Tag Archives: CoreEurope

End of an era and a start of another


The last few days of winter have been a whirlwind. Martin McGuinness resigned and forced new elections in Northern Ireland. Sinn Fein surged leading calls to reject Brexit and the threat of a hard border separating north and south. The idea of a united Ireland has surfaced once more.
Scottish leader, Nicola Sturgeon then stunned London with a call for a second independence referendum in the autumn of 2018. Brexit is not merely a divorce with Europe. It is breaking up Britain. On the same day, the 13th of March, Catalan leaders were punished by Spanish courts for holding a popular plebiscite in 2015.
The Basques then made an unexpected appearance in the middle of the French Presidential campaign. Social activists (the “artisans of peace“) announced that on the 8th of April, ETA would let the French authorities know the location of the remaining 85% of their arsenal of bombs and guns. In Madrid, Mariano Rajoy blustered. He offered no concessions, no new strategy not even a gesture of goodwill. As he has ever since ETA called a unilateral cessation of hostilities six years ago.
Then Martin McGuinness, one time Chief of Staff of the IRA, and a leading respected politician for four decades, passed away. Ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair, who had presided over the Good Friday Agreement, eulogised McGuiness. Ironically, this month is the 14th anniversary of the illegitimate Bush and Blair invasion of Iraq. Warmonger in Iraq. Peacemaker in Ireland. And almost one in the Basque Country.
Blair, via his adviser Jonathan Powell, was instrumental in the Basque peace process which effectively ended the six decade conflict. Curious connections abound.

Is Peace a problem for some?

Before the Basque pro-independence leader, Arnaldo Otegi, flew from Bilbao to Belfast and onto Bogside to pay his respects, he had asked the French and Spanish government to refrain from putting obstacles in the way of ETA’s disarmament. He explained that Madrid and Paris would take this definitive event badly. ETA for decades, had, after all, allowed both capitals to frame the Basque question solely in terms of violence. There could be no question of negotiation on Basque sovereignty while the conflict was in play.

Now mainstream politicians will have to adjust to a new era.
Belfast was meant to be the trailblazer for Bilbao and Vitoria (the seat of the Basque automous government). Unfortunately, Madrid and Paris have ignored London and Dublin’s lessons for bringing peace. Madrid, weakened by independence moves in Barcelona, is loathe to lose its narrative of ‘uniting Spain in the face of Basque terror’.
Ending a war leads to the obvious next step of the early release of prisoners, as happened in Ireland. This is not on the cards in Spain. Nor the transfer of prisoners to the Basque region to reduce the current dispersion hundreds of kilometers away. Nor a comprehensive series of acts of reconciliation of all the victims, on all sides. The wounds are not being allowed to heal.

The road to Barcelona and Berlin
The emerging story north of the Ebro is no longer to be complicated by the distraction of ETA. It becomes a simpler one of self proclaimed nations negotiating with Madrid about the status of their relationship with Spain, south of the Ebro. On Al Jazeera this week, Irish writer Paddy Woodworth commented that the Basque Country without ETA would be a ‘nightmare for Madrid’.
Clearly, by summer 2017 as Catalonia gears up for a unilateral referendum, the Basque independence movement will hope to piggyback with its own demand for the right to decide.
The options will be between deeper autonomy and outright independence. Most likely will be a move to unilateral referenda. And a constituonal crisis. The Basques seem to be a decade behind the Scots and Catalans. This seems to be acknowledged by independence political groups slating 2026 as the year of independence for a Basque republic. In a joint public meetig with Catalonia’s Artur Más, a former Basque centre-right leader, Juan José Ibarretxe, envisaged 2030 as a goal. They might all want to refrain from setting dates. Things are moving much faster in Western Europe.
On a European scale, Caledonia and Catalonia are now virtually working in parallel. From north and south, they are talking to Berlin.Berlin is sending out supportive coded signals to Edinburgh that it would facilitate a smooth accession for Scotland into the EU. It cannot be seen to do the same to Catalonia.
The zeitgeist has suddenly become a Multi-speed EU. In a recent summit, Rajoy voiced his support for this project. As leader of the EU’s fourth largest economy. The dirty little secret is that without Catalonia, the rest of Spain becomes like Italy south of the Rubicon. It would have to be demoted to a slower second division.
The critical factor is Spain’s continuing economic weakness. A rise in exports is coming as usual mainly from the Basques and Catalans. Recent domestic growth is almost entirely due to Quantitative Easing or money printing from the ECB as well as the €100,000 M bailout of Spanish banks in 2012. QE is slated to end in January 2018. Then what?
And if Catalonia did leave, the Basques would have to kiss goodbye to their precious ‘Fueros’ or economic agreement with its devolved fiscal autonomy. Inevitably, there would be a swift shift from the politics of current Lehendekari (president) Urkullu to that of Ibarretxe as Basque Big Business changed orientation. The precedent is the Catalan business class seeing the writing on the wall and reluctantly jumping on to the independence bandwagon.
The post ETA scenario will be the attempted peaceful synchronicity of the Catalan and Basque independence movements. The connection with Belfast may be regarded by some as nostalgia for shared experiences in the XX century. Others will see it as a model for how to bring about a lasting peace. Nevertheless, the early XXI century for the Ebro corridor will be defined by the links with Barcelona.
Towering over all will be Berlin’s decisions on how it reshapes a multi-speed Europe. Deciding who is in and who is out. Alarm bells are ringing in Madrid.

