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Spanish Posturing on Gibraltar: This Is Why We Need the EU


Spain has had a rough couple of years, struggling with a moribund economy and a massive government deficit. Unemployment prospects, especially for the increasingly disillusioned young, is at grimmer than ever. Restive provinces have joined the Basque country in pushing for independence.

The country’s leaders can’t seem to get their own house in order, much less guide the nation out of this mess. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and his People’s Party are embroiled in a corruption scandal that has the opposition calling for his resignation. Meanwhile, the Spanish monarchy—a symbol of national unity that led the transition to democracy after Franco’s death—has seen its reputation perhaps irreparably tarnished in an embezzlement scandal.

So what are the country’s beleaguered leaders to do? Play the nationalist card in hopes that a patriotic surge will distract people from the woebegone economy. Spain this week stepped up its territorial dispute with the U.K. over Gibraltar. Spanish border guards began conducting extensive searches at the border crossing last weekend, causing massive delays for commuters. After Britain complained, Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said in an interview that Spain might introduce a fifty euro crossing fee and might go as far as closing Spanish airspace to Gibraltar-bound flights.

While this sort of bellicose, populist posturing may play well at home, it is just these types of disputes that led to untold trouble in Europe’s past. At moments like this we can be thankful for the European Union, despite all its flaws. The EU limits the moves each side can make and ensures that the two countries are immersed in all kinds of other business in which cooperation is mutually beneficial. Doing so offers checks to all the impulsive and demagogic politicians out there—and there are always plenty of them around.

It’s often easy for Americans to be frustrated with Europe and poke fun at the EU’s many missteps. We should remember, though, that the EU is far and away the greatest political accomplishment these countries have ever had. In countless ways, it’s very much in the American interest that the European project succeed.

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  • Corlyss

    “So what are the country’s beleaguered leaders to do?”
    Let the country break up into its constituent parts.

  • phineasfahrquar

    “So what are the country’s beleaguered leaders to do?”

    Leave the EU, devalue their currency until it meets market conditions, and emphasize whatever exports they have in order to rebuild prosperity. Zero the economy out, much like the Balkan states did, eliminate state intervention, and free up their sclerotic labor market. Painful medicine, but it’s medicine that will work. As for the EU, the quicker that goes away, the better.

  • Andrew Allison

    With respect, I think that the two previous commentators may have missed the point. What beleaguered leaders do is, “Play the nationalist card in hopes that a patriotic surge will distract people from the woebegone economy” c.f. Putain, et al.

  • Marty Keller

    Indeed; perhaps the EU can serve a modest function as an arbitrator in inter-European disputes. What it can’t do is create a political and economic union–a mega-country–out of Europe. Beleaguered leaders the world over face similar dilemmas as Rajoy and crew because of a refusal to deal with actual reality (cf., Obama, Barack).

  • Bruce

    The elites have convinced the people (and apparently Via Media) that the formation of the EU will prevent wars and that it is a wonderful thing. What it does is allow a huge bureaucracy of self-serving politicians to pass law after law after law as they continuously increase the EU budget during times of extreme difficulty in the member countries. Read Daniel Hannan’s blog.

  • tarentius

    The idea that it is in the American interest that the “European Project”, whatever that is, succeed is standard, dated State Department bureaucratic nonsense.The EU’s ultimate purpose, as envisioned by its current champions and the controlling bureaucracy in Brussels, is the establishment of a world power to “counterbalance” the United States. Just how that is in the American interest is beyond most Americans.
    Further, the idea that the EU is the “greatest
    accomplishment these countries ever had” is the statement of someone totally dismissive, or ignorant of, the history of England and France.

    • Thirdsyphon

      The idea of the EU acting as a “counterbalance” to the United States was never more than a giddy ’90s fever dream of French nationalists who assumed that France would as a matter of course be chosen to speak for Europe in global affairs and would be allowed to abuse that power to elevate their quixotic, one-sided quarrel with the United States to a “confrontation of equals.” Why they thought this would happen -why *anyone* thought this would happen- may never be known. But it didn’t, and it won’t, and that’s what matters.

      At this point in time, what a stronger EU would actually do in practical terms is serve as a much-needed counterbalance to the increasing belligerence of Russia.

      • tarentius

        The Bureaucrats at the EU still harbor their dreams, which are not fanciful to them, and they still see the United States as less of a friend and more of an adversary. The US is better off engaging Europe through NATO, which the EU would supplant if they could, and through bi-lateral means.
        The idea that the EU can serve as a counterbalance to a belligerent Russia is ludicrous. Witness their actions during the Balkans crisis. It’s time that the leftist bureaucrats at the State Dept. are shunted aside and a realistic US foreign policy towards the EU be adopted.

        • Thirdsyphon

          If by “realistic” you mean recalibrating our foreign policy to treat EU member states like the US adversaries you believe that they are, then it’s hard imagine what productive role you envision NATO playing in the future.

          Also, if you’re referring to the Balkans crisis of the 1990s (there have been others), Europe acted through NATO, and the 12,000 soldier rapid reaction force deployed bilaterally by the UK and (seriously) France in 1995 hardly reflects an unwillingness to fight when circumstances warrant it.

          The EU and its member nations are not America’s enemies, and there’s no reason to treat them as such when we have such an abundance of *actual* adversaries in the world. To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, if someone is with you 80% of the time, it’s senseless to think of them as your “20% enemy”.

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