Marindo de Medici: The not so united states of Europe

By Marino de Medici

Many Americans have become Euro skeptics. A more charitable description would be that they are puzzled by what they see in contemporary Europe.

The threat of separation by Scotland from the United Kingdom has been lifted and not just the queen and the British government, but the European authorities themselves have heaved a great sigh of relief.

The powers that be in Brussels were quite concerned by the possibility of a domino effect in those regions that are smitten by the allure of independence. No sooner was the
vote in Scotland settled (for a while, at least), Catalonia set the date in November for a referendum on its independence from Spain. The Madrid government termed it illegal but the leaders in Catalonia announced their intention to push ahead with the referendum to allow the citizens of the region “to exercise their right to vote.” They are 7.5 million and represent 16 percent of the population of Spain. Most importantly, Catalonia is the richest and most industrialized region.

Realistically, the separation from Spain would be difficult to accomplish and would not create a new member of the European Union. And yet, a victory for the separatists in the referendum would create a dangerous aftershock with reverberating consequences in the continent. Just like the separatists in Scotland, the independent-minded Catalans could claim that “nothing will ever be like before.”

The push toward independence among populations of different European countries is a contradictory if not paradoxical phenomenon. The case of Scotland is a good example insofar the very people in Britain who pleaded with the Scots not to secede, with some quarters even threatening their brothers in the North, are also the ones who are agitating for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. Prime Minister Cameron is cleverly
disguising his moves but many in Europe are convinced that he is bound and determined to cut the political moorings with the continent. Not surprisingly, those Scots who were battling for the secession from the British Crown were using the very arguments of those Tories who are advocating separation from the European Union.

Political analysts may point out, not without good reason, that the turmoil in Scotland, as well that of Catalonia, must be seen in a national context with no relevance to the European cause. And while it is true that the present leadership in Brussels is proving to be unable to develop a farsighted and unitary program to further the social and economic development of the union, a deep grounded belief among the majority of the Europeans is that being united and working together is better than going it alone in a fragmented world.

Giving up part of the national independence has an important counterweight in the broad based economic development. And not just in the economic realm. One can only think of the advantages of European Union’s regulations that have forced the modernization and compatibility of economic, health and technological sectors throughout the continent. In short, interdependence is far from productive than independence. In historical terms, this was the cement that built the United States of America.

Europe will never be the United States of Europe, even though there are common institutions and more to the point, a common currency that technically binds the European nations together. Thus, a certain degree of skepticism is justified.

To be sure, the European monetary union will stand for many reasons, including the fact that the world needs the European currency to balance the dollar. On the other hand, Europeans will have to decide what is the best foundation for their unity and the answer to that question will have to be a political one. Nevertheless, it is obvious that much of the desire to find a political way ahead depends on the evolution of the economy in the continent, especially in those nations that are not wholly convinced of the utilitarian idea of a common political system.

The future of Europe cannot be built on a zero sum game between the contrasting views of the merits and demerits of belonging to an economic union. Old cultural reasons should be balanced with new needs and demands of the young generation. Until and unless the Scots, the Catalans and other independence minded minorities don’t see themselves as Europeans with common interests, the centrifugal forces acting in those minorities will continue to exercise pressures that are damaging to the community at large. After
Scotland, Spain is the next proving ground.

Marino de Medici is a Winchester resident and formerly the dean of foreign correspondents in the United States.

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