The ongoing Catalan crisis is a story of incompetence and arrogance on both sides. The Catalan Assembly acted petulantly and rashly in holding an un-sanctioned referendum whilst the Spanish government exacerbated the situation by using force to prevent people from voting. The situation now has appeared to have stabilised in a large part because the crisis exhausted its peak media attention and the world has started to look away, such is the cynicism of the global attention span.
The nitty gritty details of who held the moral high ground, who threw the first punch, who acted more inappropriately are unimportant. The crisis, in my view, is only a glimmer of what is to come across Europe and across the world: globalism through localism.
The British Isles, whether we like it or not, are slowly fracturing. All it would take is one major political cataclysm (Brexit, for example), and Scottish Independence is back on the table. In addition to this, the Catholic population of Northern Ireland is slowly increasing at a rate faster than the Protestant population, many experts think when Catholics outnumber Protestants they will vote for Union with Ireland. And then what? Will Northern Ireland seamlessly integrate into the republic or will it retain a significant individual identity?
The list of secessionist and autonomist movements that exist across Europe is staggering, admittedly they operate with varying degrees of support but there is clearly a disposition towards local politics present. Those who don’t support independence movements typically cite reasons of political expedience as their reasons – it is better to be part of a strong, large state than to be negotiating all by yourself.
What if this were not the case? What if all of Europe could unite under an economic system that worked for everyone? (all those reading who think I am going to explain an economic system that works for everyone across a whole continent can think again)
My argument is essentially that large states with long borders and huge populations lead to unwarranted and unjustified pride in the ‘culture’ and shared memories of a nation. This pride then facilitates unhelpful cooperation with neighbouring nations as all large states like to flex their muscles and show how large they are. The most baffling thing is that when we look internally at these nations we observe distinct, regional cultures that are far stronger than the superficial national culture which encompasses them and, are based on natural affinities.
I have a vision of a Europe of small, similarly sized regions, all very conscious of their relatively small size and therefore, enthusiastic to cooperate with their neighbours to maximise the economic benefit of all. Furthermore, the beauty of this arrangement is the likelihood for much more extensive cooperation. For example, a Frenchman from Alsace is much closer, culturally, to a German than to a Frenchman living in the Basque country. Focusing on localism makes cultural differences less exaggerated.
In the UK there are national rivalries between Scotland and England, the Scots hate the English, as the saying goes. What if the British Isles were suddenly just a collection of regions. Would all Scottish regions hate the English? And would all the Scottish regions hate all the English regions? England has divided itself by the so-called North-South divide, would the Scottish regions feel sympathetic towards their Northern neighbours? Perhaps. Would those regions in the Highlands even concern themselves with a hatred for things that were beneath them? Literally. Moreover, in the south, there is a clear cultural divide between the rural countryside and the city of London. Is the Scottish anger directed at the countryside or at the city because the two are very different? Indeed, the region of Cornwall may join the Scottish regions in hating the English (which English we aren’t quite sure) and create a cultural affinity between them. Where do the Welsh fit in, in all of this? The point is, the hugeness of current states exacerbates and generalises cultural differences both regionally and nationally.
If we refer to Benjamin Constant’s ideas on ancient and modern liberty we can see how increased localism will create a situation where people are able to be politically expressive with both ease and enthusiasm. Smaller, more local political spheres that deal with social issues will engage the local public and allow them to express their ancient liberty in a body politic. Economic issues would be managed by a governing body within a huge federation of European regions with the aim of ensuring prosperity for all.
Returning to the Catalan crisis. My hopes are quickly fading of independence for Catalonia but I sincerely hope it happens. Not just because of my optimistic vision of a European federation of regions but also because all people have a right to self-determination. Catalan independence would encourage Basque independence and who knows what could happen after that.
Written by Nico Fernandez