Since the unification of Germany there has been an unwritten rule among all countries of the European Union: The borders of each and every country are invariable. This has been an inaccessible taboo for a long time. Until Europe started to struggle with reality. After the unsuccessful initiatives from within the ranks of the Belgian Flemish and the Scottish referendum, comes a strike pointed closely at the heart of the Union. Catalonia declared independence and Europe does not know what to do with this unexpected turn of events.
The European Union has enjoyed decades of favorable winds in its sails. At least in terms of its overarching political situation, the democratization of countries from the former Eastern bloc was of tremendous help. These countries first became enthusiasts, subsequently partners, and ultimately members of the European Union. It was to be a new impulse for the transformation of the Union from a more-or-less limited institution to a transnational government.
The first major blow damaging these sails was the rejection of the European Constitution in referendums both in France and the Netherlands. In light of this painful failure, the EU shifted its focus towards gradual changes within the terms of the already existing Charter.
From this point on, criticisms targeting the democratic deficit within the decision-making processes of the EU only increased in strength. Consequently, the European Union was forced to learn to face a new phenomenon which was unknown at the time, namely referendums on independence within the individual countries of the EU. At this moment, European politicians panicked and decided to play their cards as pure pragmatists. They had two objectives in their minds. First, it was the promotion and support of current members of the European Union, whom the Union needed to back up in light of the looming threat of separatism. The second objective was to prevent the spread of these nationalist tendencies into new territories within the demarcation of individual EU Member States.
The scenario was as follows. Any region possibly contemplating a declaration of independence would automatically find itself outside the EU. This would pose a major problem for both local and international companies, resulting in a high degree of economic uncertainty.
At first, this strategy seemed to work successfully for the Union. When Scotland voted against independence from Great Britain, Scottish nationalists suffered heavy defeats on the battlefield of economic debates. The Scots, substantially influenced by the fear of losing their membership in the EU, decided to remain part of the United Kingdom, although with a relatively narrow outcome. However, the EU eventually failed its next trial in line. The British, although with a very slight majority, voted in favor of Brexit. The European Union has not learned its lesson. The only thing the EU was capable doing was to desperately threat the Brits with the dark uncertainties stemming from the process of initiating Brexit. Apparently, it was not enough to convince the Brits to stay.
Ergo, the Spanish constitutional crisis and the declaration of independence of Catalonia. Has the EU finally paid its dues? Clearly, it has not. The same exact scenario followed. The threat of non-recognition by other EU member states associated with the danger of terminating membership within the European Economic Community. An absolute lack of effort to tackle and manage the situation prior to the escalation of tensions combined with the inability to take a clear and proactive stance, which would lead to the stabilization of the situation in Catalonia.
If the Union wants to become a regional or even global player, it must be able to primarily resolve and deal with the increase of separatist, secessionist or eurosceptic tendencies explicitly expressed through the common vote of the plebiscite. These leaninre in direct clash with the interests ogs af the EU in terms of centralizing and cementing responsibilities in Brussels while establishing a clearer mandate for the EU abroad. If we count in the referendums that rejected the notion of a European Constitution, together with Scotland, Brexit, and Catalonia – at this point, the European Union carries a very unflattering score: democracy versus the European Union: 3:1.
Translated by Edward Szekeres