Barcelona and Madrid Are on a Collision Course

View of the Columbus Monument in Barcelona, Spain
View of the Columbus Monument in Barcelona, Spain (Unsplash/Benjamin Voros)

Since Catalonia’s regional government announced it plans to hold an independence referendum in September, tensions with the central government in Madrid have been rising:

  • Catalan leaders have said they would declare independence within 48 hours of a vote to break away from Spain, regardless of turnout.
  • Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy has dismissed the plan as an “authoritarian delusion”.
  • Defense Minister María Dolores de Cospedal has warned that the armed forces are tasked not only with “protecting the values of democracy and the Constitution, but also the integrity and sovereignty” of Spain.
  • Spain’s Constitutional Court has blocked the €5.8 million the Catalan government had set aside to pay for the referendum.
  • Catalonia is in the process of separating its tax agency from Spain’s in case the region does decide to secede. Read more

Europe, Japan Send “Strong Signal” with Trade Deal

Japanese prime minister Shinzō Abe, European Council president Donald Tusk and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker pose for photos in Brussels, March 21, 2017
Japanese prime minister Shinzō Abe, European Council president Donald Tusk and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker pose for photos in Brussels, March 21, 2017 (European Commission)

European and Japanese leaders have announced a landmark trade agreement on the eve of the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, where America’s president, Donald Trump, is expected to press his case for protectionism.

The treaty has yet to be finalized. A summit in Brussels was hastily arranged to “send a strong signal,” as the EU’s trade commissioner, Cecilia Malmström, put it earlier this week.

“We believe we should not build walls or raise protectionism,” she said. Read more

British Conservatives Split Into Three After Election Defeat

British prime minister Theresa May delivers a news conference together with Carwyn Jones, the first minister of Wales, in Swansea, March 20
British prime minister Theresa May delivers a news conference together with Carwyn Jones, the first minister of Wales, in Swansea, March 20 (The Prime Minister’s Office/Jay Allen)

Brexit, last month’s lousy election result and Theresa May’s deal with the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland to stay in power have divided Britain’s Conservatives into three camps, writes Matthew d’Ancona in The Guardian:

  1. Ideologues: Worshippers of Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek and Ayn Rand who believe the Thatcherite revolution is unfinished. “Like all millenarian cults, they take for granted the manifest truth of their arguments and were offended by the supposed left-wing content of May’s manifesto.”
  2. Explainers: They blame the party’s disappointing election result not on principles or priorities but on communication and strategy. They are right to an extent, according to d’Ancona: “distracted by Brexit and corrupted by a sense of entitlement, the Tories must recover the art of communication and elucidation.”
  3. Adapters: Modernizers who do believe the party needs to change its policies. “They understand that the world is changing at an unprecedented pace and that the old solutions are running out of road. In a century of automation, globalization, new forms of inequality and shifting assumptions about the role of the state, it isn’t enough for Conservatives to sound like a retro 80s show.” Read more

Merkel’s Plan Strong on Taxes and Spending, Disappointing on Migration

Bavarian prime minister Horst Seehofer speaks with German chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, September 28, 2015
Bavarian prime minister Horst Seehofer speaks with German chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, September 28, 2015 (Bundesregierung)

German chancellor Angela Merkel’s party promises long-overdue investments in its election manifesto, but a plan for attracting high-skilled migrants is unconvincing.

The Christian Democrats, who are projected to win the most votes in September’s election, pledge to sustain recent increases in spending on digitalization and infrastructure and raise spending on research and development from 3 to 3.5 percent of the economy.

German public investment has languished for years as the Christian Democrats prioritized deficit reduction. The Dutch and Swedes invest twice as much in everything from electricity grids to roads. Read more

Dutch Seek New Role for Themselves in Europe of Brexit and Macron

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte gives a speech to leaders of the Baltic nations, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Luxembourg and Sweden in The Hague, June 21
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte gives a speech to leaders of the Baltic nations, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Luxembourg and Sweden in The Hague, June 21 (Presidency of Lithuania/Robertas Dačkus)

Brexit and a reinvigorated Franco-German partnership have caused the Dutch to seek a new role for themselves in Europe.

For years, the trading nation could rely on the United Kingdom to provide a counterweight to the Mediterranean bloc and its protectionist tendencies. Now the fear in The Hague is that Britain’s exit from the EU will lead to a renewed focus on political, as opposed to economic, integration. Read more

Sánchez Makes Good on Promise to Move Spain’s Socialists to the Left

Spanish party leaders Pedro Sánchez and Pablo Iglesias meet in Madrid, February 5, 2016
Spanish party leaders Pedro Sánchez and Pablo Iglesias meet in Madrid, February 5, 2016 (PSOE)

Pedro Sánchez is making good on his promise to move Spain’s Socialist Party to the left.

In the clearest sign yet of a new program, the Socialists refused to vote for a European trade pact with Canada in the national legislature last week.

Their deputies in the European Parliament did endorse the treaty when it came up for a vote there in February.

The ruling conservatives managed to ratify the treaty anyway with support from smaller parties in the center. But the Socialists’ abstention is a sign of things to come. Read more

Accusations of “Imperial” Macron Are Over the Top

French president Emmanuel Macron gives a news conference in Brussels, June 23
French president Emmanuel Macron gives a news conference in Brussels, June 23 (Facebook)

Emmanuel Macron has come under criticism for creating an “imperial” or “Jupiterian” presidency in France.

A speech in Versailles today, in which he is due to brief lawmakers on his agenda, is the latest example.

The French don’t have a “state of union” tradition. Macron’s predecessor, François Hollande, only assembled a joint session of parliament once and that was after the 2015 terrorist attacks.

The setting — the palace of Sun King Louis XIV — lends credence to the accusations against Macron, but this is unfair. Joint sessions of parliament always gather in Versailles, simply because neither the National Assembly nor the Senate can seat so many lawmakers. Read more