Weep for Catalonia, Weep for Liberalism in Europe 161

The vicious jail sentences handed down today by the fascists (I used the word with care and correctly) of the Spanish Supreme Court to the Catalan political prisoners represent a stark symbol of the nadir of liberalism within the EU. That an attempt to organise a democratic vote for the Catalan people in pursuit of the right of self determination guaranteed in the UN Charter, can lead to such lengthy imprisonment, is a plain abuse of the most basic of human rights.

I was forced to withdraw my lifelong personal support for the EU when, in response to the vicious crushing of the Catalan referendum by Francoist paramilitary forces, when the whole world saw grandmothers hit on the head and thrown down stairs as they attempted to vote, all the institutions of the EU – Council, Commission and Parliament – lined up one after the other to stress their strong support for the Madrid paramilitary action in maintaining “law and order”.

Today we see the same thing. As the Catalans are imprisoned for efforts at democracy, the EU Commission stated that it “respects the position of the Spanish judiciary” and “this is, and remains, an internal matter for Spain, which has to be dealt with in line with its constitutional order.” The Commission here is simply ignoring what is very obviously a fundamental breach of basic human rights. This is far worse than anything Poland or Hungary have done in recent years, and the Commission is also showing a quite blatant hypocrisy in its relative treatment of its Western and Eastern members.

There was a time when the EU was a shining example of economic and environmental regulation and of regional wealth redistribution. My fondness for the institution dates from it being one of our few defences from economic Thatcherism. But it has evolved into something very different, a mutual support club for neoliberal political leaders.

I do not much blog about Brexit because I am less concerned about it than the majority of the population. I neither think remaining inside is essential nor that leaving it is a political panacea. I do desperately wish to retain freedom of movement, and believe leaving the customs union would be economic self-harm on a large scale. A Norway style relationship would suit me fine, but by and large I prefer to stay out of the argument. I do believe that, as a matter of democratic legitimacy, having had the 2016 referendum the result should be respected; England should leave and Scotland and Northern Ireland remain.

But I also say this. A million people are expected to march on Saturday in support of the EU. That is the EU which has just expressed its active support for the jailing of Catalans for holding a vote. They join Julian Assange as political prisoners in the EU held for non-violent thought crime.

I say this to anyone thinking of marching on Saturday. It is morally wrong, at this time, to show public support for the EU, unless you balance it by showing your disgust at the fascist repression of the Catalans and the EU’s support for that repression. Every single person going on Saturday’s march has a moral obligation to balance it by sending a message to the EU Commission that their support for this repression is utterly out of order, and carrying a flag or sign on the march indicating support for the Catalan political prisoners. Otherwise you are just a smug person marching for personal self interest. Alongside the progenitors of the Iraq War, who doubtless will again dominate the platform speeches.


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161 thoughts on “Weep for Catalonia, Weep for Liberalism in Europe

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  • Willie

    Just saw picture of innocent people in shorts and tea shirts and doing nothing less than protesting at an airport being beaten with batons by police in riot gear.

    I don’t know about folks reading this blog, but if it was my son or daughter who was being viciously clubbed for nothing other than standing somewhere then I think I would want the blood of the animal, or his ilk who were delivering the beatings. And that is how it starts.

    To every force there is an equal or opposite force, and the laws of physics are not usually, or indeed if ever violated. Democracy and fairness should be the starting point for any society and we disregard that at our peril.

    The holocaust of 30 years of the NI troubles reinforces that, and of course on a bigger scale the recent run of slaughter in some of the middle eastern countries reinforces that even further.

    • Andrew Paul Booth

      You surely know yourself that attempting, following the instructions of a hierarchical secretive organisation with an anonymous cellular structure, to obstruct the normal functioning of an international airport is not the same as “standing somewhere demonstrating”.

      Mass demonstrations usually take place in the streets and squares of central Barcelona, such as those very moving silent ‘white hands’ demonstrations against Basque terrorism or that of the millions opposed to the US-UK-Spanish “Trio of the Azores” illegal invasion of Irak in 2003.

