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Catalonia declares independence: Spain dissolves Catalan parliament, sacks its president Puigdemont

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The Spanish political crisis unfolds along the expected lines. Reaction followed action. Power struggle in Spain is taking a new twist.

As Catalan leaders held an independence referendum, defying a ruling by the Constitutional Court which had declared it illegal, Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy has abruptly dissolved the Catalan parliament and calling snap local elections after MPs there voted to declare independence.

Rajoy has also fired Catalan leader President Carles Puigdemont and his cabinet. Rajoy also announced the sacking of the Catalan police chief. He said the unprecedented imposition of direct rule on Catalonia was essential to “recover normality”.

The head of the local police force has also been removed, Rajoy said, although whether the 17,000-strong Mossos d’Esquadra will take orders from Madrid remains to be seen. Catalan police chief Josep Lluis Trapero and two independence leaders were questioned by a judge in Madrid. They were not charged but the independence leaders were detained.

People of Catalonia have voted 1 October for independence.  The final results from the 1 October referendum in the wealthy north-eastern region suggested 90% of the 2.3 million people who voted had backed independence. Turnout was 43%. 90% were in favour of independence. Others boycotted the vote after the court ruling. A motion declaring independence was approved on Friday with 70 in favour, 10 against, and two abstentions in the 135-seat chamber. Several opposition MPs supporting the Madrid rule boycotted the vote.

Thousands celebrated the declaration of independence on the streets of Barcelona, Catalonia’s regional capital. As the outcome of the vote became clear, people popped open cava, the local sparkling wine. The same crowds that cheered each Yes vote from Catalan MPs were reportedly booing Rajoy as he made his announcement. There have been pro-unity demonstrations too, with protesters in Barcelona waving Spanish flags and denouncing Catalan independence.

In Madrid many people have begun flying the Spanish national flag from their windows and balconies, to show their support for keeping the country united. There is some sympathy for the Catalan cause, mostly because of the police crackdown during the referendum. But far louder are calls to prosecute those pushing for independence. It’s a move which many Spaniards, like their government, are convinced was illegal.

On Friday the Spanish Senate granted President Mariano Rajoy’s government the power to impose direct rule on Catalonia, and after an emergency cabinet meeting Rajoy spelled out what that would entail. “The president Carles Puigdemont had the opportunity to return to legality and to call elections,” he said. “It is what the majority of the Catalonian people asked for – but he didn’t want to do it. So the government of Spain is taking the necessary measures to return to legality.” Regional elections, including in Catalonia, arescheduled for 21 December.

After the 1 October referendum, Puigdemont signed a declaration of independence but delayed implementation to allow talks with the Spanish government. He ignored warnings by the Madrid government to cancel the move, prompting Rajoy to first announce his plans to remove Catalan leaders and impose direct rule.

Having been sacked by the federal government in Madrid, Puigdemont has urged supporters to “maintain the momentum” in a peaceful manner. Freedom seeking separatists say the move means they no longer fall under Spanish jurisdiction. But the Spanish Constitutional Court is likely to declare it illegal, while the EU, the USA, the UK, Germany and France all expressed support for Spanish unity.

Spain’s prime minister may have hoped warning Catalonia against declaring independence would be enough. Now that Catalonia has declared independence President Mariano Rajoy has to follow through on his pledge to impose direct rule, knowing this is highly risky. Mariano Rajoy argues that Catalan separatists left him no choice. He had to act, to return the region to “legality”, as Madrid puts it. But actually doing that will be complex and highly fraught. It’s why Rajoy called for calm in Spain, after the Catalan vote for independence. He is acting with broad, cross-party support though, and public backing.

Meanwhile Spanish prosecutors say they will file charges of “rebellion” against Puigdemont next week

Can Catalonia be a soverign nation?

Catalonia looks like it has already got many of the trappings of a state. A parliament, fags, an able leader Carles Puigdemont. The region has its own police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra. It has its own broadcast regulator, and even boasts a series of foreign “missions” – mini embassies that promote trade and investment in Catalonia around the world. Catalonia delivers some public services already – schools and healthcare, for example. There’d be much more to set up in the event of independence, though. Border control, customs, international relations, defence, central bank, Inland revenue, air traffic control, etc.. All of these are currently run by Madrid. There won’t be any problems for Catalonia to launch all these infrastructures.

Catalonia is certainly rich compared with other parts of Spain. It is home to just 16% of the Spanish population, but 19% of its GDP and more than a quarter of Spain’s foreign exports. It punches above its weight in terms of tourism too – 18 million of Spain’s 75 million tourists chose Catalonia as their primary destination last year, easily the most visited region.

In Spanish “Madrid nos roba” is a popular secessionist slogan – “Madrid is robbing us.” The received wisdom is that comparatively wealthy Catalonia pays in more than it gets out of the Spanish state.

Catalonia is one of Spain’s richest, most distinctive regions with a high degree of autonomy. But many Catalans feel they pay more to Madrid than they get back, and there are historical grievances, too, in particular Catalonia’s treatment under the dictatorship of General Franco. Catalans are divided on the question of independence – an opinion poll earlier this year said 41% were in favour and 49% were opposed to independence.

