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Catalonians Join Hands with Gibraltar Against Madrid


The Spanish-British dispute over Gibraltar continues to grab headlines, with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy using the hoopla to direct attention away from a huge campaign finance scandal in his party, as well as the nation’s economic disarray. Rajoy has even reached out to the Argentinians, who have their own simmering territorial dispute with the UK.

The independence-minded politicians in Spain’s Catalonia province aren’t playing along with Madrid, however. Catalonia’s Esquerra Republicana Party, which is making its own push for independence from Spain, has expressed its solidarity with the British leadership in Gibraltar. In a letter to the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, Alfred Bosch, the head of Esquerra Republicana, denounced Madrid’s tactics. He continues, as quoted in the FT:

We are convinced that the only solution to the issue of the Rock, as with the issue of Catalonia, is through dialogue, suffrage and the principle of self-determination. No question should be handled without consulting the people concerned.

The people of Gibraltar, just like the people of the Falkland Islands, overwhelmingly wish to remain British, a fact that is the backbone of British policy in both disputes. But Spanish acknowledgement of that principle would open the door for a vote on Catalonian independence. With Britain threatening legal action and the Catalonians reaching out to Spain’s rival, Rajoy may find himself in an even deeper mess if he beats the nationalist drum over Gibraltar.

[Gibraltar image courtesy of Andrew Griffith]

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  • WinstonCN

    Interesting… Spain is doing what Argies did in 1982.

    • Philopoemen

      Except in this case it can dramatically backfire for Spain in a way it didn’t for Agrentina (other than that whole “war” business).

      This is more like the USA threatening to invade St. Pierre & Miquelon, after which the original 13 states of the union threaten to secede from the United States.

      • WinstonCN

        The whole thing shows how EU is a farce.

        • Philopoemen

          Spain could have been just as demagogic without the EU.

        • Jim__L

          An interesting question — would the EU get more or less powerful if portions of member countries (Scotland, Catalonia, Flanders, etc) started splitting off and striking out on their own?

          • Thirdsyphon

            That really *is* an interesting question. On the one hand, regional separatist movements are probably based on strong (proto)national sentiment, and a newly independent country is apt to be jealous in guarding its sovereignty. On the other hand, EU membership might be seen as a way of formalizing and protecting their independence from the country that they originally split off from, as well as from any powerful neighbors of those countries that they’re adjacent to.

            The effectiveness of the EU government itself would probably deteriorate as the number of member-states proliferated, especially if too many of them are seen as overprivileged in their representation. Think: continent of Delawares.

          • f1b0nacc1

            But what happens if the breakaways dont’ follow the script and opt for REAL sovereignty (not the deracinated EU-sanctioned sort) instead? What I mean here is what if Scotland (purely as an example, not implying that they would actually do what I am suggesting) acquired independence from the UK, and then declared itself to be independent of (i.e. not bound by treaty obligations to) the EU as well?
            Before we jump quickly to “they wouldn’t because it isn’t in their interest” (which may or may not be true), let us just assume that it WAS in their interest to do so…just what (if anything) would/could the EU do about it?

          • Thirdsyphon

            Another interesting question! Not joining the EU was what I meant by “jealously guarding their sovereignty,” but I didn’t think about what the EU response might be.

            Military force, I think, is almost certainly out of the question as retaliation for not joining the EU. The only circumstances where any kind of military action would be on the table are the ones where it would be on the table even if the EU didn’t exist, such as where a secession results in the persecution of some newly-oppressible ethnic minority, or the denial of some vital waterway or natural resource to a powerful parent state, neither of which seems very likely. And it’s not as if the EU is looking for excuses to go to war with anyone at all, let alone against other Europeans.

            So the tools at the EU’s disposal are probably just economic. . but then, there are some serious economic consequences that would automatically flow from a newly-formed nation’s decision not to join the EU, and a government willing to face those consequences (lack of access to the EU’s credit and Single Market; the need to renegotiate trade agreements with literally everyone else in the world from a position of weakness; disadvantage to their nationals in the European labor market, etc.) is probably resolute enough that further piling on of sanctions would have the opposite of the desired effect, and would only serve to alienate them from the EU even further.

            To the extent that splinter countries proliferate *and* stay out of the EU, the EU will be demographically and geographically weakened. . . but the economic effect might potentially be the opposite. I have no evidence for this at my disposal, but I suspect that the secessionist-inclining regions of EU member states are likely to be disproportionately poor and underdeveloped relative to countries they’re seceding from. If that’s the case, the EU could be left in economically better condition than if those regions had joined the EU.