      • Martin

        The cool thing about this formulation is that it can be used to discredit any form of legitimate protest:

        “following the instructions of a hierarchical secretive organisation with an anonymous cellular structure [that somehow manages organise on Facebook] to obstruct the normal functioning of a road/airport/power plant/railway is not the same [as whatever I have decided is justified]”

        • Andrew Paul Booth

          Ah, a portmanteau mangetout. Of course nothing is secret and none of us are anonymous to the powers that be on the internet!

          You might go to disrupt operations at the City of London Airport, for example, rather than jn Trafalgar Square or in front of the Temple Church, precisely because you seek to play in front of, and inspire, an international audience,

          Be aware: international audiences are large, not so easily manipulated, and very diverse. Pandora’s box.

  • Willie

    And maybe the insanity of the American’s right to bear arms is a further example of the equal and opposite force law.

    Yes the forces of the state, whatever the state is, have much more powerful weaponry. But equally could you imagine if even ten percent of gun owners decided to unilaterally attack the organism that is the state. The result would I think be a state of absolute chaos.

    But that was the intention of the amendment in the US constitution. To allow people to turn against a government who has turned against them. And so, as the UK state increasingly arms itself with the ever increasing powers of control over people, one has to ask , could the people ever revolt in a way to cause the chaos that all so often erupts in a failed democracy.

    IRA terrorism or is it religious Islamic terrorism usually has a cause that drives men and woman to do what they do. And yes, in NI the UK then unleashed the counter gangs, aka the paramilitaries. But did the UK win, or did everybody lose, at least until the Good Friday Agreement ended the mayhem.

    But, and I think of Jonson and his ilk in this. Are they re-stoking the the grounds for society to tear itself apart. I very much fear so in their rhetoric and deeds.

      • bevin

        You are close to the truth. But it is also true that among the motives of those behind the Second Amendment were True Whigs who held that standing armies were unconstitutional. In practical American terms, this meant that ‘militias’ could terrorise aboriginals and steal their land.
        Opposition to standing armies, like annual Parliaments, is a venerable and laudable part of the common constitutional heritage

        • Mark m Moore

          He is not close to the truth. He is far from the truth. People who give up their guns to the government get treated like, well, Catalonians. Or worse.

          • Herbie

            No point having guns in individual disconnected homes, so far as resisting tyrannical govt is concerned.

            It’s only in terms of citizen militias that the Amendment makes any arguable political sense, even in Glenn’s account.

            So, they’ll attack the Amendment through restrictions on individual ownership.

            That’s the weak end of the current gun debate in the US.

  • Hatuey

    A week ago I predicted that the Kurds would be slaughtered by Turkey and that Britain would jump at the opportunity to close some arms deals with the Turks rather than condemn their atrocious behaviour.

    Yesterday at the NATO & EU foreign ministers meetings, my prediction was confirmed to be 100% correct on all counts.

    This should be embarrassing for Britain. British special forces have been working alongside the Kurds for years. Now they need to be withdrawn so that the UK can support a country that’s committed to slaughtering those same Kurds.

    The British position, based as usual on lofty principle, was explained at a NATO meeting in London yesterday; “Turkey needs to do what it sometimes has to do to defend itself…”

    Article 5 of the NATO treaty compels members to collective defence so that if one is attacked and requests help then other NATO members are obligated to intervene.

    Nobody is sure what will happen when Turkish armed forces bang head on into the Assad’s Syrian military. The head-on collision is expected any day now.

    We used to use arms deals to manipulate political outcomes. It was never pretty. Today though we seem to be manipulating political outcomes to secure arms deals.

    • Mosaic

      The Kurds’ best option is to work with Damascus.
      It is a shame that they ever made a deal with the USA to act as proxies against the Assad govt.
      This was not a good idea.
      IMO not every ethnic group can have its own statelet. Of course tiny statelets have been formed under the aegis of the USA in former Yugo, and this also was not, IMO, a good idea. Yugo should have been left alone!
      But back to the Kurds—a Kurdish national entity should not have been contemplated by the Kurds in the scenario of an attempt to illegally topple Assad and break up Syria. It might have made more sense for the Kurds to fight to defend the country and then on that basis make a deal. Would Assad h ave thrown them under the bus too?
      And it for sure is not going to happen now.