Carles Puigdemont assumed the office of President of Catalonia in January 2016.He leads the Catalan government. There are 12 ministers, with portfolios including education, health, culture, home affairs and welfare. The Catalan government employs 28,677 people, comprising civil servants and other staff.

Six parties are represented in Catalonia’s 135-seat regional parliament. Three of them are pro-independence. Elections were held on 27 September 2015 and “Together for Yes” (JxSí), a coalition of two parties and civic organisations, focused on achieving independence from Spain, won the largest number of seats – 62. It was short of an absolute majority and required support from the pro-independence, anti-capitalist Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), with 10 seats, to form the government.

The second largest party in the parliament, with 25 seats, is the liberal anti-nationalist Citizens-Party of the Citizenry (Cs). The Socialists’ Party of Catalonia (PSC-PSOE), with 16 seats, and the People’s Party of Catalonia (PPC), the Catalan affiliate of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s People’s Party, with 11 seats, also oppose independence. Catalonia Yes We Can (CSQP), a left wing-green coalition, which won 11 seats, is in favour of self-determination for the Catalan people.

The Catalan parliament, where separatist MPs make up the majority, officially declared independence while the Spanish Senate was meeting to discuss the issue in Madrid on 27 October. Catalan MPs opposed to independence boycotted the vote. The motion called for the transfer of legal power from Spain – a democratic monarchy – to an independent “republic of Catalonia”. That means they no longer recognize the Spanish constitution. Within hours, Madrid had responded.

Tarragona has one of Europe’s largest chemical hubs. Barcelona is one of the EU’s top 20 ports by weight of goods handled. About a third of the working population has some form of tertiary education. It’s also true that Catalans pay more in taxes than is spent on their region. In 2014, the last year the Spanish government has figures for, Catalans paid nearly €10bn (£8.9bn) more in taxes than reached their region in public spending. Would an independent Catalonia get the difference back?

Some have argued that even if Catalonia gained a tax boost from independence that might get swallowed up by having to create new public institutions and run them without the same economies of scale.

Perhaps of greater concern is Catalonia’s public debt. The Catalan government owes €77bn (£68bn) at the last count, or 35.4% of Catalonia’s GDP. Of that, €52bn is owed to the Spanish government. In 2012, the Spanish government set up a special fund to provide cash to the regions, who were unable to borrow money on the international markets after the financial crisis. Catalonia has been by far the biggest beneficiary of this scheme, taking €67bn since it began.

Not only would Catalonia lose access to that scheme, but it would raise the question of how much debt Catalonia would be willing to repay after independence. That question would surely cast a shadow over any negotiations. And on top of the sum owed by the regional government – would Madrid expect Barcelona to shoulder a share of the Spanish national debt?

Economic pressure could slow the process of cessation from Spain  Catalonia is a major economic factor now. It accounts for about a fifth of Spain’s economic output, but Catalonia also has a huge pile of debt and owes €52bn (£47bn; $61bn) to the Spanish government.

Even though Madrid has powerful economic levers, Catalonia is one of Spain’s wealthiest regions. On 5 October a business exodus from Catalonia began. The banks Caixa and Sabadell, along with several utility companies, decided to move their legal headquarters out of Catalonia. Spain has made it easier for businesses to leave and more than 1,600 companies have now copied the banks’ move.

Foreign affairs, the armed forces and fiscal policy are the sole responsibility of the Spanish government. The division of powers between the central government in Madrid and the regional government in Barcelona is not as clear-cut as it is in some other countries with devolved authorities such as Germany or the UK.

In the UK, for example, the government in Westminster cannot interfere in Scottish education policy because education is fully devolved. But in Spain, the Spanish constitution takes precedence if there is a clash with any region – something that the Catalan government resents.

Is there still room for compromise?

Not exactly, and neither side appears in the mood for it now.  Puigdemont urged international mediation – but there is no sign of that, as Madrid does not want it. The EU – traditionally wary of secessionist movements – sees the crisis as an internal matter for Spain.

In practice, for any region it is very hard to achieve independence under international law. Kosovo discovered that – even though it had a strong case on human rights grounds.

Amid speculation that the Catalan parliament might unilaterally declare independence, some of the region’s banks decided to move their legal headquarters to other parts of Spain. Meanwhile, the government in Madrid says any such declaration would have no effect.

The independence movement was galvanized by a 2010 Spanish Constitutional Court ruling which many Catalans saw as a humiliation. The Spanish government could still make a gesture to appease Catalan separatists and calm the situation. That ruling struck down some key parts of Catalonia’s 2006 autonomy statute. The court refused to recognize Catalonia as a nation within Spain; ruled that the Catalan language should not take precedence over Spanish in the region; and overruled measures giving Catalonia more financial autonomy.

