ways, this showcases the problem with the EU. It is a federal organisation that is not only largely unaccountable to the European populations, but has no qualms about overriding the will of the people when it feels that the people haven’t voted the right way. (Witness the push to keep moving towards greater integration, despite strong countervailing pressure.) Unsurprisingly, people who feel that they are losing out – or that their tax money is supporting shiftless layabouts – do not feel any inclination to support the EU. Why should French or German taxpayers pay to bail the Greeks out of their mess?

The question people ask, when confronted by something like this, is ‘what’s in it for us?’

Society works because the vast majority of citizens think – not always without acknowledging it – that society is worth upholding. This is true of Britain and the United States – the majority of Scots did not want to leave Britain, because Britain worked for them. Yet one can reasonably ask what the EU has done for its population later? (Cue lines from Monty Python.) There is a strong perception that the EU is really nothing more than a bloated leech, an instrument of Franco-German power. This may not be true, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is that people believe it.

The principle problem with government is two-fold. First, the more you ask the government to do, the less it can do. The more layers of bureaucracy and web after web of government departments, the greater the distance between the decision-makers and the population – and the slower their reaction to any given problem. Second, the more power you give the government, the greater the chance that it will use that power in a manner you dislike. For example, as John Ross pointed out, if you give the government the power to ban abortions … how long will it be before federal agents are investigating miscarriages, citing probable cause?

Put together, there is a strong reason to be very careful with giving the government power – and to keep a close eye on it. Trust – the trust that the government is not corrupt, that the government will act in the best interests of the people – depends on transparency, something the EU has signally failed to institute. Instead, we have the perception that the EU is not only unaccountable, but flat-out untrustworthy. And that, when it acts, it acts in a way calculated to benefit France and Germany. Germany’s attempt to force Poland and Hungry to take migrants does not benefit anyone, but Germany. Why should Poland and Hungry not resist it?

Spain needs reform. The EU needs reform. But the problem seems to be getting it to reform.

It’s worth bearing this rather morbid quote in mind: “those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution certain.”

19 Responses to “The Spanish Cockpit”

  1. Pyo October 3, 2017 at 7:56 pm #

    “Germany’s attempt to force Poland and Hungry to take migrants does not benefit anyone, but Germany. Why should Poland and Hungry not resist it?”
    I don’t know – maybe because the idea of the Union is a) solidarity (I didn’t see them complaining about EU money, did they?) and b) that when the Council practically unanimously votes on something, it actually happens, and that member-states aren’t cherry-picking randomly what suits them or not?

    The Polish government doesn’t support the EU, therefore it resists what the EU does. That is of course their right and nobody can and should be forced to keep quiet about issues they have with new rules. I have no clue whether refugee redistribution is an actual solution for the issue (frankly I don’t think there is such a thing).

    But there is a fundamental problem when going so far as to have courts solve it: (simplified) government A wanted to join the EU, now government B is in power, and wants nothing to do with it.
    But governments have to deal with that all the time. International treaties and such are practically always longer-lived than whatever government is currently in power. Acting like petulant children who don’t get what they want despite crying loudly is something popularist parties like the PiS likes doing, but is not actually helpful in any way.

    Also, France and Germany are powerful in the Union, but even they can’t magically make the required 55% of all EU member states vote for something.

    And German doesn’t really profit in any super-significant way from the refugee redistribution – given its size and economy it’s either way one of the countries migrants are drawn towards. The same goes for France. It’s Italy and Greece that have the big interest here.

    • Veraenderer October 3, 2017 at 9:43 pm #

      It gets even better: It is actually in poland geo-political interest to hold either germany or russia as a very close ally, since, as history has shown, everytime the polish state ceased to exist germany and russia worked together, therefore it would be wise to not irritate both nations at the same time as poland is doing now.

      • chrishanger October 4, 2017 at 3:10 pm #

        True. But, at the same time, Poland has to be careful that it’s ‘ally’ doesn’t become dominant.


    • chrishanger October 4, 2017 at 3:10 pm #

      I don’t think the EU treaties can reasonably be called suicide pacts – and if they were (as a number of people claim), they wouldn’t hold legal force.

