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Referendum in Catalonia: Beyond the Headlines

October 5, 2017

According to a recent article in the New York Times reporting on the October 1 independence referendum in Catalonia, “police officers in black RoboCop uniforms and Darth Vader helmets blocked ordinary citizens from voting. They beat people with batons, fired rubber bullets and wounded pensioners. All of it was captured by smartphones and news cameras and spread around the world. It is the kind of violence the European Union would ordinarily condemn in high moral terms and even consider punishing. But that was not so easy this time. The nation in question was one of its own: Spain.” The article goes on to imply that, in a conflict between “the fundamental democratic rights of free speech and free assembly and of individuals to vote,” on the one hand, and notions of sovereignty and territorial integrity, on the other, the EU is choosing to side with the latter for self-interested reasons; namely, discouraging regional separatism across Europe. But, on this occasion, the NYT may have missed part of the point. It is indeed true that the European Commission, while generally condemning violence and calling for dialogue, has so far remained behind Spanish Prime Minister Marian Rajoy, claiming that “[the Catalan referendum] is an internal matter for Spain that has to be dealt with in line with the constitutional order of Spain,” and affirming its “trust [in] 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.” It is also true that the EU is likely to see in Catalan separatism a return to the very nationalism that the project of European integration was meant to overcome. But in this show of support, the concern that remains at the forefront of the cited statements is not that of a blind defense of territorial integrity; rather, it is that of something much more fundamental to European ideals: the rule of law.

Police 1


Beyond the sensationalist headlines, the situation in Catalonia, and its explosion during the attempted vote on Sunday, is marked by a number of complexities that require a serious analysis. Despite the powerful and disquieting imagery of armored police beating down on peaceful voters, the question is not simply (or perhaps even not accurately) one of democracy versus repression, or of popular action versus state power. The dispute is in fact one between conflicting notions of democracy, and ultimately between the rule of law and the desire for self-determination, which is precisely what makes the whole situation so complicated, and so ripe for polarization and uncompromising viewpoints.

To begin with, with regards to democracy, both sides claim to be acting in its defense: one camp defends the right of a distinct community to decide on its own future by means of the ballot, while the other defends the right of democratic majorities to have their decisions respected when dissenting minorities are adequately (and even super-proportionally) represented in the decision-making process. This brings us to the question of the rule of law, which is inescapably tied to that of democracy. Because, in any democracy, the right of citizens to vote must occur within the boundaries set forth by law: not everything is subject to a vote, and certainly not by whatever self-defined group and in accordance to whatever ad-hoc procedures (or else the principle of democratic majoritarianism would be emptied of any meaning).Rajoy The Spanish Constitutional Court declared the Catalan government’s law calling for a referendum on independence unconstitutional for contravening the fundamental principles of the Constitution that all Spaniards, including Catalans, democratically voted for in 1978, and which marks the commonly-agreed-to rules of democratic participation. Insofar the referendum deviated from those rules, it represented a challenge to democracy, a challenge that the central government was legitimized to oppose.

But that is not the end of the discussion. While Catalans’ claim of a right to vote may not be sheltered by democratic principles, it may find justification in the idea of self-determination. The question is thus whether the drive for self-determination is a legitimate one in the present case, a question for which different actors will have different answers. But we should at least clear away some misconceptions. Catalans are at the moment not an oppressed minority (even if they may have been at times in the more distant past): they live in an advanced democracy (Spain) in which all citizens have equal rights to political participation and representation; Catalonia is a region that enjoys an important degree of autonomy (to the point that the region’s political institutions are currently serving as a platform for independence); the Catalan government, elected by the residents of Catalonia, eagerly promotes Catalan culture and language in the region; and, even in the current time of crisis, the central government is choosing not to take control over the regional administration, which it would be authorized to do under Article 155 of the Constitution in cases of exceptional emergency. Nevertheless, Catalan historical distinctiveness, along with more recent conflicts with the Madrid government (especially following the 2008 recession) may provide a degree of legitimacy for demands of increased self-determination. That is a political question for which there is not necessarily an objective answer. But it is evident that the Madrid government also has a legitimate interest in preventing that answer to be provided unilaterally and outside of the boundaries of constitutional democracy.