The court acted after Rajoy’s Popular Party asked it to. Now, to defuse this crisis, Madrid could reinstate the elements of autonomy that were taken from Catalonia.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy held a press conference, declaring the rule of law would be restored in Catalonia and announcing Madrid was assuming direct control of the region. He also said the Catalan President Carles Puigdemont and his cabinet had been dismissed, while a snap election has been called for the region on 21 December.

Spain’s Senate had already voted to trigger Article 155 of the 1978 constitution – for the first time in Spanish history. It enables Madrid to suspend Catalonia’s autonomy.

Spain’s Constitutional Court is expected to rule the Catalan independence declaration illegal. The court had already outlawed the vote itself, which took place on 1 October. It is not clear how quickly or effectively Spain can reassert central control over Catalonia. But Article 155 gives the Madrid government authority to act immediately.

As Catalans are deeply divided over independence, Madrid can expect some significant support for its actions in the region. The conservative Rajoy government has the backing of the opposition Socialists (PSOE) in this crisis.

There was widespread anger over the tough methods of Spanish police on polling day. There was video of them dragging some voters away from ballot boxes and hitting them with batons. The volatile atmosphere in Barcelona could explode if Spain adopts such strong-arm tactics to impose its will now.

Catalexit?

The economic uncertainty created by the prospect of independence has already led to two banks deciding to move their head offices out of the region. At least part of that uncertainty is over Catalonia’s relationship with Europe. Two-thirds of Catalonia’s foreign exports go to the EU. It would need to reapply to become a member if it seceded from Spain – it wouldn’t get in automatically or immediately. And it would require all EU members to agree – including Spain.

Some in the pro-independence camp feel that Catalonia could settle for single-market membership without joining the EU. Catalans may well be happy to pay for access, and continue to accept free movement of EU citizens across the region’s borders. But if Spain chose to, it could make life difficult for an independent Catalonia.

There is also the question of currency. In 2015, the governor of the Bank of Spain warned Catalans independence would cause the region to drop out of the euro automatically, losing access to the European Central Bank.

Normally, new EU member states must apply to join the euro.

They have to meet certain criteria, such as their debt not being too large a percentage of their gross domestic product (GDP). Even if they meet those criteria, a qualified majority of eurozone countries has to approve their entry. In theory, that means even if Catalonia became a new EU member state, it may well take time to rejoin the eurozone – and Spain and its allies could block that. In practice, we just don’t know what would happen.

Nobody has ever declared independence from a member of the eurozone then asked to rejoin as a new country. Could Catalonia use the euro without joining the eurozone? It does happen.

Some countries such as San Marino and Vatican City do so with the euro zone’s blessing, since they’re too small to ever become EU member states. Others, such as Kosovo and Montenegro, use the euro without the EU’s blessing, and so don’t have access to the European Central Bank. Again, whether either solution would be practical in Catalonia remains to be seen.

Observation

It is the biggest political crisis in Spain for 40 years. Nothing has been seen like it since the end of General Franco’s dictatorship. The disputed Catalan independence referendum on 1 October was the trigger, but mutual hostility had been brewing for years. So how could events unfold in Catalonia now?

Parliament in Catalonia has declared independence while the Spanish senate has approved a government proposal to reassert control over the region after its disputed independence referendum. After dismissing the Catalan government and president, The Spanish government put its national media company and police force under the control of Madrid, .

Spain is divided into 17 regions, each with directly elected authorities. Catalonia, in the north-east of the country, has one of the greatest levels of self-government in Spain. It has its own parliament, government and president, police force and public broadcaster.

Catalans have a range of powers in many policy areas from culture and environment to communications, transportation, commerce and public safety.

Spain could opt for incremental steps to suspend Catalonia’s autonomous powers, to avoid a huge backlash. The constitution does not specify a time frame for “temporary” direct rule.

With tensions so high it is likely that the separatists will organize strikes, boycotts and more mass rallies in response to Madrid’s actions. Their aim will be to put pressure on Madrid to negotiate.

Now that the region would eventually secede, the world focus is concentrated on whether Catalonia would be able to stand on its own two feet. None has rejected the scenario that Catalonia would be able to be strong nation.

Hopefully Spain would adopt a neutral position to let Catalonia cede from it without nay bloodshed and further complications and become an independent nation to be eligible for entry into EU.

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How Can Parity Be More Proportional?

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International diplomats located in Bosnia-Herzegovina have recently launched an initiative requesting the Parliament of one of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s two entities, the Federation, to reconstitute its upper chamber, the House of Peoples, in line with „more proportional representation“. Yet, how can representation in the House of Peoples be more proportional, when already based on the principle of parity? Sounds absurd, doesn’t it? Representation can be based either on the principle of proportionality or on the principle of parity. When based on the principle of parity, it cannot possibly be more proportional. Moreover, such an initiative encroaches on the sovereign right of that very Parliament to constitute and reconstitute itself, without external interference.

