December 19, 2017
Just as the European level influences the local and regional levels, local and regional levels should be able to exert their full influence at European level. For there to be mutual benefit, there must be complete interaction. The voices of cities and regions must be heard. – K.-H. Lambertz
On October 10, the President of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR), Karl-Heinz Lambertz, delivered the first ever ‘State of the European Union: the View of Regions and Cities,’ just days after a controversial and illegal independence referendum held in Catalonia, where the population overwhelming voted for the region’s independence from the Spanish state. In a matter of days and after a violent police crackdown during the ballot, the Spanish government dissolved the Catalan Authorities and imposed direct rule on the region, sinking the country into a deep political crisis.
Reactions from Brussels
The European Institutions were criticized for the way they handled the crisis. One day after the referendum on Catalan Independence, President Jean-Claude Juncker on behalf of the Commission, stated that the crisis was an ‘internal matter for Spain’ and it had to be dealt in line within its constitutional order. Commission’s Vice-President Frans Timmermans later addressed the European Parliament, stressing the need for ‘the constitutions of every EU Member State to be upheld and respected’ and reiterating that under the Spanish Constitution, the vote in Catalonia was not legal. The response from the Parliament was also weak in nature as the President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani called ‘for calm and profound deliberation’ and encouraged Catalonia to initiate dialogue and respect the constitutional framework of Spain.
The statements from Brussels sparked controversy on different sides of the argument as the institutions were accused of being too soft on Catalonia, failing to condemn the Spanish Government and its police’s violent crackdown, and at the same time for showing little support and compassion for the people of Catalonia.
The Politics and Institutions Roundtable
Following these developments, during the upcoming policy cycle the Politics and Institution Roundtable 2018 will focus on separatist movements across Europe. We will address the discontent expressed by national and regional groups focusing our attention onto separatist regions and parties. A few months after Direct Rule was imposed on Catalonia, these movements across Europe are gaining momentum. Fueled by promises of economic growth and kindled by regional shared identities, there seems to be a growing consensus among these groups that separation is a viable and constructive option.
The members of the European Free Alliance (EFA) for example, an umbrella organisation that gathers 40 progressive nationalist, regionalist and autonomist parties throughout the EU, advocate for multi-level governance, devolution of powers, cultural and linguistic diversity, as well as on nationalism, regionalism, autonomy and independence. The EFA claims to work to make the idea of a ‘Europe of the People‘, where regional politics and the right to self-determination, a reality.
Among its members are representatives for regions as diverse as Corsica, Scotland, Lombardy, Veneto, Morava, Silesia, Flanders, Brittany and Transylvania. While not as uniformly extreme or popular, these regional separatist movements express one common concern: the disappointment with the status quo of their region. However, it can be argued that fora for these groups to meet exist: the European Parliament and the CoR. In the Parliament, separatist parties hold few seats and are kept on the fringes of the mainstream parties. In the 20 years of its existence, the CoR has become the voice of regional and local government and authorities in the EU decision-making process. As a forum for regional representatives to share and voice their concern, its impact is often challenged and often unheard outside Brussels and the ‘eurobubble.’
Dangerous Disintegration or Outcry for more Representation?
In this context, the inability of European institutions to deal with growing popular discontent is alarming, as it could have significant implications regarding the political stability as well as the political sentiment of the Union. The current political limbo left from the Catalan Referendum could have serious implications on relations between Catalans and the Spanish Government, and it has been suggested that it is starting to slow down economic recovery in Spain.
But should these groups and their ideas be given the legitimacy they so desperately strive for? Would legitimizing loud minorities who demand independence and more autonomy destabilize the European political order? Can the European Institutions provide a forum for these concerns to be voiced, or should the EU continue its approach of siding with Central Governments? Doesn’t their existence prove there is a dissatisfaction with the system?
Be part of the discussion! Join the 1989 Generation Initiative’s Politics and Institutions Roundtable at “A New Deal for Europe: Reconnecting the EU and its Citizens” at the London School of Economics and Political Science in February 2018.
In the following sequence of articles we will introduce the topics and relevant questions of our upcoming conference.
About the author: Edoardo Ravaioli is policy coordinator for Politics & Institutions at 1989 Generation Initiative
, Antonio Tajani, Autonomy, Catalonia, Committee of the Regions, European Parliament, Frans Timmermans, Karl-Heinz Lamberts, Launch Conference 2018, Reconnecting EU and its Citizens, referendum, Regionalism, Seperatism, Spain