      Jokes aside, if Poland has no say in migration, why should Poland accept a diktat from Brussels or Berlin?


      • Pyo October 4, 2017 at 10:43 pm #

        Why no say? Maybe I’m misunderstanding you, but the way I see it they have the same say as everyone else: 1/28th on the Commission.

        If that’s an argument against listening to the EU, why would you listen to anything the EU says? The same holds true for everything it does.

        Even with something as trivial as some random sport club you belong to there’ll be some leadership with some people in charge and you’ll have some meetings where you vote on stuff. Before the vote, most likely, people will get their say and maybe some things can be compromised on. But if you don’t like whatever is ultimately decided than you can either quit the club or accept that your position hasn’t won and live with it.

        The EU is more complicated obviously but it’s not so exotic it doesn’t work on the basics of the same principle ^^;

  2. georgephillies October 3, 2017 at 8:39 pm #

    Readers may contrast Catalonia with the period when various states wanted to secede from Yugoslavia. In the last one, when Kosovo wanted to secede from Serbia, the Europeans and their American stooges vigorously bombed Serbia to make Serbia agree. (The EU and stooges have yet to figure out that by the orthodox definition of win or lose (on whose terms did you settle?) Serbia won that war. The Serbs were willing to give NATO everything except free passage of NATO troops through Serbia proper, and extraterritoriality while there, and at the end NATO Troops could not transit Serbia and did not have extraterritoriality while there.

  3. French reader October 3, 2017 at 9:29 pm #

    (As my name tell you, english is not my first language so please be lenient.)

    I would like to make a few points. First, Madrid does not want the Catalonia indepence, so why should they stay by and do nothing to stop the referendum? It is true that the reaction of the spanish police was violent but to say they were prepared to use deadly force is going too far. The federal government would not have liked to deal with martyrs. Every cause love a martyr because it gathers sympathy.

    Second, the referendum for the region indepence was illegal. Look at the spanish constitution. Moreover everyone from everywhere could vote multiple times without being check out. No need to verify if you were catalonian to vote. How, then, can we trust the results? And really if someone did not want the catalonia independence they would not have voted.

    Third, where did you see that the catalonia doesn’t want to be in the E.U. ? After the vote they look at Brussels to condemn madrid for the police reaction. This is not the attitude of a “state” that wants to exit from the E.U.

    • shrekgrinch October 3, 2017 at 10:09 pm #

      Overthrowing the French King was illegal. So was the American War for Independence.

      If Spain continues down this route, it will experience war with bullets instead of ballots.

  4. shrekgrinch October 3, 2017 at 10:01 pm #

    The EU is being quiet because of their own rank hypocrisy over secessionism. Namely, to it is AOK for the EU and member states to promote and support Scottish independence but for Catalonia it is AOK to use rubber bullets and hack voting systems Russian-style instead. Presumably, this is also the fate of Bavarians and Northern Italians who are entertaining similar ideas.

    Yet another example of European Hypocrisy that turns off America voters. The same voters who can end NATO within two elections if they wanted to.

    As for them paying more in than out, that is a serious problem for sure. In the US, the founding fathers anticipated this by requiring direct taxation be subject to apportionment. But when they exempted income taxes it has gone down hill.

    The problem is even more serious in Canada. Alberta is paying way more in and the delta is getting worse, not better.

    • Pyo October 3, 2017 at 10:30 pm #

      > fate of Bavarians
      Bavarian independence is as likely and wanted as Californian or Texan independence in the US. You see that happening any time soon?

      Also, calling it hypocrisy from the country which fought a very prominent civil war over secession? ^^

      • shrekgrinch October 5, 2017 at 12:41 pm #

        “Bavarian independence is as likely and wanted as Californian or Texan independence in the US. You see that happening any time soon?”

        I never said it was likely or not. Nor does that have any bearing on the point I was making. Do you see independence referendums being conducted in California or Texas, let alone being violently suppressed? No? Well, Pay attention.

        “Also, calling it hypocrisy from the country which fought a very prominent civil war over secession?”

        So what? What does that have to do with fostering independence in a soon-to-be ex-member state of the European Disunion as a ‘human right’ while violently suppressing it in a still member state? Nothing.