Indeed, what does sovereignty mean in the present-day Bosnia-Herzegovina? In the rest of Europe it has been adopted, almost axiomatically, in the traditions of both Locke and Rousseau, that sovereignty is indivisible and inalienable. For, the will of the people, as the expression of sovereignty, can not be divided; otherwise, it ceases to be the will of the people and becomes a collection of individual wills and then the people can only be a collection of individuals. Also, sovereignty can not be alienated from its bearer: power may be transferred, but not will; it is impossible for any organ to exercise the sovereign will save the sovereign body itself. The state, as a state, can no more alienate its sovereignty than a man can alienate his will and remain a man. There is but one possible bearer of sovereignty, the people.

In Bosnia-Herzegovina, it has been accepted, no less axiomatically, in the tradition of its long-negotiated partition sponsored by international envoys, that this country’s sovereignty can easily be divided, alienated from its people as a whole and transferred to its constituent ethnic elements and then consumed by its three ethnic oligarchies in the form of unrestrained political power over the pieces of territory assigned to them in the process of partition. Actually, such a divided sovereignty is treated as transferred to these oligarchies and consumed in the form of their private property over the resources found on the given pieces of territory.

Thus, whereas sovereignty is elsewhere treated as generated by a contract signed by free individuals, who thereby constitute themselves as the people and sovereignty as their general free will, in Bosnia-Herzegovina sovereignty is treated as dissolved by a contract signed, under the auspices of international envoys, by its three major ethnic groups, renamed for that purpose as ‘constituent peoples’, who thereby construct only a provisional state structure with no declared or acting bearer of sovereignty. ‘Constituent peoples’ are perceived as the contractors who should presumably be represented on the basis of the principle of parity in the parliamentary institutions, on the levels of both state and its two ‘entities’ (Federation of BiH and Republika Srpska), and it is only their three wills that are taken into account, although even they are not treated as sovereign, either, but only as dependent on each other’s acquiescence.

Moreover, yet another part of the country’s divided sovereignty has been transferred to the so-called High Representative (a diplomat appointed by major international powers), whose will may reign supreme over particular wills of the oligarchies claiming to represent their respective ‘constituent peoples’. In this sense, as a part of the country’s Constitution, the High Representative comes closest to the notion of the sovereign, although in practice this person rarely exercises his will and imposes his decisions on the three oligarchies in question. Still, the position in the Constitution makes the High Representative irremovable from the country’s legal structure, in spite of the permanent efforts of the three ethnic oligarchies to eliminate this potential threat to their unrestrained power.

Yet, is such a multiple division and transfer of sovereignty truly a part of the Bosnian Constitution, or it is rather an arbitrary interpretation of the country’s constitutional structure by both foreign diplomats and local politicians? In the preamble of the country’s Constitution one can really find its sovereignty divided among several different categories, positioned as sovereignty’s bearers:

Bosniacs, Croats, and Serbs, as constituent peoples (along with Others), and citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina hereby determine that the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina is as follows.(The Dayton Peace Agreement, Annex 4, The Constitution of Bosnia-Herzegovina)

A similar formula can be found in the Washington Agreement (1994), which preceded the Dayton Peace Agreement (1995) and served as the basis for creation of the Federation of BiH, as one of Bosnia’s two entities:

Bosniacs and Croats, as constituent peoples (along with Others) and citizens of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, in the exercise of their sovereign rights, transform the internal structure of the territories with a majority of Bosniac and Croat population in the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina into a Federation, which is composed of federal units with equal rights and responsibilities.

Here sovereignty is divided between Bosniacs, Croats and others – whatever their ethnic identity or a lack of identity – and they are all treated as possessing a double identity,first as constituent peoples and then as citizens of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. For, the form ‘constituent peoples (along with others)’ presupposes that ‘others’ – whatever their ethnic identity or a lack of identity – are also to be treated as ‘constituent peoples’, along with Bosniacs and Croats. By analogy, Bosniacs, Croats, and Serbs, along with Others, are to be treated as both ‘constituent peoples’ and ‘citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina’ in the Dayton Peace Agreement’s Annex 4.But who can actually be proclaimed the bearer of sovereignty on the basis of these two constitutional acts?

Following the modern theories of sovereignty mentioned above, if sovereignty is to be regarded as indivisible and if, accordingly, there can be only one bearer, then the bearer must be the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina, acting as a whole. Then the ‘constituent peoples’ (Bosniacs, Croats, and Serbs, along with Others) are to be understood simply as the constituent elements of the whole, which cannot be treated as multiple bearers of sovereignty. And then the citizens may be represented in a unicameral parliament, founded on the principle of proportionality.

On the other hand, if we take sovereignty as divisible, the ‘constituent peoples’ maywell be regarded as its multiple bearers. Then, however, these ‘constituent peoples’ are not to be reduced only to Bosniacs, Croats and Serbs: the preambles used in both of these constitutional documents suggest that the category of Others is to be regarded as equal to the categories of Bosniacs, Croats and Serbs.