      This situation of course has analogies with the Catalonia situation.
      The big difference (IMO) is that Catalonia is part of a country that is a member in the EU, which supposedly is operating according to democratic principles and international law, etc. etc. No such overarching entity exists in the ME whereby votes and referendums can be planned and the outcomes evaluated.

      The fact that this is *not* occurring in Spain/EU—which putatively is such an entity—does seem to indicate that the EU in its own way is becoming as lawless as the ME.

  • Republicofscotland

    Held for two years without charge then between them given one hundred years in prison, Spain’s kangaroo court sentencing of ex-Catalan leaders is now a festering boil on the EU, which as of now it has chosen to turn a blind eye to.

    Alfred Bosch the Catalan minister for Foreign Action has said, the referendum wasn’t illegal under the Spanish Constitution. That this was explicity removed as a criminal offence from the Spanish Criminal code in 2007, neverthless they were sentenced on the archaic law of sedition, and embezzlement was was thrown in as good measure.

    The EU must put pressure on Spain to have these ridiculous sentences quashed, or at the very least reduced to a token sentence so both parties can save face.

    Back home Scotland’s FM Nicola Sturgeon said she was appalled by the outcome of the trials of the independence leaders. If only more leaders spoke out as she has Spain might have change of heart.

  • PaddyT

    The EU cannot dictate how member states organize themselves or interact with their regions. Article 4.2 of the 2009 Lisbon Treaty, which revised the key constitutional treaties of the EU, states that the EU will not interfere with key state functions such as “territorial integrity” or “maintaining law and order.” If the SNP were to use tax payers money yo do the same how would London react?

    • Martina Aston

      Oh the irony! So, the EU calls on countries outside the EU to show restraint towards demonstrators and to respect their rights, but when it comes to countries within the EU, it adheres to Article 4.2. How convenient.

  • Giambologna

    [I] ‘believe leaving the customs union would be economic self-harm on a large scale’

    This is issue-illiterate.

    Craig is mixing up the customs union and the Single Market. This is a common, but costly, mistake that so many have made and keep making. It would be illegal for us to leave the EU, in any form, and remain in ‘the’ EU customs union. It is not possible. Turkey has ‘a’ customs union with the EU, but is not in the EU Customs Union (see the name). We could leave and negotiate a bespoke customs union with the EU, which is fine and what Norway and Turkey have done for instance.

    It is leaving the Single Market that will cause us economic problems. Customs cooperation relies on the Single Market not the customs union. I know it sounds confusing but it really isn’t. For goods to travel freely we need to remain in the regulatory ecosphere of the Single Market.

    Leaving the customs union would not be ‘economic self-harm on a large scale’ – Craig is plain wrong – if we leave the EU we have to legally leave the customs union. It is leaving the Single Market that is economically self-harming.

    • bevin

      You are begging the question: the nature of the putative agreement that the UK makes with the EU cannot be defined in advance by your narrow criteria.

    • Martin

      You haven’t really explained your assertion and it seems to contradict this definition:
      “The European Union Customs Union (EUCU) is a customs union which consists of all the member states of the European Union (EU), Monaco, and some dependencies of the United Kingdom *which are not part of the EU*” – first paragraph on the Wikipedia entry regarding the EU CU.

