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January 22, 2018

Carles Puigdemont's flying circus

Carles Puigdemont, the dismissed premier of the Catalan region, is risking arrest this morning by leaving Belgium on a flight to Denmark, where he was been invited to a debate on Catalonia at the university of Copenhagen. When his travel plans became known this week-end, Spain's interior minister Juan Ignacio Zoido was quick to go public with the threat to re-issue a European arrest warrant. A previous European arrest warrant was withdrawn when it became clear that, even if Belgium granted extradition, it would be on limited charges as some of the crimes Puigdemont is accused of in Spain are not crimes under Belgian law. But under Danish law attempting to detach any part of the state can carry a penalty of life imprisonment. Apparently Puigdemont is travelling to Copenhagen against the advice of his own lawyers, so the question is whether he actually intends to be arrested. La Vanguardia has a discussion of the reasons why Puigdemont might want to further "internationalise the conflict" in Denmark of all places. The Danish parliament was one of the first to pass a motion calling for dialogue to resolve the Catalan crisis, already in 2015. In addition, Spain's judicial actions against members of the board of the Catalan parliament have been a subject of debate. 

Meanwhile the new speaker of the Catalan parliament Roger Torrent, appointed last week by the separatist majority in the parliament, has concluded a round of consultations with the various political parties and has no other candidate for regional PM than Puigdemont. He is expected to nominate him today as well. It remains to be seen whether the separatist-controlled board of the parliament will allow Puigdemont to participate in his own investiture debate remotely, or will allow MPs in jail or in Brussels to delegate their vote. The parliament's legal counsel has issued an opinion that neither of these two things are allowed by the parliament's rules of procedure. 

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January 22, 2018

Macedonia and the insurrection of Greek patriotism

Negotiations about the official name for the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia moved to the UN headquarters last week, with five name proposals on the table. Whether this conflict can be solved is still far from clear. While government officials on both sides seem moderate, and positive that this decade-long name dispute can be solved, there have been massive protests in Greece against any use of the name Macedonia. One of the northern Greek provinces has the same name, Macedonia, and the use of the same name raises identity issues. 

An estimated 100,000 came together in Thessaloniki to protest the use of the name Macedonia, many of them in busses from Athens and northern parts of the country. A flare up in patriotism, as many held Greek flags with Macedonian symbols on it, or dressed up in ancient Greek warrior costumes, while speakers warned the government not to surrender Macedonia to the Slavs in Skopje. 

Alexis Tsipras should expect resistance from politicians too. Lawmakers from New Democracy, Centrist Union, and Tsipras' coalition partner Anel, participated in the rally according to KT Greece. His defence minister Panos Kammenos repeatedly opposed the use of the name Macedonia, though he kept the door open to a Slavic version of the name. New Democracy is split on the subject. They refer to the criteria set by the party ten years ago, namely that any solution should be based on a composite name with a geographical qualifier.

The Greek church is also opposed. The Holy Synod recently issued a statement on the subject, insisting that Macedonia is Greek. Tsipras knows that he has to get the Church on his side, and thus took the unusual step to meet with the archbishop Ieronymos last Thursday. Tsipras got what he wanted: a change in tone. The archbishop said after the meeting that this is not the time for protest but for consensus. Having the Church on his side would help to prevent the protest wave from spreading, keep Anel happy as a coalition partner, and split New Democracy given its close relationship with the Church, writes Macropolis. The question is whether this will be enough to quell the insurrection. A new composite name could be better than what is in use now, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. But this did not stop the protesters from calling the government traitors. This name dispute has certainly the potential to turn into a major political crisis, which is the last thing Tsipras needs right now. 

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January 22, 2018

On the real hurdles for Brexit revocation

In his latest FT column Wolfgang Munchau brings forward a couple of arguments that are not usually made in the debate on Brexit revocation. The first is that it will be nearly impossible to find a question that would satisfy the rules of a referendum. The question proposed by advocates of a second referendum - do you accept the withdrawal agreement or do we you want to stay in the EU - does not qualify as people can logically reject both. Munchau notes that it is impossible to ask a question that is binary, not a repeat of the last one, and that keeps the UK in the EU.

A second point he makes is that Brexiteers are likely to boycott a second referendum if one of the options is continued membership. Remain would then end up with a hollow victory that will be difficult to interpret because of the lower turnout. 

What is often overlooked by advocates of a strategy to revoke is that the EU will accept revocation only against a number of conditions, which in turn are likely to be laid out clearly in any referendum. That would include, at a minimum, the end of the British rebate and a political promise by all main British political parties not to trigger Article 50 again for a certain period of time.

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January 22, 2018

And the satellites, too

Regardless of whether the ultimate agreement between the EU and the UK allows cooperation in the aerospace sector to continue as before, the UK will be losing another European agency on Brexit, in addition to the European Banking Authority and the European Medicines Agency. Galileo, the EU's answer to GPS, has a security monitoring centre near Paris with a backup facility being set up in the English town of Swanwick. However, security concerns dictate that an EU member state must host the Galileo Security Monitoring Centre, which also excludes countries like Norway or Switzerland even though both participate in Galileo. According to reports, the centre employs just three people, one of them full-time as it is not yet operational, but plans are to increase its staffing to up to 30 people. The GNSS committee of the EU, consisting of one representative from each of the member states, decided by a large majority to select Madrid, Spain, among seven contenders to host the Galileo security monitoring centre, the European Commission announced last week. 

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