Three Ways Catalonia Could Destroy the EU
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Catalonia exploded onto the news over the weekend—before being superseded by the dramatic events in Las Vegas.
The latter story is certainly tragic and important. But don’t lose sight of what just happened in Catalonia.
On Sunday, Catalonia held an independence referendum. Spain’s central government and judiciary deemed the vote illegal, and so they tried to stop it by force. Federal police streamed into the region. Nearly a thousand were injured as police fired rubber bullets on the crowds of people that wanted to vote. Catalan state law outlaws the use of rubber bullets.
Catalonia’s regional president said he would declare independence within days.
For the European Union, “a remote threat has mushroomed suddenly into an existential crisis,” wrote the Telegraph’s Ambrose Evans-Pritchard. “Catalonia’s referendum is an existential threat to Spain as we know it,” wrote Jacob Shapiro for Geopolitical Futures.
The Catalonian situation directly threatens the existence of the EU as we know it.
Catalonia is Spain’s richest province. If the two split in anger, Spain could plunge back into economic crisis. Such a crisis could easily resurrect the euro crisis—at a time when German politics are paralyzed.
But there are less immediate and more pernicious threats too. The Catalonia crisis exposes the hypocrisy of the European Commission and the governing authorities of the EU as a whole.
The EU claims to be a paragon of respect for human rights. Yet consider the situation it is in now. The Polish government was elected on a platform of bringing state institutions—such as judiciary and state tv—out of the control of the political left. The European Commission is screaming blue murder and attempting to strip Poland of its voting rights and cut off its access to European funds.
Yet in Spain, a government genuinely flouts the rule of law and cracks down on its own citizens, and the Commission is silent. I’m not taking sides in Catalonia’s independence debate. As the European Council on Foreign Relations points out, there are causes of serious concern on the independence side. But you don’t need to choose a side to see the hypocrisy. A democratically elected government follows through on its promises to voters? An abomination—if that nation is Poland and the policies are not to the liking of the predominantly left-wing eurocrats. A government physically attacks voters? Fine—if that nation is Spain and criticizing it is politically difficult.
The Commission is worse than the boy who cried wolf. It doesn’t merely raise the alarm when no danger is around. It then ignores the wolf when it actually turns up. Just like that boy, the European Commission will find that fewer will pay attention to its pronouncements.
The third threat to Europe is the least immediate and more dangerous. The Catalonia referendum is a stirring of the most destructive force in Europe: nationalism.
The right of an ethnic group to determine its own destiny is enshrined in the United Nations charter. But by almost universal agreement, it does not apply to Europe. The principle of national self-determination has been at the core of the 20th century’s most violent conflicts.
The right of each ethnic group to decide its own destiny was one of the main principles behind the Treaty of Versailles after World War i. It sounds great in principle. In the realities of Europe, it was a disaster.
“[V]iolent ethnic nationalism … both dictated the nature of the Versailles settlement and ensured it would not work,” writes historian Paul Johnson in his book Modern Times. “[I]t was in Central and Eastern Europe that the violence and the racial antagonism which provoked it, were most acute, widespread and protracted. A score or more minor wars were fought there in the years 1919–22. They are poorly recorded in Western histories, but they left terrible scars … which contributed directly to the chronic instability in Europe between the wars. The Versailles Treaty, in seeking to embody the principles of self-determination, actually created more, not fewer, minorities, and much angrier ones (many were German or Hungarian), armed with far more genuine grievances. … Every country was landed with either an anguished grievance or an insuperable internal problem.”
These problems and grievances provoked what Johnson and his fellow historian Fritz Stern call a “Thirty Years’ War,” beginning in 1914 and culminating in the most violent clash the world has ever seen.
It’s no wonder that after World War ii, self-determination was deemed a poor foundation for modern Europe. So a new convention was established. The borders were set and they were to be left alone. They would not be redrawn except by mutual consent. This left many ethnic minorities in other countries, but no one would support their claims for independence or separation for fear of collapsing the entire system on their own heads.
But this system has already come under attack. Germany helped redraw the borders of Yugoslavia. Berlin hoped it would be a one off, not a precedent. Then Russia redrew the borders of Georgia and Ukraine. “Europe’s borders have been in flux for some time,” warned Stratfor back in 2015. “That is indeed a matter of concern; historically, unsettled borders in Europe are precursors to war, as we have seen in Yugoslavia, the Caucasus and now Ukraine.”
There are Hungarians living in Romania, many of whom would rather live in Hungary. There are ethnic Germans in Poland, ethnic Russians in the Baltic states. Dutch speakers want to break off from the rest of Belgium; even some Bavarians are not too keen on the idea of being part of Germany.
There is no way to resolve these easily. There are no clear-cut logical borders. You can carve out chunks of territory to form new states—but these news states will themselves contain minorities.
Nor is ethnic self-determination always the just course. The Soviet Union deliberately shipped large numbers of Russians into the Baltic states and shipped large numbers of the natives out. They aimed to create exactly these kinds of problems.
This is why the response from the EU as a whole, and from individual nations in Europe, has been so muted. Many nations are eyeing their own independence movements or large chunks of ethnic minorities. The last thing they want to do is encourage ethnic nationalism. In the end, this poses an existential threat not just to the EU, but to many of the nations within the Union.
A few weeks ago, Catalonia was just a small cloud on Europe’s horizon. Now it is a full-blown storm. But Catalonia is just one among many clouds. Many others have similar storm potential.
Which is why Europe in its current form cannot last. It is beset by crises, and will soon change. In December 2008, in the midst of the financial crisis, Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry wrote that crises would “force Europeans to succumb to a strong united government of Europe, led ultimately not from Brussels, but from Berlin.”
The Catalonia crisis is an existential threat to Europe. To survive, this is the direction they must move in.
In that article, Mr. Flurry concluded: “The crisis in Greece is a forerunner of a whole rash of similar crises set to soon break out across Europe. They will provide the catalyst for the EU’s leading nation, Germany, to rise to the fore with solutions of its own making. Biblical prophecy declares that the result will be a European superstate with Germany at the helm. And that is not good news for America, Britain and the little nation called Israel.”
This is exactly what we’re seeing. So watch Catalonia, but watch most of all for this reshaped European power. For more information on what this power will look like, read our free book The Holy Roman Empire in Prophecy.