Constitution makers, obviously, had no clear answer to the question of sovereignty’s (in)divisibility in the case of Bosnia-Herzegovina: instead of a formulation that would follow the principle of sovereignty’s indivisibility (for example, „Bosniacs, Croats, and Serbs (along with Others) as citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina“), they introduced the ‘constituent peoples’ as parallel to the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina and thus proposed a form of shared sovereignty between the citizens and the ‘constituent peoples’. This shared sovereignty is reflected in the structure of the parliamentary institutions of Bosnia-Herzegovina and both of its entities: all the parliaments are bicameral, the lower chambers representing the citizens on the basis of election results in accordance with the principle of proportionality, and the upper chambers representing the ‘constituent peoples’ on the basis of the principle of parity.

Yet, even such relative consistency has ceased to exist in the practical implementation of these two principles. In the the upper chamber of the Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the House of Peoples, the principle of parity is applied only to representatives of Bosniacs, Croats and Serbs (each represented with 5 seats), while Others are totally absent, as if they do not exist in the Constitution’s preamble among ‘constituent peoples’, along with Bosniacs, Croats and Serbs. In the upper chamber of the Parliament of the Federation of BiH, the House of Peoples, the principle of parity is again applied only to representatives of Bosniacs, Croats and Serbs (each represented with 17 seats), while the number of representatives of Others is arbitrarily reduced to only 7 seats, as if Others are not to be found among ‘constituent peoples’ in the Constitution’s preamble, along with Bosniacs, Croats and Serbs, and as if the principle of parity can be applied selectively or in some reduced manner. Similarly, in the upper chamber of the Parliament of Republika Srpska, the Council of Peoples, parity is applied again only to Serbs, Bosniacs and Croats (each represented with 8 seats), while Others are represented with only 4 seats, as if they have not been put into the category of ‘constituent peoples’, along with Serbs, Bosniacs and Croats. In other words, even if we theoretically accept the possibility that sovereignty may be divided between the ‘constituent peoples’ and the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina, such shared sovereignty is in its constitutional implementation distorted to such an extent that only Bosniacs, Croats and Serbs are recognized as ‘constituent’, whereas Others are sometimes treated as partially constituent, with a reduced number of seats, and sometimes as non-constituent, that is, practically non-existent!

Obviously, when the principle of parity is applied in such a selective manner, it ceases to function as parity. Otherwise, Others would be represented in all these parliamentary institutions on the basis of parity, along with Bosniacs, Croats and Serbs. And then, it only means that Others have been permanently discriminated in the political reality of Bosnia-Herzegovina and that such a constitutional discrimination must be removed if the model of shared sovereignty is to be applied at all. If not, then full sovereignty must be given back to the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina, regardless of whether they link their identity to any of its ethnic groups or not. And that has to be reflected in the structure of all its parliamentary institutions: the Houses of Peoples should be abolished and the parliaments should then become unicameral, so that only the citizens would be represented in the Houses of Representatives, based on the principle of proportionality and the principle one person/one vote. Of course, for that purpose the country should get a new constitution, adopted by its own Constitutional Assembly, instead of the one tailored in such an inconsistent (and theoretically problematic) manner by foreign diplomats as a part of the international peace treaty.

However, the international diplomats calling for „more proportional representation“  obviously do not distinguish between, and directly mix up, the principle of proportionality and the principle of parity. They assume that the House of Peoples in the Parliament of the Federation of BiH is based on the principle of proportionality, and ask for more proportionality, although it is clear that parity is its sole founding principle. For, political representation can either be proportional, reflecting the proportion of actual votes for actual political parties and candidates, or it can be based on parity, reflecting the parity between the constituent elements of the entire constituency (presumably, of the country’s population as a whole). As already noted above, it is the principle of parity in the House of Peoples that has been violated by under-representation of Others: while Croats, Bosniacs and Serbs are all represented with 17 seats in this House, Others are represented with only 7 seats. Yet, the diplomats do not pay any attention to this violation of the constitutional principle of parity. Instead, they suggest the Parliament to adopt even „more proportional representation“ in its upper chamber (which, in practice, can only be over-representation of one of the groups already represented in line with the principle of parity), so as to even further undermine its founding principle of parity, already violated by the existing under-representation of Others!

Such a legal absurdity is certainly unsustainable and can only lead to the total dissolution of the existing constitutional order in Bosnia-Herzegovina, already distorted by the abandonment of the principle of indivisibility of sovereignty and further undermined by the selective implementation of the principle of parity in the parliaments’ upper chambers. This brings us to a crucial point: either the parliamentary structures in Bosnia-Herzegovina will follow the logic of this request, abolish the existing provisional constitutional order and leave the country without any constitutional order whatsoever, or they will abolish this constitutional order and establish a non-provisional one, based on the principle of sovereignty’s indivisibility, reflected in a unicameral parliament, representing only the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina as a whole, regardless of their ethnic identity or a lack of it.

It is up to the parliamentarians. They may follow the principle of sovereignty as applied in the rest of the European countries, or obey the diplomats’ request, whatever the price for the country’s constitutional order. As for the diplomats, whoever they are, one should finally ask whether they would ever apply in their own countries any of the models they advocate for Bosnia.