Basques on the edge of Core Europe

Introduction – back cover
Europeans in the sixties to the nineties knew about the Basques. Today, to the millenials the Basques are almost invisible as the end of conflict took them off the front pages. Active for six decades in what most considered terrorism, some saw as resistance. The war ended in 2011. On the ground. Not on paper. There has yet to be a peace treaty.
As Basques take a breather and go on ´standby mode´ the media focus has switched several hundred kilometres to the east as Catalans threaten to leave Spain. North of the Pyrenees beckons Core Europe, the heartland of an association that also came into being sixty years ago. Today a bloated ramshackle organisation of 28 states, it is set to lose Britain and could even unravel altogether. Or retreat to a hardcore group of a handful of states – possibly the same ones that kicked off the experiment in 1957.
Thus the radical Basque challenge and the European conglomeration were both born in the 1950s. After years of debate and soul searching, the independence movement in the second decade of the XXI century has become a normal social and political movement. The EU elite has yet to find its soul as self-imposed austerity, globalisation and brutal depression push millions of embittered Europeans to seek solace in the politics of the 1930s, both on the Right and Left.
This book anchors the Basques to a history which helps explain their choices for the future, touching on aspirations for sovereignty, located in a rapidly reconfiguring Europe. External factors seem set to kickstart a profound debate in the Basque Country about their options. If Catalonia becomes independent, is it feasible for Basques to remain in a diminished Spain? If the EU falls apart, would the Basques be better off going solo, trying to join up with Core European states? What happens to migrants from abroad and descendents of migrants from other parts of Iberia? How could Spain south of the River Ebro, especially Andalucia, survive without the Basques and Catalans? Have Basques discarded their early XX century narrow nationalism for genuine popular independence in the early XXI century? Even though they belong to one of the richest zones in the EU, can three million Basques survive against three billion Asians? Does it make sense or is it mission impossible? Fear of failure seldom stopped them from trying. With megalomania coursing through much of its past, one has to take them seriously and be prepared for anything.

Los vascos al borde del nucleo de europa

Los europeos de los años sesenta a los noventa sabian de los vascos. Hoy, a los milenios los vascos son casi invisibles como el final del conflicto los sacó de las primeras páginas. Activo durante seis décadas en lo que mucho consideraba el terrorismo, algunos vieron como resistencia. La guerra terminó en 2011. Sobre el terreno. No en el papel. Todavía no ha habido un tratado de paz.
Mientras que los vascos toman un respiro y van en modo “standby” el foco de los medios ha cambiado varios centenares de kilómetros al este mientras que los catalanes amenazan salir de España. El norte de los Pirineos atrae a el nucleo duro de Europa, el corazón de una asociación que también surgió hace sesenta años. Hoy en día una organización destartalada y hinchada de 28 estados, que está configurado para perder Gran Bretaña e incluso podría desentrañar en conjunto. O retirarse a un grupo de ´hardcore´ de un puñado de estados – posiblemente los mismos que iniciaron el experimento en 1957.
Así, el conglomerado europeo y el desafío vasco radical nacieron en los años cincuenta, 1957 y 1958 respectivamente. Después de años de debate y búsqueda del alma, el movimiento independentista en la segunda década del siglo XXI se ha convertido en un movimiento social y político normal. La élite de la UE todavía no ha encontrado su alma como austeridad auto-impuesta, la globalización y la depresión brutal empujan a millones de europeos amargados a buscar consuelo en la política de los años treinta, tanto a la derecha como a la izquierda.
Este libro ancla a los vascos en una historia que ayuda a explicar sus opciones para el futuro, tocando las aspiraciones de soberanía, situadas en una Europa rápidamente reconfiguradora. Los factores externos parecen poner en marcha un profundo debate en el País Vasco sobre sus opciones.
Si Cataluña llega a ser independiente, ¿es factible que los vascos sigan en una España disminuida?
Si la UE se desmorona, ¿sería mejor que los vascos volvieran a solas, intentando unirse a los estados europeos centrales?
¿Qué sucede con los emigrantes del extranjero y los descendientes de migrantes de otras partes de Iberia?
¿Cómo podría sobrevivir España al sur del río Ebro, especialmente Andalucía, sin los vascos y los catalanes?
¿Han descartado los vascos su nacionalismo estrecho del siglo XIX para la auténtica independencia popular a principios del siglo XXI?
Aunque pertenecen a una de las zonas más ricas de la UE, ¿pueden sobrevivir 3 millones de vascos contra 3,000 millones de asiáticos?
¿Tiene sentido o es misión imposible?
El miedo al fracaso raramente impedía que lo intentaran. Con megalomanía recorriendo gran parte de su pasado, uno tiene que tomarlos en serio y estar preparados para cualquier cosa.