Motivated by great thinker and even greater doer Aral Balkan, I will provide an English translation (click here to skip my comments & scroll down) of an awesome commentary, published by Ulrike Guérot on german weekly ZEIT on October 10th 2017: „In Spaniens Krise offenbart sich eine neue EU“.
Republic of Europe as a Federation of Regions
I’m thrilled by her idea of proceeding to a re-thought vision of Europe: from the check-mate situation caused by self-declared tribune of the plebs, Carles Puigedemont, when he totally failed this ballot (others call it ‚vote‚) about declaration of independence of Catalania, to a „Republic of Europe as a Federation of Regions“, as I summarized this idea of overcoming the weaknesses of nation states. I’m a long-term fan of an ever-close Europe as surety for peace, economical as well as social development, based on the rule of law and a deep understanding of the Eco-Social Market Economy by Josef Riegler. Personally speaking, I’d add the „liberal“ aspect to it…
Europe: solidarity-based, regional economic community, growth-oriented
„My“ Europe is a solidarity-based, regional economic community, still growth-oriented. It has a built-in solution resolving fear and hatred of neighbors („populism“). Once defined the regions as central, constitutional actors of a future European Republic (all European citizens elect the European Parliament, and the regions form a second chamber, a European Senate), I am not quite sure whether this will again propel a micro-state system and establish too much power for local sovereigns disproportionately, cf. the Austrian provincial captains („Landeshauptmann“) on a longer term or the guy from Girona recently.
Nations are constructed identity
I totally agree that nations are just constructed storytelling in terms of identity: only those who do not have an identity must refer to a superordinate, national or religious identity. Nations are narratives, regions are language, dialect, cuisine, culture, traditions. Regions are „home“. Robert Menasse has put that very bluntly:
„Regions are home, nations are fiction.“
„Die Region ist Heimat, die Nation ist Fiktion.“
Which means, strengthening regions by dismanteling nation states would obtain precisely that „In varietate concordia“, „unity in diversity“ claim of the EU (official claim „united in diversity“), without creating a cramped and artificial European identity, and without having to seclude into the national sphere.
Some funny links if this whole topic annoys you anyway:
Spain’s crisis reveals a new EU
There’s no third way to deal with Spain’s problem? A mental error. An independent Catalonia could remain in an EU that becomes a federation of regions.
Commentary by Ulrike Guérot
Catalan independence has existed for a long time. Over and over again, Catalans have asked the Spanish central government for more autonomy – and received little. Unlike Germany, Spain is not a federal state. Catalonia is smaller than Bavaria, but it pays around three times as much to the Spanish Treasury as the German Free State of Bavaria pays to the Confederation. In recent years, votes have been held in hundreds of Catalan cities for this reason, and most of them have been carried out by majorities in favor of independence. In fact, the Spanish central government has long ignored this truth. It seems that it is clear where this leads to: such a vehemently expressed desire will not simply be silenced, even if the Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy now threatens Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution. He might put Catalonia under forced administration. But no one wants civil war-like conditions in Spain. Politically, something has to be done, a new solution is sought.
Those who are still opposed to Catalonia’s independence are doing so mainly because they fear implications on an European level: leaving the EU. The question is: why does this have to be the case? Either Catalonia remains part of Spain or it is leaving: from Spain, the EU, the Euro. These are currently the only alternatives in the case of Catalonia. Is there really no better solution that does not mislead, but instead keeps an autonomous Catalonia in Europe?
Of course there are. It is not God-given that an independent Catalonia must first apply for an EU membership again, e.g. as Kosovo does. The EU’s refusal to act as a moderator on this point is hampering the settlement process. And those who believe that there is no third way out of the Catalonia crisis are making a mistake of thinking at a crucial point by sticking to the nation state as the only possible constitutional carrier of an European unity. It doesn’t have to be like this. And this option is not only about Spain.
It would be about the time to sort out what region and what nation is
The Catalonians are currently not the only ones who are in favor of regional autonomy in Europe. There are Tyrol or Scotland, Wallonia, Flanders, Veneto or even Bavaria, just to name a few. These people’s demands are growing louder because of the confusion in the EU as to what only a region can, shall, might be and what might possibly just a state can be. Ireland and Cyprus are also two examples where an ethnic region and statehood are not congruent.