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Do Angela Merkel and Germany have a joint future?

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Many foreign media and even some German media people reported during the endless appearing process for finding a coalition 2017/2018 about a “governmental crisis”. This mostly due to the lack of knowledge these coalition talks being a defined process despite taking unusually long. Germany sure wasn’t able to take major decisions hurting especially Emmanuel Macron and his affair of the heart: the renovation of Europe. On the topics Europe and Foreign Policy, Germany steps on the brakes for many years now, therefore the result remains the same – little or nothing happens anyway.

The new German government is in operation since a few weeks now but there is trouble brewing afoot in Berlin. Unexpectedly, the right wing AfD is pretty quiet at the time.

The CSU remains the arsonist

Those who have hoped the CSU (the Bavarian sister party to the CDU of Angela Merkel) will concentrate on governing the country after the forming of the government are utterly wrong. With the elections ahead in Bavaria, Horst Seehofer wanted to gather his voters and attract those who have left CSU for the AfD with the powerful comment “The Islam does not belong to Germany”. He even doubled within this context by adding “People of Muslim Belief belong to our country”. Just like one could take his belief and values off before going out on the streets. It certainly appears Horst Seehofer is able to abandon his belief and Christian values scarifying them to preserve his own power.

If you look into the history of Europe and Germany – and therefore Bavaria – you soon will discover Horst Seehofer wants to make the pure opposite of history to become reality. Whether by ignorance or on purpose is hard to determine, however based on facts the Bavarian Blusterer simply is wrong – “fake news” might the right term. During the early Middle Age Arabs and the academic people from their countries brought an enormous amount of knowledge to the backwardly European countries. People actually have to thank the Muslims for the following flourishing or Europe. They benefitted from countless innovative products and a vast knowledge transfer from the Occident into the countless by monarchs oppressed, socially underdeveloped and by a faint educational system inhibited countries of Europe. A startling detail: the majority of the academics originate from Chorasan – an expanded Afghanistan – and Iran, namely from the former intellectual stronghold Bagdad.

Angela Merkel took a clear position, criticised and rectified Horst Seehofers statement – who received it thin-skinned but did no longer make such unqualified statements.

Settlements within CDU still not finished

Angela Merkel has many areas with the need for improvement within her own party, too. While the Chancellor tries to convey she has understood the vote and is working on improvements her Health Minister Jens Spahn is backstabbing her. It took him just three appearances – perceived by the people concerned as big-headed and ice-cold calculated arrogance – to destroy Angela Merkels recently planted crop of hope. “Hartz IV does not mean poverty” was his first statement causing backlashes from many sources but also support by those who do not like governmental interventions (Hartz IV is the German unemployed support and welfare system introduced by the SPD in earlier times and a constant annoyance since it does not cover the rapidly increasing cost of life). With his second appearance Jens Spahn talked against the liberalisation of the abortion law unveiling his lack of knowledge and tact. Just a few days later he wanted to comply with his promise to create 8000 new jobs in health care and wanted to speed up the homologation of education certificates of nurses and doctors from other European countries. Again, the Health Minister unveiled he is unprepared since today it already is impossible to convince more than 1000 nurses from EU countries per year to come to Germany – also due to the questionable working conditions and much too low salaries in Germany.The situation is critical since many German nurses and doctors leave for better jobs in other countries like Switzerland. Based on these facts counting on foreign nurses and doctors seems to be questionable on two levels: these people leave a vacancy in their home countries and the problem in Germany becomes the burden of the foreign workers – the question is how long this can be done. Even more problematic is the continuous decrease of the quality in nursing which gradually becomes life-threatening, particularly with cheap foreign workers. Voices rise Jens Spahn is pulling wool on people’s eyes.

Even CDU exponents oppose the young politician and reveal there’s much to learn for Jens Spahn. At least, with his thoughtless, unemotional and erroneous appearances Jens Spahn is keeping all these issues prominently on top of the agenda of the Grand Coalition.However, the local CDU parties and the local party members have not yet understood the troubles of the German society, thus their ignorance could become a bigger problem than expected. The CNT Alliance visited some Kreisveranstaltungen (party gatherings) of the CDU in first semester of 2018 and discovered the mostly elderly party members are interested only in issues securing their own wealth. Other issueswere just briefly touched by the politicians on stage.

All this is a bit more than a tendency towards right. Like the strategy paper presented the group “WerteUnion” (Union of Values) beginning of April with lots of criticism for Angela Merkel. With this paper the opponents request a re-positioning of the CDU from the middle towards the right and fiercely oppose Angela Merkels refugee policy. Within this conservative manifesto they request the “return to the core values” of the CDU. The main part of the manifesto focusses on the Islam and migration. Again, it seems much easy for the authors of this manifesto to leave their Christian values behind (refugees) and putting them back in the centre of attention (Family) by demand. It doesn’t come as a surprise Jens Spahn sending a greeting to the approximately 100 people of this manifesto.