Preparations Are Made Leading Up To The Catalan Independence Referendum

A different issue, however, is whether the government’s response to the referendum was an appropriate one. Many would agree that it was not. True, the national police were following court orders, after the regional police largely refused to fulfill its assigned role of preventing the polling stations from opening; and the intervention, rather than targeting the voters, was meant to seize referendum materials and close down the locations in which the vote was occurring, which in turn lead to clashes with those seeking to protect their own ability to vote. But there is no doubt that the police response was heavy-handed and likely disproportionate, with officers using rubber bullets and batons against unarmed civilians; in the end, the injury-toll exceeded 800 (representing those who were treated by the health services, the number of persons actually requiring hospitalization being limited to four). In addition, the very notion of thousands of agents acting against the population was overall a troublesome one, and rightly generated the image of a repressive atmosphere in which force was the principal measure resorted to by the state. This image was also problematic from a public-opinion perspective, and led to a predictable reaction by the international community. Even the EU, within the framework of its support for the Spanish government, condemned the use of violence as a means to resolve the situation and called for dialogue among the parties involved.

Moreover, the resort to the police as the method to quell the aspirations of Catalan secessionists may have served to further fuel secessionist sympathies, and to strengthen the Catalan government’s claim of the need for further distancing from Spain. Indeed, Carles Puigdemont, president of the Catalan regional government, was quick to capitalize on Sunday’s events, condemning Madrid’s actions, calling for international mediation, and claiming that the results of the referendum (ninety percent in favor of secession, with an alleged turnout of forty-two percent) gave him a mandate to push forth with a unilateral declaration of independence.

Puigdemont 3

The results of the referendum, however, are questionable, not just because of the irregular nature of the vote, which offered few of the guarantees required for a poll to be certified internationally, but also because of the self-selecting nature of the participants: the Constitutional Tribunal’s declaration of the referendum’s unconstitutionality likely meant that those Catalans who still consider themselves bound by the Spanish legal system (who would arguably also be those holding a deeper allegiance to Spain) viewed the vote as illegitimate. In other words, participation in the referendum was itself a good indicator of the participant’s political stance on the issue of self-determination.

But, going back to the procedural irregularities of the referendum, it is important to note that this may have in fact been one of the main factors behind the central government’s decision to use the police as a disruptive force. The logic behind this decision, regardless of its strategic and even moral questionability, is evident: in the knowledge of the constant threat of intervention by the state’s security forces, the Catalan government would be forced (as it indeed was) to conduct the vote in a semi-clandestine and makeshift manner hardly compatible with the openness that a polling process requires. Examples of this were the print-at-home ballots, the lack of judicial oversight, or the (quite literally) last-minute decision to change the voting rules to provide for a universal census and for voters’ ability to vote in any center of their choice, with voter-ID checks based on a rudimentary and often malfunctioning (or police-intervened) software. Moreover, the very seizure of ballot-boxes and the closure of polling centers by the police may have served to further discredit any announced results of the vote.

Under these conditions, regardless of the causes, it is clear that the results of the referendum cannot be seen as genuinely representative. The question, now, is how the different actors will play their cards in the coming days. And, at this moment, it seems like the EU’s call for dialogue within the boundaries of the Spanish Constitution is the best available option, for right now the situation has become a lose-lose one. On the one hand, any unilateral declaration of independence by the Catalan government would lack legitimacy in the eyes of the international community due to its breach of Spanish democratic legality and to the lack of verifiable popular backing, and it would likely compel the Spanish government to trigger Article 155 of the Constitution and assume control over the Catalan administration. On the other hand, a continuation of heavy-handed, hardline policies by Madrid will almost inevitably close the window for any potential political settlement in the future, and will drive more Catalans towards radical secessionism. Naturally, any dialogue would mean that both sides would have to make concessions, but those concessions can still happen within the boundaries set forth by the rule of law, including the resort to a constitutional amendment process if need be (which, for example, could transform Spain into a formally federal system).

