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November 03, 2017

Catalan separatism is energised again

The political consequences of the imprisonment of the entire dismissed Catalan cabinet - save for the five members of it that are in Brussels - will be severe. Yesterday there were spontaneous demonstrations in Catalonia, and pot-banging has returned. There are calls for a general strike next week. And the odds that there will be a single non-partisan "civic" list encompassing all separatist parties, and members of the grass-roots, have risen considerably. In the current mood, this could possibly also include members of the fence-sitting Catalan ally of Podemos, and even members of the Catalan socialists.

In an op-ed written before yesterday, Josep Ramoneda argued that the regional elections called by Mariano Rajoy for December 21 were a sort of truce in the Catalan conflict, which only judicial actions could perturb. That is now a given. But, even before the re-mobilisation of the separatist grass-roots, Ramoneda argued it would have been an illusion to expect the elections to lead to a definitive defeat of separatism even in a scenario where the unionist parties got a majority. If the separatist parties won a majority, Ramoneda hoped the conflict would be channelled politically, rather than through an endless repetition of elections and Article 155 intervention until elections return a majority acceptable to Spain's government.

Before yesterday, there were reports that Mariano Rajoy was hoping to regain the support of the Basque Nationalist Party PNV for his 2018 budget. The PP would hope to improve its result in the regional elections, potentially entering into a coalition with other unionist parties. According to the noted parliamentary correspondent Fernando Garea, the government did not count on a deal with the PNV until after the Catalan election, but a budget deal in January would be a precondition for Rajoy being able to serve a full term. Otherwise, early elections beckon. The implication must be that now early elections are on the horizon.

In connection with all this, Miguel Carrión writes on our blog Outside the Reservation that the foreign press interpretation of Carles Puigdemont's dash to Brussels as cowardly deserting his people, and of his press conference as a circus, is absolutely not reflected in the Catalan-language separatist press. His actions are seen as dignified, and there is a remarkable willingness to trust the leadership even on decisions which can seem hard to explain rationally. So, even before yesterday's jailings, he concludes that we're not seeing the beginning of the end of what one might call a Catalan Spring, but the end of the beginning.

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November 03, 2017

A prime minister without a party

The prime minister of France, Édouard Philippe, finds himself now as a man without a party, observes Françoise Fressoz. The Republicans did not officially exclude him like the other pro-Macron MPs, but rather his departure was simply noted. The result is the same. He is the chief of the majority but not a member of LREM or any other party. 

What choice did he have? Philippe, who helped to reform the Republicans in 2002 and was one of their hopefuls to become the next leader, sealed his fate when he declared his unconditional support for Macron the day after the latter was elected president. The Republicans had to pay dearly in the legislative elections as a result. Within LREM, Philippe could not have hoped for a high ranking position. After all, he was not part of the team from the very first hour. And so it comes to pass that he ends up being part of neither of the two parties.

Does it matter? Emmanuel Macron is the undisputed leader of the new political world he has created. Philippe is the policy coordinator for his president, and his modesty pays well in the polls. It leaves him plenty of time to see whether one day he will not need a party.

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November 03, 2017

Northern Ireland - handle with care

In an op-ed for the Irish Times, Noel Whelan predicts difficult months ahead in the Irish-British relationship. British politics is in the midst of a perfect storm of constitutional crisis, cabinet chaos, and now a parliament-wide controversy about sexual harassment. There is a lot to distract the British from the difficult negotiations with Ireland, which require a lot of goodwill and political skills on both sides. Brexit, but more immediately Northern Ireland, could easily become a hot potato. There is still no government in place in Northern Ireland, as the Democratic Unionist Party - which supports Theresa May’s government - and Sinn Féin failed in their efforts to reach an agreement. Without it, Westminster will pass a budget for the North, thereby returning to de facto direct rule. In the diplomatic relationship between Ireland and Britain there are already underlying tensions about what form this direct rule can take. The official language is still polite, but it requires a massive effort on both sides to progress to an understanding of how the Good Friday Agreement is to be honoured. 

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November 03, 2017

The death of liberalism

Damir Marusic has an essay in the American Interest, whose main contribution is a reference to two other authors who have both made incisive observations about why liberalism is dying. The first of those is the Bulgarian political scientist Ivan Krastev, who in the Journal of Democracy already predicted the demise of liberalism ten years ago. This came in response to the then-strong reaction by the EU to the fledgling populist governments in Poland and Slovakia, and the much-overused Weimar references by the EU's elites at the time. Marusic cites Krastev's observation that the streets of Budapest and Warsaw were not flooded by ruthless paramilitary formations in search of a final solution, but by restless consumers in search of a final sale. The people in those countries did not rebel against democracy, or against market capitalism. The liberal establishment was successful in establishing broad support for markets, but this led people to mobilise around identity issues. 

The other source he cites is Frank Furedi, author of the recently published book Populism and the European Culture Wars, who noted that in central and eastern Europe the intellectual case for liberalism was never really made. As long as liberalism produced rising living standards, the people went along with it; but, as crisis struck, that ended immediately.

Murusic's own conclusion is that the rise in populism itself demonstrates that democracy is working well, as popular discontent has found ways to express itself, as it did in the US presidential elections. He said liberalism has a chance to survive if its advocates emphasise the elements of its philosophical traditions that are worth preserving. But, as he concludes:

"The shrill screeching of the high priests of the liberal clergy are not helping things at all."

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