Interest to enthuse new members and to focus on younger people or migrants does not exist – in the contrary: our questions regarding rejuvenating the CDU or to include new members originating from foreign countries were quietly, but definitely opposed even with some discomfort. It seems Angela Merkel does not recognize the “Small AfD” among their own people – or she tolerates them on purpose.

Little fuss from the SPD

The partner in the coalition, the SPD, did not stir issues up after they’ve started governing. During the coalition negotiations the SPD has secured the Ministries of Finance, Justice and the Foreign Ministry besides others, much to the displeasure of those people in CDU and CSU who were keen on these jobs as well. With these ministries the SPD owns quite some power and the ability to steer the government: an excellent success for the negotiators of SPD.

At the other hand the SPD remains in a fuzzy situation not just within its own quest for identity. Several representatives of SPD do not find common ground regarding the welfare programme Hartz IV. Some people around vice president Ralf Steger for instance want to replace Hartz IV knowing the programme was introduced by the SPD but also is the reason for the downfall of the party. At the other hand, the Finance Minister Olaf Scholz wants to keep Hartz IV – since it is some kind of his own child from the time he worked for Chancellor Schröder, the facilitator of Hartz IV. The designated president of the party Andrea Nahles rarely shy of some “Kick-Ass”comments is very quit despite the discussion about Hartz IV and the job market being the opportunity for SPD to position itself clearly. She commented Jens Spahn’s intentional slip geared towards media with surprisingly soft voice, but straight into the face. Horst Seehofe and Jens Spahn are after the personal representation but missing out on their duties, and adds: “The primary job of the Chancellor is to sort out the act of government”.

Angela Merkel is flagging

Over the past years Angela Merkel became the symbol for political stability and predictability. She is popular in Germany and abroad but scratches in the paint become visible. Her political style is increasingly perceived as boring and leaden even by her own people. Usually, watched from distance she acts successfully and well balanced even for extensive problems. Angela Merkel is the chancellor of compromises and subtle but also of half-hearted decisions and stalling in front of complex problems. This works fine at the moment since economy runs excellent and tax revenues are on a steady high – both causing additional problems which she isn’t regulating. This stability increasingly is perceived as stagnancy which it actually is e.g. if looked at the Digital Offensive launched by the government many years too late.

Along with a certain fatigue in society towards Angela Merkel – a phenomenon previous chancellor Kohl encountered too – and her style the many postponed “building lots” become visible. Media often simplify the situation and explain the fatigue towards Angela Merkel merely with her misjudgment in the situation with the refugees and her catastrophic and negligent management of this issue. This, however, is just a small part of the real reasons for the poor results of the elections and the steep head wind Angela Merkel is facing. It is the combination of various diverse issues such as the state of emergency in nursing, poverty among the elderly, housing shortage, low wages and this in combination with contemptuousness and ignoring several population groups, particularly those at the far right of the political spectrum. The situation with the refugees therefore is just one part of the picture – but one people easily can discharge their hate and anger. Also because of the right wing party AfD right wing ideas and right wing protesting became “En Vogue” – even the voters of CDU/CSU are going towards the right. In this climate the uprising hostility against the Jews in the German society and the anti-Semitic activities of the past month are not unexpected. The internal policy of Angela Merkel was meant to be visionary and creative but it looks more like uncertain, delayed, reactive, and unveils many large problem.

Rumble at the right

The “old” parties still underestimate the right wing AfD. The equally underestimate the potential of right wing populism and the count of German citizen having conservative/right wing thoughts – even within CDU and CSU. For example, much disregarded by politics the right wing union “Zentrum Automobil” gained six mandates during the last works committee elections in March 2018 at the Daimler (Mercedes) plant in Untertürkheim (Stuttgart) – with the result of 13.2% they achieved a similar result like the AfD during the election last year, the Bundestagswahlen. The “Forschungsgruppe Wahlen“ stated approximately 15% of the members of the politically social unions did voted for AfD instead for SPD during the last Bundestagswahlen. A result pretty much replicated during the works committee elections at Daimler.

The statements by some of the exponents of the works committee of the IG Metall union: right wing ideas today are little visible but are spread subliminal throughout the whole company and, therefore, it’s expected to see a further rise of the “Zentrum Automobil”. The confronted union IG Metall got us evasive responses only.It seems this issue is hushed up. Time will tell whether Angela Merkel tactics to sit such problem out are the successful tactics for the unions. Looking at the general tendency in the country towards the right we believe Angela Merkel and the unions both are playing with fire.

Some more foreign policy?

During the past Germany was known for a little consolidated, imprecise and often lacking foreign policy. Domestic policy always was more important and it still is. The country focuses on economic foreign policy driven by the industry and its lobbyists, and otherwise relies on symbolic policy geared towards the media.

This image could slightly change. One of the first official acts by Heiko Maas, the new foreign minister, was his visit to Israel. His predecessor Sigmar Gabriel several times acted awkwardly and Angela Merkel didn’t want to become involved but Heiko Maas clearly, pragmatically and quietly put down some counterpoints.On top of it he clearly took position against the lighting up anti-Semitism.

