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Shrinking Union?

rolf falter

O presente texto foi-me enviado pelo meu bom amigo Rolf Falter, historiador (com cinco livros publicados, o último sobre a história da Bélgica, e prestes a concluir um outro sobre a história da União Europeia); Rolf participou recentemente num governo belga e foi meu colega no Parlamento Europeu, responsável pelo Gabinete em Bruxelas da instituição, durante vários anos. É também um distinto membro do TEMPLATE CLUB. Este artigo é o primeiro de uma série sobre a Europa e a União escrita por colegas e amigos de várias nacionalidades, competências e perspectivas, membros do TEMPLATE CLUB. Por razões óbvias o texto é em inglês, e do facto peço desculpa a todos os meus amigos puristas (e com razão!) da língua portuguesa; não prometo mas tentarei traduzi-los, se a tanto me ajudar (não o engenho e arte, que esses me são escassos) a disponibilidade de tempo. Em todo o caso, julgo que o interesse do presente texto merece a sua imediata publicação neste forum, replicado no FB, para já os canais disponíveis, mas quem quiser – amigos e conhecidos – poderá partilhá-lo livremente! Bem hajam.

“It might look as if the European Parliament is rather sleepy these days, but if I detect well, I see some signs of growing concerns. The reason is obvious: for decades one of the main questions in the Union was who would be the next member. For the next months it seems to be: who’s the first to quit (destaque meu)

Last summer the then designated candidate for the Presidency of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, announced that no new members would be allowed before 2019, as the Union had first to put its own house in order again. Since then Iceland has withdrawn its candidacy, on March the 12th. It applied for membership in dire need at the height of the banking crisis and shortly before the Euro-crisis in 2009. It has now returned to its original point of view that its fishers-interests are not compatible with EU-membership.

A far bigger shake-up is in the making with Greece. When one analyses the question of Greek debt only from a financial point of view, there was a lot of room for compromise immediately after Syriza’s election victory on the 25th of January. But the struggle between creditors and debtor, if not Berlin and Athens, has turned nasty. For weeks now it has centred on symbols – like the German war debt, or a would-be alliance of Mr. Tsipras with Mr. Putin. And it has evolved into what in the most optimistic interpretation might be sheer poker, in a more realistic one an exercise of gorilla-like chest-beating.

The bets are more than ever on a payment default in a few weeks, followed by a Grexit, at least from the eurozone. It is simple to write this, but in reality it is a hugely complicated matter. One should hope that the scenario for an at least controlled Grexit – itself a nightmare to organise – will be in place at the time of the default, to temper the inevitable shockwaves in the financial markets and for the Greeks themselves. The case is anyway unforeseen in the Treaties, so new scenarios are to be invented and written – probably at the ECB and the Commission – , if only to prevent that they will be imposed by events.

The showdown on Greece will follow a few days after the British general election on May the 7th (o artigo foi escrito alguns dias antes das eleições britânicas). In all ways this is a less dramatic story, although it concerns one of the biggest member states. The only continuous element in the quite shaky opinion polls these days is that no party will gain an all-out majority. And that perspective opens the way for political intrigues of a sort unknown in Westminster since the then Irish question hundred years ago (the days of Asquith, Lloyd George and young Churchill). The Scottish Nationalists might hold the balance. But as their gain is Labour’s loss, Mr. Camerons Conservatives might be tempted to use the Scots discreetly as the French kings did in the Middle Ages: to reduce the power of the English enemy. The slightly left-wing SNP on the other hand has to fight and beat its most likely coalition partner, whereas Labour seems only capable of getting into the government via the SNP. In the latter case the Nationalists are likely to put devolution-aims on the table that could definitely make an end to Labour’s possibility of gaining seats in Scotland, so crucial to obtain a one-party majority in Londen. At the same time Mr. Cameron and his troops face a nationalist, if not racist revolt from UKIP, with the remarkable result of stirring up English nationalism in both parties. It all sounds quite (ahum)… Belgian in fact, or, if one prefers to make a kinder comparison for the long-forgotten former Empire – at least as shaky as Canada in the heydays of Quebec separatism twenty years ago.

Finally there is Spain. The struggle between Barcelona and Madrid – and I do not mean the Classico in football – has gone out of the news, but only because both parties have agreed to meet on the electoral battlefield. Catalonia will vote on the 27th of September, the whole of Spain almost certainly a few weeks later. Similar rounds of shadow boxing as in Britain could take place, as the Socialist are more vulnerable than the Conservatives to lose votes to the Catalan nationalists and the new left party of Podemos, but on the other hand can make more easily a coalition with these two parties than the Partido Popular of outgoing prime minister Mariano Rajoy. If the Partido Popular keeps the majority by being rewarded for getting Spain finally out of the crisis – and probably also by stirring up Spanish nationalism against the Catalans – the probability of unilateral decisions on independence in Barcelona will rise. Still more if the Spanish constitutional court continues to interpret the Constitution as rigid as the Inquisition did with Faith (one should try to read the four hundred pages verdict on Catalonia’s referendum-plans last year). In that case, the EU would again have to explore – as Mr. Draghi would say – ‘unchartered waters’.

The three political crisis – Greece, Britain, Spain – are no doubt the product of the long and deep economic crisis that is finally, but maybe just too late, coming to an end in the EU. People think more rigid in distress, are ready to blame almost everybody except themselves for the decline. But do consider that it is not the newcomers from Central and Eastern Europe that are shaky. All three countries belong to the second generation of members, that joined the Union between 1973 and 1986. In the core of the original six there are strong anti-EU movements in France, Italy and – to a declining extent – the Netherlands.

All three crises could in theory be solved by blowing some European perspectives in petty-minded antagonisms, and by seeking highly sophisticated compromises that are – used to be? – the trademark of most of the EU-decisions. But they will need much creative thinking and strong leadership to get managed. Because anyway each of these three crises has the potential of shaking and changing the Union beyond recognition”.


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