To my own astonishment, and after a full 36 hours of hard thinking to try and escape this conclusion, I am in intellectual honesty obliged to reconsider my lifelong support for the European Union, due to the unqualified backing of the EU Commission for the Spanish Government’s dreadful repression in Catalonia.
This is very difficult for me. I still much favour open immigration policy, and the majority of Brexiteers are motivated at base by racist anti-immigrant sentiment. Certainly many Brexiteers share in the right wing support for Rajoy’s actions, across Europe. I have been simply stunned by the willingness of right wingers across the internet, including on this blog, to justify the violence of the Spanish state on “law and order” grounds. It is a stark warning of what we might face in Scotland in our next move towards Independence, which I have always believed may be made without the consent of Westminster.
But not all who oppose the EU are right wing. There are others who oppose the EU on the grounds that it is simply another instrument of power of the global 1% and an enforcer of neo-liberalism. I had opposed this idea on the grounds it was confusing the policies of current EU states with the institution itself, that it ignored the EU’s strong guarantees of human rights, and its commitment to workers’ rights and consumer protection.
I have to admit today that I was wrong, and in fact the EU does indeed function to maintain the global political elite, and cares nothing for the people.
There is no doubt whatsoever that the Spanish Guardia Civil on Sunday contravened the following articles:
Article 1: The Right to Human Dignity
Article 6: The Right to Liberty or Security of Person
Article 11: Freedom of Expression and Information
Article 12: Freedom of Assembly and Association
Article 54: Prohibition of Abuse of Rights
I would argue that these were also breached:
Article 21: Non-discrimination
Article 22: Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Diversity
The European Commission is obliged to abide by this Charter by Article 51. Yet when the Spanish government committed the most egregious mass violation of human rights within the European Union for a great many years, the EU Commission deliberately chose to ignore completely its obligations under the European Charter of Fundamantal Rights in its response. The Commission’s actions shocked all of intellectual Europe, and represented a complete betrayal of the fundamental principles, obligations and basic documents of the European Union.
This is the result. The disgusting, smirking Margaritas Schinas of the European Commission refuses to face up to the intellectual vacuity of the EU’s position. He is also lying, because he claims to be limited in matters beyond the Commission’s competence, when he knows perfectly well that the EU Commission is ignoring its obligations under the European Charter of Fundamental Rights.
That video was a key factor in persuading me, after 44 years of actual enthusiasm for the EU, it is no longer an organisation which I can support.
900 people were so injured by the Guardia Civil that they had to go for formal medical treatment. Officers, in full riot gear, baton charged entirely peaceful lines of voters, smashed old ladies on the head with weapons, pulled young women by the hair and stamped on them on the ground, threw people down flights of stairs, fired rubber bullets into people sitting on the street and broke a woman’s fingers one by one.
To take the “legalistic” argument, even if you accept the referendum was illegal (and I shall come to that), that in no way necessitates that sort of violence. It could be argued the referendum’s result had no legal effect, but the act of the referendum itself is in that case a form of political demonstration. If that involved abuse of public funds, then legal consequences might follow. There was no cause at all to inflict mass violence on the voters. The actual violence was absolutely disproportionate, unprovoked and undoubtedly met the bar of gross and systematic human rights abuse by the Spanish state.
Yet the EU reacted as if no such abuse had ever happened at all, and the world had not seen it. The statement of the EU Commission totally ignored these absolutely shocking events, in favour of an unequivocal statement of absolute support for Rajoy:
Under the Spanish Constitution, yesterday’s vote in Catalonia was not legal.
For the European Commission, as President Juncker has reiterated repeatedly, this is an internal matter for Spain that has to be dealt with in line with the constitutional order of Spain.
We also reiterate the legal position held by this Commission as well as by its predecessors. If a referendum were to be organised in line with the Spanish Constitution it would mean that the territory leaving would find itself outside of the European Union.
Beyond the purely legal aspects of this matter, the Commission believes that these are times for unity and stability, not divisiveness and fragmentation.
We call on all relevant players to now move very swiftly from confrontation to dialogue. Violence can never be an instrument in politics. We trust the leadership of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to manage this difficult process in full respect of the Spanish Constitution and of the fundamental rights of citizens enshrined therein.
