Countries That Almost Existed

The world could soon add two new countries. In Catalonia and Kurdistan, referendums have been held to secede from Spain and Iraq, respectively.

Neither would be universally recognized. Spain doesn’t even recognize a Catalan right to self-determination. Iran, Iraq and Turkey all oppose Kurdish statehood.

International recognition is often a stumbling block for would-be states. Consider the likes of Kosovo, Somaliland, South Ossetia and Transnistria.

Others don’t even get to that point. Here is a selection of countries that remained on the drawing board. Read more

Will Catalonia Declare Independence from Spain?

Catalans wait in line in Barcelona to vote in a referendum about independence from Spain, October 1
Catalans wait in line in Barcelona to vote in a referendum about independence from Spain, October 1 (HazteOir)

The law which made Sunday’s referendum possible calls for a declaration of independence from Spain within two days of a “yes” vote, but there are reasons to doubt the Catalans will go that far:

  • 90 percent voted for independence, but only 42 percent turned out. Many opponents stayed home.
  • The law was suspended by Spain’s Constitutional Court, which previously ruled an independence referendum illegal.
  • The Spanish central government would try to prevent Catalonia from breaking away.
  • The regional government has virtually no international support for a declaration of independence.
  • The Catalan economy would suffer. That is why many business leaders are opposed. Read more

A Failure of Leadership in Spain

Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy arrives at parliament in Madrid, October 29, 2016
Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy arrives at parliament in Madrid, October 29, 2016 (La Moncloa)

The unstoppable force of Catalan separatism is about to meet the unmovable object that is Mariano Rajoy.

The Spanish prime minister and conservative party leader has vowed to prevent an independence referendum in the northeastern region at all costs. The Catalans are determined to vote anyway.

Neither side will be able to claim victory on Monday.

Rajoy may succeed in blocking the vote, but his intransigence has already convinced moderate Catalans there isn’t a future for them in Spain. The separatists may manage to organize a referendum, but it will be so marred by illegality and irregularity that the outcome cannot possibly be considered a mandate to break away. Read more

British Struggle to Understand Spain’s Reaction to Catalan Referendum

View of the Thames in London, England at dawn
View of the Thames in London, England at dawn (Uncoated)

The British struggle to understand why, if they could manage two referendums in three years, Spain is so desperate to prevent the Catalans from voting on Sunday. Read more

Dutch Parties Agree to Simplify Tax Code

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte is seen during the state opening of parliament in The Hague, September 19
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte is seen during the state opening of parliament in The Hague, September 19 (SZW)

The four parties negotiating to form a coalition government in the Netherlands have agreed to simplify the tax code, the public broadcaster NOS reports.

The plan would reduce the number of income tax brackets from four to two. The threshold at which the top, 49.5-percent rate kicks in would be raised to €68,000.

Middle and high incomes would benefit from the changes. Low incomes would continue to pay 37 percent income tax. Read more

Transatlantic Challenges Ahead

German chancellor Angela Merkel speaks with American president Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, March 17
German chancellor Angela Merkel speaks with American president Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, March 17 (Bundesregierung)

Carnegie Europe’s Erik Brattberg sees challenges ahead for the transatlantic relationship:

  • Afghanistan: Donald Trump’s administration is preparing for a troop surge in the country (despite the president’s own doubts). European support is lukewarm at best. Germany, where the pacifist Green party is probably going to be part of the next coalition government, could prove especially problematic.
  • Iran: Trump is determined to blow up the 2015 nuclear deal. Europe — together with China and Russia — wants to keep it in place.
  • North Korea: Europe plays little role in this crisis, but public opinion blames Trump for escalating it. Leaders will be hard-pressed to back him up, even if North Korea is in the wrong. Read more

European Fears of “Jamaica” Coalition Are Overblown

German chancellor Angela Merkel joins a cabinet meeting in Berlin, September 13
German chancellor Angela Merkel joins a cabinet meeting in Berlin, September 13 (Bundesregierung)

A three-party “Jamaica” coalition in Germany may not be so bad for Europe as observers fear, writes Guntram Wolff of the Bruegel think tank in the Financial Times.

He recognizes that the liberal Free Democrats are more Euroskeptic than Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats and the Greens. They have opposed Greek debt relief, are wary of a common eurozone budget and argue for strict enforcement the bloc’s fiscal rules.

But that also applies to Wolfgang Schäuble, the outgoing finance minister. His likely Free Democratic successor could hardly be more hawkish.

A Jamaica coalition (named for the colors of the three parties, which match the Caribbean nation’s flag) would be open to some of the other EU reform proposals French president Emmanuel Macron made this week, from enhancing defense cooperation to creating a single European asylum policy. Read more