      I agree with Craig – if we can’t have FOM then at least the CU would allow us to continue to get the benefit of the EU’s vastly more competent trade expertise. I guess that’s hardly a difficult threshold to surpass though. Our own government cannot even successfully negotiate with itself

  • bevin

    “..There was a time when the EU was a shining example of economic and environmental regulation and of regional wealth redistribution. My fondness for the institution dates from it being one of our few defences from economic Thatcherism. But it has evolved into something very different, a mutual support club for neoliberal political leaders…”
    A statement with which all fair minded people can agree: we may, in retrospect, differ in our interpretations of the extent and depth of the “social” content of the Common Market, before the post 1989 rallying to the neo-liberal (Washington) consensus but in broad terms Craig is absolutely right. I suspect that many of those voters who voted to leave the EU, would agree. The question is where do we go from here? A return to the imaginary EU of Centrist dreams- the EU in which all the heavy lifting in terms of social and economic justice was done by Brussels- is not an option. If Greece didn’t prove that then Catalonia ought to.
    It might be suggested that Corbyn’s position is one that most people, excluding of course the political professionals, would agree with. It is one of life’s little ironies that while his position is becoming the common sense, the PLP is mounting yet another desperate attempt to unseat him and remove the recently agreed upon policy as an option.

    • Marmite

      “It might be suggested that Corbyn’s position is one that most people, excluding of course the political professionals, would agree with. It is one of life’s little ironies that while his position is becoming the common sense, the PLP is mounting yet another desperate attempt to unseat him and remove the recently agreed upon policy as an option.”

      That’s because, from the dull-witted perspective of a lot of the British, but most especially the middle-classes and those who stand to gain handsomely from what we are calling fascism, the idea of a socialist in power is much worse than complete annihilation.

      That’s how indoctrinated unfree a lot of people are in this country.

      Might as well be living under dictatorship, if you ask me.

      I think it must be a measure of the very low quality of education in Britain that more people cannot see that ‘common sense’.

      • Northern

        I don’t think you understood what Bevin was trying to convey there, which was a point I’d largely agree with. I would suggest you need to familiarise yourself with the definition of some of the ideological concepts and phrases your throwing around here and deflate your ego a little if you’re going to participate in discussions like this, otherwise all your doing is making your superiority complex obvious.

        Has it occurred to you that being ‘educated’ hasn’t bestowed you with some unimpeachable knowledge of ‘common sense’?

    • Paul Barbara

      @ bevin October 15, 2019 at 14:41
      ‘…It is one of life’s little ironies that while his position is becoming the common sense, the PLP is mounting yet another desperate attempt to unseat him and remove the recently agreed upon policy as an option….’
      It shows the power of the Bliarite and other Fifth Column factions embedded in the ‘Labour Party’, and of course the blatant massive bias in the MSM.

  • Mark m Moore

    Well said and very much in line with Localism as a philosophy of government. I think the biggest political struggle for the rest of my lifetime will be a battle between centralization and decentralization.

  • Steve Smith

    All those Europeans that supported the EU on the assumption they’d support humans rights including the right to self determination were duped, the EU is a sovereignty denial zone that goes to individual or national sovereignty.

    The EU is a corporate lobby group posing as government and YOU ARE NOT a shareholder.

  • Chris

    The EU is a totalitarian project forced on unwilling people and nations, to, ultimately, destroy 1000 of years of European civlisation.

    It’s no wonder that they hurried to have the Maastrucht ‘treaty’ made in 1992 at the death of the USSR, as the EU need to replace the bolchviks regime.

    The model of the so called ‘EU’ (not European and not an Union) is the barbaric communist regime of China.

    Hence the unnacountable, unelected, ‘EU’ dictatorship supports fascist regimes and decisions. They bow to China, Turkey and they condone the Spanish decision because they have no courage but the one of tyrants and cowards.

    The sooner the EU destroy itself, this baseless, faceless, gutless paper construction, the better Europe and the Western world will be.

  • pablo p. perez

    You sir are an idiot of the highest caliber.

    Catalonia is a PROVINCE of Spain, and never had a separate identity.

    The sentences are a joke, they will be out in 2 years. They should be shot.

    Francoist? you nincompoop… the same court is digging his grave out irrespectfully, should do that to your father’s grave, see if you like it.

    The goverment in Spain now is COMMUNIST. Just like you.

    Again an ignorant writing about things he doesn’t have the slightest clue.