I speak fluent diplomatese, and this is an unusual statement in its fulsomeness. It contradicts itself by saying “this is an internal matter” but then adding “these are times for unity and stability, not divisiveness and fragmentation” which is an unequivocal statement of opposition to Catalan independence.
The Commission later claimed that to comment on the violence by the Spanish Authorities is beyond its competence, a plain lie due to Article 51 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. But what was in fact outwith Commission competence was this statement of opposition to Catalan independence.
It was also extremely unusual – in fact I cannot think of another example – of the EU Commission specifically to endorse by name Mariano Rajoy, let alone immediately after he had launched a gross human rights abuse.
Condemnation would have been too much to expect; but these gratuitous endorsements were a slap in the face to anybody with a concern for human rights in Europe. Also, in diplomatese, I should have expected the mildest of hidden rebukes in the statement; I would have been annoyed by “The Commission is sure the Spanish Government will continue to meet its obligations under the Charter of Fundamental Rights” as too weak, but it is the kind of thing I would have expected to see.
Instead Juncker chose to make no qualification at all in his support for Rajoy.
Perhaps as a former diplomat I put much more weight on these little things than might seem sensible, but to me they are the unmistakeable tells of what kind of right wing authoritarian institution the EU has become, and why I can no longer offer it my support.
I now want to turn to the wider question of whether the Catalonian referendum was indeed illegal. This argument must always come back to the Charter of the United Nations , which states at
Article 1 (2) To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace;
It is worth noting that there is no qualification at all on “self-determination of peoples”. It is not limited to decolonisation, as sometimes falsely claimed. The phrase is repeated in the separate UN Declaration on Decolonisation, as the principle plainly is applicable in that context. But it is not limited to that context and appears in the Charter outwith that context.
The question of what constitutes a “people” is a thorny one. NATO were sufficiently convinced the Kosovans were a “people” to go to war for their right to self-determination, while in terms of domestic law of Yugoslavia or Serbia their independence was every bit as illegal as Catalonian independence is under Spanish law. The purveyors of the “illegal” argument, in Spain and in the EU, have never deigned to us why the Kosovans are a “people” with the right to self-determination whereas the Catalans are not.
In this limited sense, NATO and the EU were right over Kosovo. If the Kosovans are a “people”, their right to self determination under the UN Charter could not be nullified by domestic Yugoslav or Serbian legislation. The same is true of the Catalans. If they are a “people”, Spanish domestic legislation cannot remove their right of self-determination. The rights conferred by the UN Charter are inalienable. A people can never give up its right of self-determination. Indeed, those arguing that the Catalans contracted into the current Spanish constitution are heading into a legal ambush as they have already admitted the Catalans are a people with the right of self-determination.
Indeed the Spanish constitution already admits Spain contains separate nationalities. The preamble of section 2 to the Spanish Constitution reads:
Section 2. The Constitution is based on the indissoluble unity of the Spanish Nation, the common and indivisible homeland of all Spaniards; it recognizes and guarantees the right to self-government of the nationalities and regions of which it is composed and the solidarity among them all.
Remember, the right to self-determination is inalienable. Once you have acknowledged the existence of different nationalities, the Spanish Constitutional Court cannot legitimately deny their right to self-determination. What it can legitimately do is to judge on their constitutional arrangements within Spain. It cannot legitimately prevent them from determining to leave.
I do not see any doubt that the Catalans are a “people”. They have their own language. They have their own culture. Most importantly, there are over one thousand years of written records of their existence as a separate “people” with those attributes and an extremely long, if in some cases occasionally broken, history of their own institutions.
I do not think it is seriously arguable that the Catalans are not a “people”. It is also the answer to the frankly childish comparison, made by right wingers, to the South East of England breaking away. There is no legitimate argument that the South East of Englanders are a separate “people” in the sense of the UN Charter. The same applies to Northern Italy. Belgium, however, does include different peoples with the right of self-determination, should they choose to exercise it.
The fact that a “people” has the right of self-determination gives them, of course, the right to choose, including the right to choose to remain within their existing state. That right to choose was all the Catalonian government was seeking to offer. The Spanish government and courts are implementing a domestic law, but that domestic law is incompatible with overarching wider rights. As journalists point out in that EU Commission video above, the Turkish courts are correctly implementing domestic law in jailing journalists and academics. It is not enough for Spain to say it is implementing law when the law itself is illegitimate. Jews were “lawfully” rounded up in 1930’s Germany. Gandhi and Mandela were “lawfully” imprisoned.
