mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
The Pain of Spain: Euro Stress Threatens National Meltdown

Bad euro decisions threaten the break-up of Spain:

In protests large and small, hundreds of thousands of Catalans are embracing a stark proposition: Only by breaking ties with Spain and becoming an independent country can Catalonia free itself from economic malaise.

Catalans go to the polls Nov. 25 for a regional parliamentary election, and polls show pro-independence parties in front.

“Madrid has been draining us dry for too long,” says Josep Casadella, a corporate human-resources administrator. He became an Internet sensation not long ago after posting a video of himself refusing to pay the fare at a toll booth and complaining that Spain should build free roads for all the taxes it collects.

Catalans see themselves as “the Germans of Spain.” Their hardworking nature sets them apart from their more casual countrymen to the south. In Madrid, people make fun of Catalans’ stinginess. “The discovery of copper wire,” as one joke reported in the WSJ has it, “came about as a result of two Catalans engaging in a tug of war over a penny.”

The Catalonia-Spain argument is similar to others breaking out across the continent: diligent, thrifty, and wealthier northerners balk at paying the profligate southerners’ bills. Many Catalans think they would be better off without Spain. (Spain’s Basque nationalists have also gained a majority in recent elections.) Flanders, the northern region of Belgium, feels the same way about the Walloons in the southern part of the country. Many Italians in the north would like to cut the impoverished, backward, crime-controlled south off as well.

The euro crisis will make everything more challenging as countries like Spain raise taxes and cut services to meet European targets. “You can’t tolerate a Swedish level of taxes and African level highways,” Xavier Sala-i-Martín, a Catalan economist who teaches at Columbia University told the WSJ.

The strains between Spain’s restive provinces and the center are old, but Europe’s catastrophically bad policy choices around the introduction of the euro have turned long running low level problems into urgent and immediate issues that demand quick responses from policy makers.  From Scotland to Sicily, European states are fraying even as the EU itself struggles to develop a coherent approach to the worst crisis in its history.

This is what massive policy failure on a large scale looks like, and given that no external force pushed the Europeans into their ill fated monetary union, the widening euro mess is an excellent example of a self-inflicted wound.

Naturally enough, the politicians and bureaucrats who created this disaster argue that the only solution to it is to give them even more power for the future. Surely a little more bureaucratic centralization of European policy decisions will produce lasting harmony and joy.

Features Icon
© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service