By Arab News
By Max Ferrari*
The Catalan situation has become an embarrassment for the European Union for several reasons: It shows that democracy in Europe is optional (and therefore the EU has no right to preach democracy to the rest of the world), it raises many doubts about the so-called sacredness of borders, and it reopens the question of small unrecognized nations in search of independence.
How could the EU call for sanctions against Poland and Hungary, condemn Russia and even criticize Donald Trump’s United States for alleged deficits of democracy, when Brussels not only tolerates but supports and justifies the police and judicial repression of Catalan politicians “guilty” of organizing a referendum?
How does one justify from a democratic point of view the incarceration of regularly elected parliamentarians whose guilt would be that of having given the people the opportunity to vote on an issue deeply felt by the majority of Catalans? And beatings to voters are a bad thing only if done in far away places: Do they become good if they serve the interests of a European government?
Another big question this opens up is the topic of borders. The EU, dominated by leftists, has a mantra: Borders are an ancient thing. Instead we must live in a world without frontiers, where everyone enters and exits as one wants, and anyone who asks for control and defense of national borders is a reactionary, a populist, a fascist. Like democracy, however, this concept is also variable. As soon as a European region demands greater autonomy, national states react very harshly and the various governments threaten police, army and judicial intervention because “sacred” national borders must be defended.
A striking example of this is Italy, which is famous for its punctured borders, through which millions of illegal migrants and several terrorists pass without a problem. Rome has always replied that we are now in the no-borders era of free movement, but when some parties (for example the Northern League before its national turn) propose a strong federalism or the secession of northern regions, the answer has always been very harsh: Those who touch the borders go to jail.
This is a disconcerting double standard that the Catalans were well aware of. They cleverly tried to ride it by saying to the EU: Let us create our nation and we will then let all migrants enter without problems. The leftist component, very strong among the Catalan separatists, thought that openness on migration and on ethical issues would be enough to convince Brussels to recognize the new state, and most likely it would have been if such recognition had not risked starting a chain reaction.
Almost all European states have within them regions that demand autonomy or independence, and the Catalan precedent would have meant not only the pulverization of Spain (there are also the Basques to ask for freedom in Madrid) but also would have created enormous problems for France (specifically in Corsica, Brittany and Basque areas), Italy, Belgium, the Balkan states, Romania and, of course, the UK, which already manages the Scottish and Irish dossier.
The problem that the EU has clumsily sought to circumscribe to Spain has followed Catalan’s former president Carles Puigdemont to Belgium (not by chance) and then to Germany. His release on bail was a defeat for Spain and a huge problem for the EU. A ghost is wandering around Europe — but it is not Puigdemont, it is the concept of democracy, for which the EU would like to be a standard-bearer. It has disappeared in the fog of double standards that surrounds Brussels.
- Max Ferrari is a journalist and politician. He is a former parliamentary journalist, a war correspondent in the former Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon, and director of a TV channel. He is an expert in geopolitics and energy policy. Twitter: @MaxFerrari