I will never forget working in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as the South Africa (Political) officer in 1986, when the policy of the Thatcher government was explicit that black activists jailed under the apartheid laws were lawfully detained, and that apartheid forces breaking up illegal Soweto demonstrations, in precisely the manner seen against voters in Catalonia, were acting lawfully. Over thirty years, the acknowledgement of the overarching internationally guaranteed basic rights appeared to have made progress. But the EU Commission has just turned its back on all of that.
It is not just the Commission. Macron, May and Merkel have all declared unequivocally against Catalonian independence, while refusing to make any comment at all on the state violence as an “internal affair”. This from Guy Verhofstadt is as good as EU reaction gets, yet it is still entirely mendacious:
I don’t want to interfere in the domestic issues of Spain but I absolutely condemn what happened today in Catalonia.
On one hand, the separatist parties went forward with a so-called referendum that was forbidden by the Constitutional Court, knowing all too well that only a minority would participate as 60 % of the Catalans are against separation.
And on the other hand – even when based on court decisions – the use of disproportionate violence to stop this.
In the European Union we try to find solutions through political dialogue and with respect for the constitutional order as enshrined in the Treaties, especially in art. 4.
It’s high time for de-escalation. Only a negotiated solution in which all political parties, including the opposition in the Catalan Parliament, are involved and with respect for the Constitutional and legal order of the country, is the way forward.
Verhofstadt accepts without question the right of the Spanish Constitutional Court to deny the Catalan right to self-determination, and like every other EU source does not put an argument for that or even refer to the existence of that right or to the UN Charter. He claims, utterly tendentiously to know that 60% of the Catalan people oppose independence. That is plainly untrue. In the last Catalonian assembly elections, 48% voted for pro-Independence parties and another 5% for parties agnostic on the issue. On Sunday, 55% of the electorate voted. A quarter of those votes were confiscated by police, but the votes of 42% of the electorate could be counted and were 90% for Independence. There is no reason to suspect the confiscated ballots were any different. Verhofstadt does at least acknowledge the disproportionate violence to stop the referendum, thus correctly attributing the blame. This is the only statement I have seen from any EU source which contains any truth whatsoever.
To withdraw a lifetime of support for the EU is not a light decision. I have delayed it for hard consideration, so that the emotions aroused by the Spanish government violence could die down. I am also very confident, knowing how these things work, that Rajoy had briefed other EU leaders in advance that he was going to close down the referendum, and their statements of support had been pre-prepared. Diplomatic wheels grind slowly, and I assumed there would be some rowing back from these original statements once bureaucracies had time to react to the excessive violence. In fact there has been no significant softening of the hard line.
In itself, even this incident would not be enough to make me denounce my support for the European Union. But it illustrates, in a way that I cannot deny, an argument that has been repeatedly urged on me and which I have been attempting to deny. The principles of the European Union and indeed the content of its treaties are something I continue strongly to support. But the institution has in fact been overrun by the right wing cronyism of the neo-liberal political class, and no longer serves the principles for which it ostensibly stands. It is become simply an instrument of elite power against the people.
Today, and with a greater sadness than you can imagine, I withdraw my support for membership of the European Union.
I continue urgently to need contributions to my defence in the libel action against me by Jake Wallis Simons, Associate Editor of Daily Mail online. You can see the court documents outlining the case here. I am threatened with bankruptcy and the end of this blog (not to mention a terrible effect on my young family). Support is greatly appreciated. An astonishing 4,000 people have now contributed a total of over £75,000. But that is still only halfway towards the £140,000 target. I realise it is astonishing that so much money can be needed, but that is the pernicious effect of England’s draconian libel laws, as explained here.
On a practical point, a number of people have said they are not members of Paypal so could not donate. After clicking on “Donate”, just below and left of the “Log In” button is a small “continue” link which enables you to donate by card without logging in.
For those who prefer not to pay online, you can send a cheque made out to me to Craig Murray, 89/14 Holyrood Road, Edinburgh, EH8 8BA. As regular readers know, it is a matter of pride to me that I never hide my address.