Furthermore, the EU is full of large regions (e.g. North Rhine-Westphalia) which are not allowed to have any say in the EU, and small nation states (e.g. Luxembourg or Malta) which are allowed to do so. Wouldn’t it be worth sorting out what a region and a nation actually is? Especially since many nations are de facto amalgamations of several regions, especially Italy or Germany. Even France has a subdued but rich regional tradition. By the way, in Nantes in Brittany, there were rallies with the Catalans too.
In a Europe of regions, Catalonia would be a part of the EU
The current case in Catalonia is another reason to exploit positively that regional political energy which is currently flowing through Europe – rather than oppressing it brutally. Anyone who dismisses and ignores the Catalonians‘ demonstrations as illegal will not solve any problems.
In this context, it should be noted that the European federalists of the early days, who, in the midst of fascism in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, had in mind the idea of a Europe of regions, a federation of regional units of about the same size, so that the large nation states do not dominate the small ones. Denis de Rougemont, a Swiss political philosopher and pioneer of European integration, and several others were convinced that the new Europe must be consistently post-national. A Europe with nation states will never be feasible, because this will always lead to new rivalry and a strengthening of nationalism – the EU’s masterminds were convinced of this. In addition to this, it is also true that only an enshrined Europe in the regional can be the solution.
Now is the right time to transform these plans into reality. A European federation of regional entities (as defined by Leopold Kohr’s „small is beautiful“) may provide a plausible response to the current re-nationalization tendencies the EU is currently suffering from. In a Europe of regions, Catalonia would be part of the EU, as would the Basques and the rest of Spain. Those people who demonstrated this weekend against secession of Catalonia in Madrid and Barcelona should not have to worry that their Catalan friends and relatives are facing a Brexite-like disaster.
In order to avoid being mistaken and making false friends, I am not interested in supporting regional separatism in Europe. Neither Catalonia nor Bavaria, Scotland or even Saxony can do it alone! Moreover, more autonomy must not aim to create regions of prosperity which are deprived of European solidarity. In an Europe of regions, the regions would have to keep paying taxes for the common good.
The problems and conflicts of our time originate Europe-wide along the socio-economic differences between city and country, between the centre and periphery, between the structurally weak and fast-growing regions. Balancing these regional differences across Europe should be the ultimate goal (it is, by the way, an objective which has already been enshrined in the Maastricht Treaty). On their path towards this goal, the citizens of one state can no longer be played off against the citizens of another, while companies within the EU are de facto engaged in wage or tax shopping from one country to another.
Nobody will benefit if some regions in the centre of Europe are economically and socially neglected, while others thrive in wealth. This inequality is the incubator of today’s populism in Europe, which is increasingly endangering everyone. For this reason, a Europe based on the general principle of political equality for all European citizens is to be established. What is being meant is to define the regions as central, constitutional actors of a future European Republic and to enhance them politically.
This would enable new approaches to a substantial European parliamentarism, in which all European citizens elect the European Parliament, and the regions constitute a second chamber, a European Senate.
Overcoming Germany’s predominance
Any such European Republic, constituted of about 50 or 60 regions as it appears on historical maps of the continent, would overcome the current lamentable superiority of the large nation states in the EU, particularly Germany. Under the umbrella of an European Republic, all European citizens were equal to the rule of law – the condition for any democracy – and yet culturally diverse.
„Regionen sind Heimat, Nationen sind Fiktion“, „regions are home, nations are fiction“, writes the Austrian writer Robert Menasse. The national is usually only a narrative, the regional, that is language, cuisine, and culture. If the regions were to be promoted in the political system of an European Republic, this „unity in diversity“ would be achieved without creating a cramped and artificial European identity, and without having to flee into the national sphere.
From this perspective, the Catalonian ambitions may well become a breakthrough into an entirely different Europe. If so, if it were possible now, in the face of the crisis in Spain in the EU, to have the courage to really re-think Europe. Or to put it another way: to bring Europe closer to what it should be in the spirit of the Founding Fathers: not an integration of nation states, but the unity of people beyond nations.
As a professor of European politics, Ulrike Guérot teaches at the Donauuniversity Krems, Austria. In 2016, she wrote her book „Why Europe must become a Republic! In 2017, „Der neue Bürgerkrieg: Das offene Europa und seine Feinde“ was published.