The Weak Links in the Chain

The Weak Links in the Chain

(Photo by CyberArk Labs |

By Joshua Tartakovsky, 1 October 2017

The EU top leaders would like to go on with unhinged integration. The EU has been a mixed baggage. It was a disaster for Greece but a blessing for many Eastern European countries who improved their standards and cut down some red tapes. But Jean-Claude Juncker wants to go further. He wants to expand Schengen’s visa-free zone to Romania and Bulgaria, have all countries adopt the Euro, move to a federal system. Would this be good for the smaller countries? It’s up to them to decide. But usually adopting the Euro has resulted in a higher cost of living. And Hungary and Poland may not be able to stop the tide of unmonitored refugees. Bulgarians, however, probably love the idea of traveling without a visa to Paris and Berlin. Who would not?

But there are several weak links in the chain of EU integration, just as there are in North America and in the Middle East.

 

Catalunya

The Catalans have already demonstrated, by deeds rather than words, that they are not fools. They managed to arrange a referendum despite heavy crack-downs and a blockade of the ports. Not an easy task. Catalan officials claimed 73% of the polling locations operated. This is impressive by any standard even if the numbers are not wholly accurate, though knowing the Catalans there is no reason to suspect they are not.

Initially, Catalans adopted a policy of non-violence even as their heads were smashed. At the same time, liberal Europeans and Americans claimed that the referendum is illegal since the Spaniards could not vote in a decision that affected them.

Not long ago liberals have argued that the rights of a minority are sacrosanct, whether that minority are gays, Jews, blacks or transgender people, and that the majority has no rights to impose its will on the minority. But when it comes to national referendums, the right of a people to live by their values and traditions, and potential danger to the stability and growth of the market, some liberals switch colors and all of a sudden are concerned about the rights of the majority.

In a few hours or later we will find out if Catalunya will become independent. My guess is a majority voted Si. At the same time, Catalans are not about to grab guns. But if the latter are serious about independence, Madrid will never accept a peaceful separation and there will be subsequent repressions and occupations, with forces from outside Catalunya sent to occupy the area.

Catalunya is one big headache for EU’s integration. It is hard to pretend everything is normal when such a burning/frozen conflict is taking place within a major EU power.  It has already become clear that the Merkel government is not very concerned about the violence enacted by the Spanish state against the Catalans. The problem though is that the Catalan problem is not going away. As Handelsblatt argued “…Berlin could play a role in solving the crisis too. For Mr. Hallerberg of the Hertie School, Germany, with its decades-long tradition of reaching political compromises, should try to sway the two camps “beyond their instincts,” he told Handelsblatt Global. “Else the crisis will continue, and probably worsen.””

Then there is Brexit. As I argued earlier, Theresa May does not really know what she wants and in the mean time the UK’s economy is plummeting. The EU will probably seek to integrate even faster while negotiations unfold. Brexit is not a weak link in the EU chain, but it can cause many technical problems.

Then there are several hindrances that come from within, and are likely to hamper the EU rapid integration dream. First, is the victory of AfD in Germany an anti-immigrant anti-EU party that is a tremendous embaressment to the mainstream. Whether it will manage to achieve anything or block legislation remains to be seen. But then there is the probable though not certain victory of Sebastian Kurz of the People’s Party in Austria who is hoping to establish a government with the Freedom Party. That means that Austria joins the anti-mass-refugees-welcome camp, and Kurz along with Viktor Orban, Beata Szydło and Jaroslaw Kaczynski, can form a strong block in favor of national sovereignty and in opposition to dictates pushed by Brussels. Slovakia and the Czech Republic can join this bloc. A victory by Kurz is another headache for Brussels’ fantasy of a speedy highway to a federal EU.

Then in the US, a growing number of Puerto Ricans are realizing that they are viewed as second-class citizens. But considering their weak position, they are likely to receive new rescue packages that will not leave them better off. However, whoever can may immigrate to the United States mainland.

Then in the Middle East, for now the question of Iraqi Kurdistan, seen as a headache by Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran, has been contained for now. And is not likely to explode. But much will depend on the four countries keeping a united front on this issue. The US has also objected to Kurdish independence, a bizarre position since it has worked with the Kurds in the past. Russia has sought to accommodate the Kurds by making oil deals.  Quite a few actors have supported the Kurds but not the Catalonians or others and vice versa, but such is the nature of real-politik.

Catalunya, Brexit, Kurz, Puerto Rico, Kurdistan. The world is not about to get boring any time soon. In fact, more crises are likely to erupt. But at the same time the direction to which the world is going remains a mystery.