As Roger Cohen of the New York Times writes, “[i]t’s obvious that the middle ground needs to be re-created in Spain, that Rajoy (if he survives) must drop his high-handedness and Puigdemont his destructive hubris, and that a dialogue is essential. A creative road to a federal Spain could, with time, be imagined.” In a seemingly insolvable conflict between the rule of law and a nation’s quest to redefine its relation to the state, a process of constitutional reform, respectful of the requirements set forth in the Spanish Constitution, may provide the only opportunity for accommodating both sides of the dispute, or at least the parts of those sides that may still be willing to engage in some form of meaningful dialogue. It is precisely this middle ground that the EU seems to be advocating for in the statements cited at the beginning of this piece, and its advocacy for dialogue appears at this moment to be the most prudent stance. The alternative is a continuation of the current downward spiral of confrontation, in which all sides are likely to lose more than they will ever gain.









Merkel & the CDU’s Hollow Victory

September 29, 2017

All eyes were on the German elections last week as Chancellor Angela Merkel and CDU party retained majority power, however lost 65 parliamentary seats to opposition parties, including the AfD (Alternative for Germany party), who won a surprising 13% of the vote. The AfD party is now the first far-right party in German parliament in over 50 years.


The loss of 65 parliamentary seats will force Chancellor Merkel and the CDU party to negotiate and align with other parties in order to gain majority in parliament.   Many believe that the likely outcome is for Merkel and the CDU party to align with the smaller Green party and the FDP party. Both the Green and FDP parties have been around for quite some time now. The Green party, founded in 1980, as the name implies focuses heavily on environmental policies; renewable energy; and natural recourses. The FDP party, founded in 1948, is a strong advocate for free markets in business and legislation that promotes economic liberalism. As of now, both the Green and FDP parties have expressed their willingness to discuss a possible alignment with the CDU party, however it may be some time until a solid agreement is reached between all parties.

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Europe appears to have staved off far right political movements in France, the Netherlands, and now Germany, contradicting the predictions of many that Europe, like the US would too see far right politics dominate the political landscape. With this said, the uncertainty of a CDU-FDP-Green party alliance in Germany has lead to uncertainty in the European market, causing the Euro to drop for two consecutive days resulting in the lowest evaluation of the Euro in the month of September.

In the end Chancellor Merkel and the CDU party won a tough fight, but face an even tougher challenge as they attempt to regain majority control of parliament with a potential uneasy alliance.

If you are reading this blog and happen to be at IU next Monday October 2nd, please consider joining us in GISB 3067 from 12:00pm-1:30pm for a lecture by Dr. Joyce Mushaben from the University of Missouri – St. Louis titled “Immovable Object, Unstoppable Force: Angela Merkel, Vladimir Putin and the New Politics of Containment”


Brexit Revisited: EURO-hosted Panel Discusses the Latest Developments

September 21, 2017

On Monday, September 11, the Institute for European Studies hosted a presentation on the development and implications of Brexit a little over a year after the UK’s vote to withdraw from the EU. Paul Craig, Professor of English Law at the University of Oxford and visiting professor at Indiana University, acted as the keynote speaker for the event, and provided an insightful overview of the most important Brexit-related developments since the referendum. According to Professor Craig, these include the Lancaster House Speech and the discussion over soft versus hard Brexit options; the legal challenge against the UK government’s ability to trigger Article 50 without parliamentary preapproval; the unsuccessful attempt at establishing parallel negotiations with the EU on withdrawal, on the one hand, and on future relations (especially in terms of the single market), on the other; and the debate surrounding the EU Withdrawal Bill. Tim Hellwig (IU Political Science), in turn, spoke about the different elections involved in the Brexit process–namely the 2010 election (whose results were crucial in leading then Prime Minister Cameron to make an exit referendum part of his platform), the Brexit vote itself, and the election called by Prime Minister May in a losing gamble to gain a broad mandate for the negotiations stage. Samee Desai (SPEA) then concluded with an analysis of Brexit’s impact on third-party countries, especially in terms of direct trade, financial transactions, and international development.

