LAST year’s Brexit vote in the UK provoked a mixture of shock and awe in Brussels but, as soon as they had picked themselves up off their marble floors, leading EU politicians, bureaucrats and policy makers were quick to announce that the community of nations still had a glorious future, remaining strong, resolute, economically powerful and united.
This was in spite of the fact that its dysfunctional institutions and the drive towards further political as well as economic integration were among the reasons that the British people voted to leave the union.
The faultlines in the EU became noticeably evident after the financial crisis of 2008 and widened further with austerity diktats dividing the bloc into debtor and creditor nations. The refugee crisis made matters even worse as poorer nations were forced to bear the greatest burden.
Those fault-lines have now become a chasm and the current situation in Catalonia could prove a tipping point, with the EU facing an existential crisis and a threat to its very existence.
The bloc is already experiencing instability on a number of fronts: economically, as a result of enforced austerity; socially, brought about by a failure to tackle the refugee crisis, and politically, as exemplified by Brexit and, now, the Catalan situation.
In the midst of all this we may also be witnessing the emergence of a superstate in the form of a Franco-German axis — a combined economic powerhouse of 140m people.
All those difficulties may be too much for EU leaders to deal with all at once but that doesn’t mean we do nothing. Catalonia could be the tipping point into an existential crisis for the EU. Therefore, it demands an EU-wide response.
So far, we have had uncoordinated responses from individual EU leaders. European Council President Donald Tusk urged Catalonian leader Carles Puigdemont not to proclaim independence while French President Emmanuel Macron rejected Puigdemont’s call for European Union mediation, saying he was confident Madrid could handle the situation. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was quick to proclaim that Ireland would not recognise an independent Catalonia.
On the other hand, Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon criticised the EU for not condemning the Spanish government’s actions when more than 800 people were injured as riot police attacked peaceful protesters and civilians gathered to cast their ballots.
Despite Macron’s confidence, the authorities in Madrid have shown themselves incapable of dealing with the Catalans in any sensible way that addresses their concerns while preserving the unity of Spain.
The Catalan crisis is not just dangerous for Spain but for the EU. Ramón Luis Valcárcel, vice president of the EU Parliament, described last Sunday’s vote as “a coup against Europe”. Indeed, the discontent in Catalonia may only be the beginning as tensions are already evident in eastern Europe.
That is why a co-ordinated EU response is essential.
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