        And the UE is not a nation, but just a glorified trade organization. You can’t compare it to a real nation state like the US or Canada or even Rwanda.

      • Pyo October 5, 2017 at 4:14 pm #

        I’m just saying that “Bavarian independence” was a bad example, nothing about the rest of your post 😉 Nobody is actually interested in this. You can take the few who do as seriously as monarchists.

        And I don’t see “violently suppressed independence referendums” in Bavaria either. So I don’t see why you are opposed to pointing out that California or Texas might at some point feel like it – if Bavaria can, so can they. 😉

        Plus, Scotland already held independence referendums and as far as I’m aware no violence happened there.

        Incidentally, Germany also held various referendums before – for example, if the state of Baden should be joined with the state of Württemberg/Hohenzollern, twice, and whether the Saarland preferred to be French or German. Nobody was hurt in those either.

        Also fitting to the theme of EU interference and majority votes: Bavaria rejected the German constitution, but since the majority (everyone else) agreed, it’s also valid for Bavaria. They feared too much federal interference, mainly. Afterwards, the Bavarians were asked to vote whether they’d accept the majority decisions even if they themselves were against it, which they did.

        As for your second point, Scottish independence referendums aren’t exactly the same as Catalan independence referendums. Why would the EU act the same? British constitution is not the same as Spanish constitution. Catalan situation isn’t the same as Scottish situation.

        In the end, Spanish law clearly stated that such a referendum is not legal. Plus, there were various problems with the vote system – there was nothing fair or democratic about that referendum. If anything was Russian here, it was the proposed voting system. ^^

        I do think it should just be done properly and gotten over with. The movement didn’t have the numbers – just 42% turning up is a failure in my book from the start, even if 100% of those had voted independence.

        But it’s also understandable that in a country that hasn’t forgotten the Basque’s terror organization ETA they are very wary of such movements. It was dreadfully mishandled, yes, but … happens, and then one needs to move forward. But both sides here just repeated their spiel endlessly. It’s pointless, currently – no progress is being made in either direction.

        Also, you really can’t have it both ways: if the EU is just a glorified trade organization, why blame any of this on it?

  5. P October 3, 2017 at 10:42 pm #

    The referendum was just a mess, but the Spanish government was not likely to come out looking good regardless. The Spanish courts had ruled the referendum was illegal under the constitution. If they did nothing, they’d look like they were ignoring the document that people relied on as the foundation of their society. Moreover, the referendum was not being conducted with rigor. It was susceptible to considerable manipulation, but people would still tout the result as a mandate from “the people”.

    So what should the Spanish government have done? It could have negotiated, but if the referendum was not allowed under the constitution what could they have negotiated with. So they basically said don’t do it. And the region did it anyway. Pretty much the only thing a government can do when someone ignores an order is respond with force. That’s going to look bad too, but they were going to look bad regardless. They gambled on the long shot that they could intimidate the region to obey the law. From their perspective at least they had a shot at upholding the law.

    • shrekgrinch October 5, 2017 at 12:43 pm #

      …UPDATE: Spain’s king just put all this marbles in the same basket by snapping down on the Catalans as well. If the Catalans end up winning, this could mean the end of the Spanish monarchy as well.

      Interesting times.

  6. Vapori October 3, 2017 at 10:59 pm #

    Well calling an indepence movement Illegal has never shrejgrinch said correctly.

    And in a democracy it isn’t very effective to do that without loosing legitimacy.

    On the other hand they will likely loose out of that decision if they ever really leave for good.

  7. PhilippeO October 4, 2017 at 4:06 am #

    – – and is prepared to sacrifice its own legitimacy in a bid to stop it. In doing so, it has destroyed any faith the Catalonians might have in the federal government –

    Agree with this. Spanish government use of violence to stop election was foolish and cynical ploy to gain votes.

    what it should do is let it happen, find numerous irregularity, and use court to refuse acknowledge its legality. Now, by using violence, they push neutral and indifferent Catalans to independence and making violence against Spanish state justified.

    as for EU, Catalonia (like Scotland) want to join EU.

    — The EU has said nothing, which is (unsurprisingly) odd.

