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What Catalan Nationalism Tells Us About the European Union

The cycle of liberal big-government experiments is by now familiar: the left suggests a major expansion of state power to tackle a public policy problem; conservatives object and predict the range of unintended consequences that will result; liberals ridicule the right’s objections and the plausibility of those unintended consequences; the program is enacted; unintended consequences rain down on the project almost immediately; conservatives say “I told you so”; liberals lash out at those who dared to be correct about the project, then as now.

Bethany recently wrote about one such case: Obamacare’s incentives for companies to cut employment or move employees from full-time to part-time to avoid the onerous penalties associated with the health care reform monstrosity. Liberals lashed out at those companies, though none of their critiques revealed even a modest familiarity with basic economics (not to mention these liberals’ own culpability in the whole Obamacare disaster). The bigger the statist project, the more far-reaching the unintended consequences, and so the European Union—recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for starting bloody wars and then allowing the United States and the Russians to save them from themselves—is one such project.

The latest in the long list of unintended consequences of the EU is its effect on secessionist movements, including the parties in support of Catalan independence in Spain. To be sure, Catalan independence is an old movement that long preceded the European Union. But the EU has had two effects on Catalan independence. First, an unintended consequence of EU supra-nationalism is the resurgence of more basic nationalism and the urge to reclaim both the identity and sovereignty that were pick-pocketed by the antidemocratic EU. Second is how the Union factors into the case against secession, especially in Spain, and how it is really more an indictment of the EU than the case against sovereignty. (This isn’t new; another example is how eurocrats insist that a country leaving the currency union could conceivably drag down the entire EU, meaning the project is basically a suicide pact. File it under “now they tell us”—except that conservatives, well, did tell them.)

The Catalan independence movement had spent the last few months picking up steam, but the late-November election slowed its momentum considerably–in part because it took place during a recession and in part because the result necessitated coalition governing in Catalonia rather than give the party of charismatic Catalan President Artur Mas a mandate to govern alone. But the pre-election momentum spooked committed EU statists enough to warrant something of modern classic in Economist editorials.

There is, certainly, a case against Catalan independence; as the Wall Street Journal explains here, independence could offset its own financial advantages by forcing the new Catalan state to assume its portion of Spanish debt and the added costs of having to re-apply to join the EU, which are not inconsiderable.

There is a substantial degree of frustration in Catalonia at having to prop up the finances of the rest of Spain’s less productive regions. The Economist concedes Barcelona this point, but then offers a remarkable justification for disregarding it:

The argument that Catalans should not subsidise feckless Andalusians is a dangerous one: apply that more widely and the euro zone would fall apart. Indeed, far from welcoming Catalonia as an independent member, the euro zone’s leaders hardly yearn for an extra nation-state.

Let’s unpack these two sentences, because this is eurocracy in a nutshell. The first sentence recalls the EU suicide pact: add a dose of logic to EU policymaking and the whole enterprise falls apart. The project cannot survive personal accountability because the continent has too much economic dead weight for its own good.

And as to the second sentence: welcome to the twisted world of the ever-expanding state that swallows up anyone who runs from it but runs from those who embrace it. The eurozone wants you kicking and screaming; anyone that wants in is immediately suspect. (There is, admittedly, a certain unimpeachable logic to wondering why on earth someone would still want to join the EU at this point.)

We do not seem to be on the cusp of Catalan independence just yet. But this episode is notable for its confirmation of the intellectual poverty of the eurocause, and for the reminder that not all unintended consequences are deleterious. Sometimes, as with the resurgence of identity and democratic self-reliance, each can be a corrective to liberal excesses.



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