Deal Slips Away in Catalonia as Both Sides Dig In

Cable car in Barcelona, Spain
Cable car in Barcelona, Spain (PxHere)

In my first contribution to World Politics Review, I write that a deal is slipping away in Catalonia as the region’s separatists remain deadlocked with the central government of Spain.

Both sides are waiting for the other to make the first move: Spain for the Catalans to form a pliable regional government; the separatists for Spain to drop charges against the leaders of their independence movement. Neither is likely to happen. And so six months after the referendum, and four months after regional elections in Catalonia, there is still no breakthrough.

The solution, I’ve argued before, is more self-government. Most Catalans don’t feel they have enough control over their own affairs. But most don’t really want to break away either. It’s only if they are forced to choose between the status quo and secession that the population splits down the middle.

Unfortunately, more autonomy is out of the question for the current Spanish government. Mariano Rajoy, the prime minister, won’t even negotiate with the Catalans.

The longer this impasse lasts, I warn, the more the extremes will benefit.

The liberal Citizens, who take a harder line against the independence movement, are stealing voters from Rajoy. Radical separatists in Catalonia are growing at the expense of pragmatists. Rajoy may come to regret not talking with reasonable separatist leaders when he had the chance. Read more

American Right Loses Its Mind, Catalans Escalate Legal Fight

Radio and television host Sean Hannity speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 27, 2015
Radio and television host Sean Hannity speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 27, 2015 (Gage Skidmore)

Mocking a survivor of the Parkland, Florida school shooting for failing to get into several colleges. Calling Robert Mueller the head of a crime family. Comparing the FBI to the Gestapo. Leading with a story about sex-crazed pandas on the day President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, is served a search warrant by the FBI.

Fox News is losing its mind.

The reasons are obvious:

  • Republicans are expected to lose badly in November’s midterm elections.
  • Robert Mueller is closing in on the president, with a report on his attempts to obstruct justice expected as early as next month.
  • James Comey, whom Trump fired from the FBI when he refused to protect the president from the Russia investigation, has a book out on Tuesday. Politico has its main takeaways.

It’s easy to dismiss Fox’s antics, but remember: there are millions of Americans who watch — and only watch — this channel, including the president. They don’t know any better. Read more

Legalistic Spain Criticizes Legalistic Germany

Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy is greeted by German chancellor Angela Merkel at the G20 summit in Hamburg, July 7, 2017
Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy is greeted by German chancellor Angela Merkel at the G20 summit in Hamburg, July 7, 2017 (Bundesregierung)

Throughout the Catalan independence crisis, the Spanish government of Mariano Rajoy has taken a legalistic approach. It rejected a referendum in October, arguing it was impossible under Spanish law. When the region voted anyway, Rajoy let prosecutors and judges go after the leaders of the independence movement, never once proposing to meet for negotiations, much less to hash out a compromise.

Now the same government is criticizing Germany for allowing the legal process to play out in the case of former Catalan president — and fugitive from Spanish justice — Carles Puigdemont. Read more

France Eyes Non-EU Military Force, Trump Governs by Bluffing

Presidents Donald Trump of the United States and Emmanuel Macron of France inspect an honor guard in Paris, July 13, 2017
Presidents Donald Trump of the United States and Emmanuel Macron of France inspect an honor guard in Paris, July 13, 2017 (White House/Shealah Craighead)

Reuters reports that France is looking to create a European military crisis force outside the EU, so the United Kingdom can participate.

The idea aims to bring together European countries with a military capacity and political desire to collaborate on planning, carry out joint analyses of emerging crises and to react to them quickly.

Almost all EU countries have committed to deepening military integration inside the union as well under the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO).

All of this, of course, is happening against the backdrop of America’s withdrawal from Europe under Donald Trump. Read more

Germany Approves Russian Pipeline, Five Stars Call for Deal with League

Russian president Vladimir Putin speaks with German chancellor Angela Merkel in Moscow, May 10, 2015
Russian president Vladimir Putin speaks with German chancellor Angela Merkel in Moscow, May 10, 2015 (Presidential Press and Information Office)

German regulators have approved the completion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which would help Russia bypass Ukraine and its other former satellite states in Eastern Europe.

Germany and the Netherlands, the two main beneficiaries of the pipeline, are virtually isolated in Europe in their support for it.

Nord Stream 2 would double the capacity of the existing Baltic Sea pipeline, but it makes no economic sense. Russia uses perhaps 60 percent of its existing pipeline capacity. The only reason for adding a connection is that Russia wants to be able to blackmail Ukraine without interrupting its gas supply to the rest of Europe.

Regulators in Denmark, Finland and Sweden still need to sign off on the project. Read more

Spain Should Negotiate with Puigdemont, France Didn’t Start the Fire

Catalan president Carles Puigdemont delivers a televised address from the regional government palace in Barcelona, Spain, March 23, 2016
Catalan president Carles Puigdemont delivers a televised address from the regional government palace in Barcelona, Spain, March 23, 2016 (Generalitat de Catalunya/Jordi Bedmar)

In my latest op-ed for the Netherlands’ NRC newspaper, I argue Spain should negotiate with Carles Puigdemont rather than put the former Catalan president in jail.

Puigdemont was arrested in Germany this weekend on his way back to Belgium from a conference in Finland. He is likely to be extradited.

The numbers two and three of his party, Together for Catalonia, are already in jail. So is the leader of the second-largest independence party, the Republican Left. Its deputy leader has fled to Switzerland.

At this rate, there won’t be anyone left to form a new government in the region, however, Spain cannot restore home rule so long as there isn’t one. It suspended Catalonia’s autonomy after Puigdemont declared independence in October.

To break the gridlock, I argue that Spain, being the strongest party in the conflict, must take the first step: offer increased autonomy for Catalonia and a referendum, not on independence, but on a revised autonomy statute. That way, Spain would no longer have to fear secession and the Catalans would feel they are masters of their own fate.

Unfortunately, such a compromise is unacceptable to Spain’s ruling People’s Party as well as Catalan hardliners.

English speakers may be interested in my Atlantic Sentinel editorial from December: A Third Way for Catalonia. Read more

Trump on the Warpath, Puigdemont Arrested in Germany

American president Donald Trump arrives at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, February 1
American president Donald Trump arrives at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, February 1 (USAF/Robert Cloys)

Donald Trump’s personnel shakeup is deeply troubling, argues Andrew Sullivan in New York magazine — especially the firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, “two individuals who simply couldn’t capitulate to the demand that they obey only Trump, rather than the country as well.”

Tillerson is being replaced by CIA director Mike Pompeo, “a man whose hatred of Islam is only matched by his sympathy for waterboarders.”

H.R. McMaster is being replaced as national security advisor by John Bolton, whose agenda, as Fred Kaplan puts it in Slate, is not “peace through strength,” but regime change through war.

Gary Cohn is being replaced as chief economic advisor by Larry Kudlow: according to Sullivan, “a sane person followed by a delusional maniac Trump sees on Fox.”

The State Department, indeed, the entire diplomatic apparatus, has, it seems, been replaced by Jared Kushner, “a corrupt enthusiast for West Bank settlements who no longer has a security clearance.”

Not only do the changes suggest Trump is preparing to fire Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election; they also hint at a future war with Iran.

Everything we know about Trump’s character tells us that war is the only aspect of foreign relations he understands:

He cannot exist as an equal party in an international system. He has to dominate other countries the way he does other human beings.

Read more