    • Brianfujisan

      ” The sentences are a joke, they will be out in 2 years. They should be shot ”

      Sounds like Ol Habba.. you want to come up against a Very Wise Spanish Speaking Scotsman.. If Your Brave Enough…No Not Me Eejit.

    • Bayard

      “Catalonia is a PROVINCE of Spain, and never had a separate identity.”

      Why not do just a little research before posting? From Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catalonia “Catalonia (/ˌkætəˈloʊniə/; Catalan: Catalunya [kətəˈluɲə]; Aranese: Catalonha [kataˈluɲɔ]; Spanish: Cataluña [kataˈluɲa]) is an autonomous community on the northeastern corner of Spain” and “Principality of Catalonia, 12th century – 1714”
      Your “never” appears to be a bit time-limited.

  • M.J.

    The referendum in Catalonia was illegal. Even the Catalan parliament failed to pass a law making it legal by the required two-thirds majority. Therefore the constitutional parties boycotted it and the 90% majority voting for secession is misleading.

    That said, I don’t think that heavy-handed behaviour by the Spanish state will help the situation and could even lead to great danger. A light punishment (like a suspended sentence) and a warning should have been quite sufficient.

  • Raskolnikov

    “I do believe that, as a matter of democratic legitimacy, having had the 2016 referendum the result should be respected; England should leave and Scotland and Northern Ireland remain”

    Concerning democratic legitimacy: as a Belgian, I’ve never ever had a say on whether the UK, or Scotland should remain or leave the EU. I’ve never had a say on whether Belgium should leave or stay.

  • Dungroanin

    Hopefully we are not too far off from a truly socialist democratic government in Britain since 1945 – 75 period.

    One which is at the centre of the EU and has enough clout, wisdom and ambition to lead the continent to make leaps and bounds on all fronts popular and democratic and tells the old guards all across Europe to take a hike! Like they did to Churchill and the tories.

    Change is a coming!

    • Rhys Jaggar

      You need to realise that no government of an EU state can nationalise industry: it is illegal under EU law.

      If you a truly socialist government that nationalises lots of things like railways, utilities etc etc, you have to leave the EU.

      Inside the EU, you can have social democracy through to neoliberalism, but you cannot full on socialism.

      • Dungroanin

        I don’t think anyone is talking about a communist/collective ownership ‘socialism’. Anywhere in the world.

        What would the EU sanction be on a member state nationalising a company or bank in the EU country?

        A slap on the wrist? Like they do when they break the current targets?

        The only sanction that could have any effect would be banishment! Which would probably require a unanimous approval by all the members?

        We had failing banks and rail co’s already being taken into state control. And no evictions from the EU.

        • C G

          The only thing I would point out in Craig’s article is the use of ‘nadir’. I don’t think we are anywhere near the nadir in terms of where the EU can go! It has more or less appointed its own president in Venezuela. Chilling. Where next? So yes, I do weep for Catalonia not as a socialist because some of the reasons for independence trouble me but as a supporter of the principle of the right to self-determination. Are we to understand police brutality in Catalonia as an example of “European values and way of life”? If not, where is the universal condemnation?

          Dungroanin, bring it on!

          There’s a white paper giving future scenarios for the EU to 2025 – it’s on the EU website. Look at the proposed direction of travel, not just where it is now. EU state aid rules are here:


          1. ‘To prevent that companies doing business in the Internal Market receive selective advantages that distort competition, the TFEU contains *a general prohibition of State aid*’.

          2. ‘If the Commission has taken a negative decision in the context of aid that has already been paid out, the Commission requires the Member State to recover the aid with interest from the beneficiary’. (Presumably in Euros – we’d have to buy them and then pay them back!)

          3. ‘…in some circumstances, government intervention is necessary for a well-functioning economy to offset market failure’.

          I think we know what they mean on that last point: propping up banks and financial services which guarantees a profit for the few – rather than manufacturing industry which only guarantees employment for the many!