    Not really. among pro-EU there always undercurrent of “Europe of Regions”, that Catalonia, Scotland, and Bavarian should become state inside EU. This will predictably opposed by politician chosen by National government and politician who wary of more change to EU structure. So even pro-EU bureaucrats would be silent to avoid conflict.

    — The more layers of bureaucracy and web after web of government departments, the greater the distance between the decision-makers and the population

    Well, that True, but it sometime beneficial. Like Scots and Catalan people feel, sometime there is Benefit from distant government. Brussels wouldn’t favor Castilian over Catalans, they wouldn’t favor East Anglian over Scots.

    The closer government is, the more likely they be susceptible to local ‘power’. Local businessman, majority church, dominant ethnic groups, etc would be favored by and powerful enough to pressure local government. For distant government, big fish and little fish in small pond would be equally unimportant.

    —Second, the more power you give the government, the greater the chance that it will use that power in a manner you dislike.

    this also True, but there also chance to get something you like. US federal government could build Interstate, build SS and Medicare, control Missisippi and Colorado river, etc. China and Roman Empire is able to crush piracy, build long range trade route and guarantee hundreds years of peace. Life in both Empire is way, way better than for Medieval Peasant. Local Lords would always able extract more tax and corvee labor. And less able to protect you from powerful bandit and invader. They less able to provide granary to avoid famine. Even during waring states period, which conscription and massacre of hundred thousands people happen, sometime whole province escape destruction. Greater Risk bring Greater Profit.

  8. shrekgrinch October 5, 2017 at 7:14 pm #

    I was replying to the false comparisons you were making and continue to make, when you are not just plain making contradictory statements in general.

    1) Regarding the EU and its hypocrisy over Catalonia leaving Spain is more akin to a part of a US state splitting off from another to become a new US state, not a state leaving the US. We have never fought a civil war when that happens – in fact we have a constitutional procedure that handles it. This is how Vermont, Maine and W. Virginia became states. So your comparison between Catalonia and our civil war is bogus.

    2) Scotland is de facto no longer part of the EU and won’t be de jure by the time any possible divorce between it & the rest of the UK happens. Therein lies EU hypocrisy: self rule is great for those who screw over the government of a nation that dares to leave the EU but not for those regions within the EU.

    3) Regarding the Civil War, show me where it is unconstitutional for a US state to leave the US? You won’t be able to.

  9. BobPM October 6, 2017 at 4:57 pm #

    How on earth can you compare Spain to Greece prior to the financial crisis on 2007? Spain had budget surpluses and one of the lowest National debts in the entire EU – 34%!

    This has been reported from numerous sources, e.g.,

    “At the start of the credit crisis in 2007, Spanish government debt was very low 34%. However, this rapidly increased post 2007. This was due to:

    Recession causing fall in tax revenues and higher spending on unemployment benefits
    Collapse of property sector leading to evaporation of property taxes
    Banking crisis causing Spanish government to have to bailout Spanish Banks
    Spain’s credit rating has been cut from AAA before crisis to BBB
    National Debt Spain


  10. Anarchymedes October 7, 2017 at 12:25 pm #

    It’s not that simple. Losing a sizeable chunk of territory and population affects not only the region that demands ‘self-determination’ (a nice, politically-correct term, by the way), but the rest of the country as well. So, if there is to be a referendum, shouldn’t it involve the whole country? Here in Australia, as far as I know, a state can leave the federation, but only if the majority of people and the majority of states vote ‘yes,’ agreeing to let the former countrymen go (so far, only the WA has raised the subject, the last time this year).
    On another note, I didn’t see any mentioning anywhere about the Catalonian separatists wanting to leave the EU: they talk about separating from Spain. Now, suppose they do – and suppose even that Spain agrees to let them go: what would be their status within the EU then? Will they automatically become a member state? Will they have to re-apply for the membership, and prove themselves worthy? Splittsville doesn’t resolve all the issues: the relationships between countries and nations are much more convoluted than those between individuals. At the very least, a referendum about the separation should be carefully prepared, negotiated on all levels, and then carried out in accordance with the law – as was the case with Scotland’s independence, as far as I know.

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