Despite his appearances sometimes being perceived as nicely stage-made he did not make his own life easier since expectations are high now. The quick and friendly meet up with the French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian in Israel stirs up some hope Germany – after months of naval-gazing – finally will take over responsibility in Europe and the World. Moving from inactivity towards political creation with the friendly support by France.

The future of Angela Merkel

Foreign policy slowly picks up speed but Angela Merkel seems to have a hard time with her country. It no longer seems to be the Germany she knows. She seems to lose more ground contact the more she tries to understand the problems of society therefore losing more and more ground contact while facing fronts she has to fight. In the Bundestag CDU/CSU and SPD have to heavily deal with an number of parties, all of them having gained more than 5% of the votes. On top there is the AfD, the strongest party in the opposition owning an uncomfortable agenda – some of it even being attractive to her own party members.

With their vote for the Grand Coalition the SPD members have saved it and also saved the faces of SPD as well as the CDU/CSU. The SPD finds herself in a disruption and renovation process, even more so than the CDU. On top of it the parties of the opposition got stronger and this comes together with the incapability or the active reluctance of the governing parties to tackle the urging problems in the country in all consequence.

A forecast about the future of Angela Merkel and, therefore, of the German bipartisan system seems to be tricky. Though, the recent Grand Coalition steers towards the end of the factual bipartisan system in Germany. And people in Germany will be even more discontent for the next elections in 2021.The question how CDU/CSU and SPD will score is eligible. And whether the right wing AfD will establish itself as the third constant in the party landscape. The other question is whether the other parties will see the signs. Some media are singing the swan song for Angela Merkel forgetting she is not for nothing the most powerful woman in this world. It will be interesting to see how she will cope with the erosion on several fronts. It is not the end of Angela Merkel but she and her party are showing heavy signs of wear.

*Ajmal Sohail contributed to this article

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Europe

Big mistake of EU against Washington

Mohammad Ghaderi

Published

on

The EU is still confused! The U.S. government’s actions in the field of foreign affairs and economics have not been accompanied by strong and strong reaction from the European Union.

This has led the U.S. President Donald Trump to continue his efforts to isolate Europe in the international system more quickly. Since the beginning of the Tramp presence in the White House, the movements of nationalist and extremist groups and opposition to the European Union have intensified. That same issue has put the EU in jeopardy. It is widely believed that the President of the United States supports the collapse of the European Union and the euro- zone. However, it seems that some European officials still do not understand the deterioration of the situation in this region!

The fact is that if the European Union does not take a decisive decision against the United States and its policies in the international system, it will have to see its fall in the international system and the return to the twentieth century in the near future.

During the World Economic Summit in Davos, the Chancellor of Germany and the President of France both gave a significant warning about the return of nationalism and populism to Europe. This warning has been sent in a time when Far-Right movements in Europe have been able to gain unbelievable power and even seek to conquer a majority of parliaments and form governments.

In her speech, Angela Merkel emphasized that the twentieth century’s mistake shouldn’t be repeated. By this, the German Chancellor meant the tendency of European countries to nationalism. Although the German Chancellor warning was serious and necessary, the warning seems to be a little late. Perhaps it would have been better if the warning was forwarded after the European Parliamentary elections in 2014, and subsequently, more practical and deterrent measures were designed.However, Merkel and other European leaders ignored the representation of over a hundred right-wing extremist in the European Parliament in 2014 and merely saw it as a kind of social excitement.

This social excitement has now become a “political demand” in the West. The dissatisfaction of European citizens with their governments has caused them to explicitly demand the return to the twentieth century and the time before the formation of the United Europe.

But it seems that one of the issues that European leaders have not understood is the role of the United States in the process of destroying the European Union. This role is so high that few have the power to deny it: from the U.S. economic war with Europe to the direct support of the White House from nationalist groups in Europe. However, some European politicians still try to look at optimism about U.S. behaviors. Without doubt, this optimism will in the future lead to the destruction of the European Union.

Speaking at the Davos summit (2017), “Emanuel Macron” the French President warned of the victory of nationalists and extremists in Europe and said:

“In my country, if I do not make sense of this globalisation then in five, 10, 15 years time it will be the nationalists, the extremes which win — and this will be true of every country.”

The commonality of Merkel’s and Macron’s remarks is their concern about the return of European citizens to nationalism. As noted, this process has intensified in Europe. The extremist party of Freedom found way to the Austrian coalition government, and the increase in radical far-right votes in countries like France, Sweden and Germany, is a serious crisis in Europe. The recent warnings by the German Chancellor and the French President should therefore be seriously analyzed and evaluated.

But the main question is whether the French President and German Chancellor are aware of their great mistakes in the United States and the Trump government? Do they still ignore the White House’s role in strengthening extremist groups in the European Union? What is certain is that it is possible for Merkel and Macron to realize their deep mistakes over the Trump government that there is no longer a way to save the European Union.

First published in our partner Tehran Times

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