          • f1b0nacc1

            Right now I think you are correct that the potential secessionists are likely to be underdeveloped backwaters, but that may not always be the case. The more inept the EUniks become, the greater the temptation for a state or statelet to break away and try their luck outside.
            Right now the Single Market is a powerful disincentive to would-be secessionists, but I wonder about that over time. As for military force, the EU military is fragmented (naturally) and largely an impotent mess. Yes, they have some useful special forces units, and Libya demonstrated that they can conduct an air campaign (albeit with a LOT of American support) against a prostrate target with no functioning military to speak of, but even leaving aside their very weak resolve (certainly to be exploited by even reasonably foresighted secessionists), the possibility of a breakaway state/statelet with even a marginally functional military would be problematic at best. Worse still, what if an outside power (China comes to mine, or the Russians, or for that matter the various Islamic states) choose to meddle, providing material and economic support?
            The real threat to the EU is that if it happens once, that would almost unquestionably open the floodgates. Might be fun to watch (from a distance)…

          • Thirdsyphon

            In an effort to help me crystallize my thinking on this subject, I went down a current list of the most prominent real-world secessionist movements in the E.U., to see if I could construct a plausible scenario that I could then use as the starting point of a thought-experiment.

            Unfortunately, it’s hard for me to to write even the opening sentence of most likely scenarios without bursting into laughter. Some of my more unsuccessful attempts include:

            1) “Following the sudden abdication of King Philippe in 2015, Belgium is roiled by a wave of Flemish-driven protests against the coronation of the allegedly Francophile Dutchess of Brabant. The protesters question the legitimacy of. . .of *agnatic primogeniture* as a principle of royal succession and argue that the law instead requires the coronation of *oh Dear God* the “Archduke Amadeo” of “Austria Este” in her place. This in turn fuels the rise in the Belgian north of a militant new party of nationalist. . . Walloons?!?! Seriously? WALLOONS?! Oh, just shoot me.”

            2) “In the autumn of 2016, a shocking wave of terrorist attacks rocks the Italian city of Venice. That evening, a group calling itself the ‘Venetian Most Serene Government’ [?!] releases a statement in which they claim responsibility for the attacks and proclaim that the city is now the capital of the newly formed. . .’Third Venetian Republic'[?!!], which is claimed to consist of. . . ”

            You get the idea.

            Granted, real wars in Europe have started over just such ridiculous-sounding premises before (see, e.g., World War I), and a recent U.S. Presidential nominee briefly flirted with the notion of fighting a war against the Russian Federation for the cause of reunifying North and South Ossetia, so these jokey-sounding conflicts can theoretically turn very real, but still. . . in 2013?

          • Jim__L

            So tell me, how long did it take for people to establish peace in Northern Ireland? (Granted, moving the reivers of the English / Scottish border there so they wouldn’t cause trouble for the newly United Kingdom played a part in establishing a culture of violence).

            How long did it take to establish peace in the Balkans?

            How about that wonderful Israel – Jordan – Lebanon solution for Jews, Muslims, and Christians, respectively?

            The issues will be different in 2015 and probably wouldn’t line up with the old aristocratic conflicts of the days of yore. However, we’re probably not beyond Pig wars, Cod wars, Whiskey rebellions, and wars over Jenkins’ ears. Or the Falklands. Or Gibraltar.

            But that really wasn’t the point of the original question.

            The point was, the EU is currently having trouble coming to terms with the sheer size of Germany, the UK, etc, as power blocs. If the states of Europe were smaller, would the EU’s ability to impose its will on them be more considerable? I think that’s a strong possibility. Would it be any more effective overall than the old Hapsburg empire? That’s another question entirely.

          • f1b0nacc1

            So the idea of a Spanish government fragmenting (the Catalonians would be happy to enlighten you regarding their desires), Various components of the UK ‘breaking off’ (Scotland and Wales are the most likely current contenders), northern and southern Italy (the productive north is tired of being bled white to finance the corrupt and parasitic south), and yes…the Flems and Walloons deciding to call it a day (one wonders who gets stuck with Brussels, or do they simply leave it as a latter-day Vatican City) fail to spark your imagination? All of the above have active political parties and some even have exchanged (extremely low-level) blows with their ‘parent’ states. As you correctly point out, wars have started over less…
            The point here is not what is going to happen in 2013, but more 2015, 16, etc., especially if things get dicier for the EU’s economy. The overly centralized EU governing style, with Brussel’s bureaucrats issuing edicts on an increasing restive periphery isn’t likely to help cement things together either you know…we might see some sort of backlash there. It isn’t hard to find flashpoints…it would be interesting to see how the EU would cope with them.

  • J R Yankovic

    “The people of Gibraltar, just like the people of the Falkland Islands, overwhelmingly wish to remain British, a fact that is the backbone of British policy in both disputes.”
    Yes, there is a God; thanks for the reminder.

  • thrasymachus02

    Supporting “independence” in the territories of its rivals is an old English trick for weakening them and increasing its power. The English never had any similar love for the idea of independence of their colonies, of course.

    • Thirdsyphon

      It’s an old trick of empires in general. . . and a very good one indeed. King George might not have been a fan of American independence, but King Louis certainly was.

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