In this contribution from Sebastien Martin, reflecting on the current Catalonian crisis, he discusses the importance of granting more powers to regions and their role within the European Union to reinforce and defend the EU itself”.
As liberals, we cherish two values more than anything else: freedom and the rule of law – but not necessarily equally. As the Catalonian crisis unfolds, our community becomes deeply divided: some of us put freedom above the rule of law (arguing that the rule of law might become, in some cases, a constraint placed on the expression of the will of the people) while others put the rule of law above freedom (convinced that any freedom must derive from the law, and that any system developing outside the rule of law is inherently dangerous). The present article is an attempt at reconciling our community by refocusing on a common objective which respects both values equally, allowing the freedom of the people to flourish on clear legal grounds.
In the absence of a true European constitution, the law which continues to govern the distribution of power within a given Member State is its constitution. Under the Spanish and French constitutions, to take two examples, no administrative entity can legally secede from its Member State. Doing so would mean acting illegally, and raise complex issues as to the recognition of any independence declaration at both European and global levels. In the case of Catalonia, it is doubtful that France or Italy, for example, would recognize it as an independent State – simply because so doing would likely reinvigorate regional aspirations which have been rampant within their own territories. More pragmatically, if a region unilaterally decides to leave a legal agreement – in this case, a constitution – which it has originally adopted with a large majority, then what credit will it get when negotiating new treaties?
Overall, such a scenario would increase the risk of a dissolution of the European Union, as Europe is not solid enough in its current state to absorb further shocks and uncertainty. Furthermore, forcing Member States to concede to the independence aspirations of (some of) their regions – or, more correctly, putting Member States in front of the fait accompli – will simply not work, and probably end up in strong internal divisions, if not outright violence.
The solution to this dilemma is to go for what is, and has always been, our main objective: a federal Europe. Transferring additional powers to the European Union as a first step, before redistributing part to regions, which would clearly have higher chances of success. The concept of Nation State would have been, by then, weakened enough –not by force – but with the implicit consent of the States themselves and, through them, by the collective will of all the European peoples.
Both parts could not be dealt with at the same time: it is highly unlikely that Member States would accept to ratify a European constitution which would immediately transfer part of their sovereignty to regions. But continuing to gradually transfer more power to Europe – in the way of making it progressively more federal – is clearly a step in the right direction.
We could go further and imagine a European constitution explicitly granting regions (however defined) the right to organize as they see fit; or even, a constitution which would recognize regions as official political entities of the Union. Such a solution would kill two birds with one stone: making Europe federal, making it a Europe of the regions. In such a scenario, there will be no need for regions to painfully renegotiate their accession to the Union – they will de facto be part of it. The political part could be led by the Assembly of European Regions, which has already successfully pushed for a more formal recognition of regions at the European level in the latest project of constitution, which wasfinally rejected in 2005. As for the institutional framework, it already exists: the abandoned constitution of 1953, as laid down by the founding fathers of the European Union.
In any case, we should have our priorities right. We should firmly abide by our values and not bend any of them to specific situations, however difficult or pressing they might be. Fighting for regional independence today will probably backfire tomorrow, and make our ultimate goal of a federal Europe more remote. We should go the other way around: we should make Europe the catalyst of this devolution, as the solution can only come from a higher political entity. I believe that refocusing on such a proposition would enable us to reconcile our views on an issue which is very divisive not only for Catalonia and Spain, but also for liberals.