          To finish with your first point, from the Labour Party website: ‘In government, Labour would give more people a stake – and a say – in our economy by doubling the size of the co-operative sector and introducing a “right to own,” making employees the buyer of first refusal when the company they work for is up for sale.’

          Isn’t that an example of collective ownership? We could save factories like the Caley this way.

  • Nicolas Chadwick

    Craig, your characterization of what´s going on in Catalonia is over-simplistic. The Catalan soberanistas chose their course of action and well knew the likely consequences of it. Describing any and all plebicitary processes as “democratic” can be misleading, as we Brits know all too well: half the population of Catalonia do not want independence from Spain. However clumsy and insensitive the Rajoy government’s handling of the independence parties’ posturing may have been, the fact is that the Supreme Court’s judgments create a very tricky situation for Sánchez’s socialist administration. Sánchez, who faces elections on 10 November, risks losing votes to the hard right Vox and PP parties and the opportunist Ciudadanos if he shows the slightest sign of weakness in upholding the unity of the Spanish state demanded by the constitution; at the same time he is desperate for any support he can get from the Catalan voters who helped him unseat Rajoy to the great relief of Catalans and progressive-minded Spaniards generally. Anyway, what is the EU supposed to do? It isn’t a government, it’s a group of countries with common institutions governed by treaties. And Spain’s judiciary, although certainly not politically neutral, is separate from the government and Sánchez cannot possibly overturn a reasoned judgment arrived at unanimously after months of deliberations. Although the long prison sentences are regrettable, they could have been a great deal worse; it’s likely that the prison régime will be anything but harsh and the prison terms will be substantailly reduced as would be the case for less prominent offenders.
    None of this, of course, has anything to do with the anti-Brexit march and I would encourage you, Craig, and anyone who feels outraged at being summarily stripped of their rights as an EU citizen, to say nothing of the needless damage being done to our country, to come and show your displeasure in Parliament Square this Saturday.

  • Gary

    No UN member country can hold a constitution which goes against the tenets of the UN without censure, but apparently they can.

    I do disagree however on ‘Freedom Of Movement’ This has been the very reason so many wished us to leave. Trading agreements, aligning laws and taxation to rationalise trade – hard to disagree. Immigration – also hard to disagree, we desperately NEED people. but freedom of movement allows for employers to abuse those from other, poorer, EU countries by paying them low, potentially illegal, wages and otherwise abuse those who are, essentially, at their mercy. Also, by so doing, it means that local workers are placed at a disadvantage when these abuses keep wages artificially low. These low wages, combined with Chinese imports vastly cheaper than what can be produced at home, ensure that inflation and the demand for wage increases are kept down. Kept down ALSO by the punitive actions by Thatcher on the unions (which Labour never addressed) ALL of this taken together means super low interest rates and low investment. Back at the credit crunch we saw a ‘flight from investment’ in banking on a scale never before seen. NONE of this suits low paid, trades people or anyone in fact except upper middle class and the rich. Of course the EU has much to recommend it eg employee rights – will these survive our exit? It all depends, now, on the government of the day. Brexit COULD be used for good, ie we could ensure that some industries are taken back into public ownership, we could ensure tendering by local councils goes to local businesses keeping the money spent in the local area instead of employing companies from, say, Germany for example. It all depends who is running things, if it’s the Tories we are snookered, if it’s Labour we are only slightly less snookered as they don’t care about Scotland one jot (hence them being fourth place with Scottish voters now)

  • michael norton

    Some Catalans want yet another Referendum,
    I wonder if Spain will let them have one, they did not last time and things did not turn out friendly.
    Quim Torra said another independence vote should go ahead within two years

    Next month all of Spain goes to yet another General Election.

  • Paul Barbara

    Catalonia hotting up:
    ‘Military Police Deployed As 500,000 Catalan Independence Protesters Shut Down Barcelona’:
    ‘…In total about five separate marches converged at once on the city, also amid a general strike in solidarity with the jailed activists….’
    The way the police are acting, I don’t think it will be long before some people start shooting and bombing in defense.

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