Brexit Panel 2

Notably, at roughly the same time as the EURO event was taking place, the House of Commons was meeting in London to discuss the EU Withdrawal Bill, one of the key considerations in Professor Craig’s talk. The following day, September 12, news broke out early in the morning that the Commons had voted in favor of the bill, thus getting one step closer to formalizing the post-withdrawal legal regime of the U.K., and making the withdrawal itself a nearer reality. The bill, which would enter into force once the formal break with the EU takes place, is meant to repeal the 1972 European Communities Act and to convert all existing European law into U.K. law, thus ensuring that there are no legislative gaps after Brexit. As Professor Craig explained in his address, however, the EU Withdrawal Bill has been laden with controversy from its inception. One of its most discussed aspects has been the introduction of wide discretionary prerogatives for the Executive to amend the ensuing legislation, which the government defends as necessary in order to address the innumerable technical issues that will arise with the jurisdictional transfer (for one thing, all references to EU institutions will need to be changed), but which detractors criticize as an unwarranted and unchecked expansion of Executive power. In addition, the bill also faces opposition from the devolved governments of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, which claim that, while many of the matters currently regulated by European law would fall under devolved competencies, it is mainly Westminster’s power that will be increased by the proposed legislation. The question of how the devolved institutions will respond to the bill is an important one, because the government has publicly committed to seeking their consent. And although the withholding of that consent by the devolved legislatures would not be binding on the national government, and would thus not amount to a veto, it would certainly be an important setback for the administration’s efforts to portray the bill (and, incidentally, the entire Brexit process) as one in which the interests and input of Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales will be respected. Thus far, the bill has already met with express criticism from the Scottish government, which has described it as an “executive power grab.”

Commons 1

The bill received the support of 326 MPs in the Commons, while 290 voted against it. The vote was divided largely along party lines, with no Conservatives voting against the proposed legislation and only seven Labour MPs defying party leader Jeremy Corbin’s orders to oppose it. The result will certainly be welcome by the government, especially as Prime Minister May prepares to deliver a speech to the EU in Florence this coming Friday (September 22), in which we may be able to learn more about the UK’s expectations for the upcoming round of Brexit negotiations.


Any readers interested in learning more about the Brexit process and the issues surrounding it are encouraged to read Professor Craig’s papers on the topic, available through the following link.

Briefing from Berlin: EURO MA candidate Alex Baker on the upcoming German elections

September 14, 2017

Alternative für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany) politician Beatrix Von Storch stood at the podium, backed by campaign posters that read, “We’re for a Christian West,” “Truth through Courage,” and “We’re for national security” as she introduced Nigel Farage. “A man that wrote history” she called him. Farage received a standing ovation from the crowd gathered at the Spandau Citadel, a former military fortress in Berlin’s deep west, as he made his way to the podium.

Farage AfD

The event, held Friday, September 8th, comes just a few short weeks before Germany’s federal election. The AfD is a far-right German political party that has grown in popularity in recent years due to its hardline stance on migration issues. However, the party was founded in 2013 on Eurosceptic principles by economist Bernd Lücke. The AfD currently holds seats in thirteen of the sixteen German states and is seeking to enter the Bundestag for the first time, having failed to reach the five percent threshold in the 2013 federal election. The party is currently polling between eight and eleven percent (the party’s polling numbers peaked in mid-2016 at between thirteen and sixteen percent), and has a realistic chance at becoming the third strongest party in the new German parliament. The party is seeking to ride what is left of the 2016 populist wave, highlighted by the Brexit referendum and the election of Donald Trump. Farage clarified during his talk he has no formal ties with the AfD, but called Von Storch bold, wise, and a friend.

Brexit was the topic of choice for Farage on Friday. He questioned why Brexit had been largely absent as a topic of debate in the lead-up to the German federal elections. According to Farage, Angela Merkel and Martin Schulz ignored the issue of Brexit because “it is a huge embarrassment for the European dream.” The crux of Farage’s Farage AfD 2argument is that Germany, and German workers, have a lot at stake depending on the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, calling trade a two-way street. Farage appealed to the audience with his claim that the label “Made in Germany” carries the utmost weight for consumers in the United Kingdom. He also cited the importance of trade between the UK and Germany for German workers, claiming that Germany has a 30 billion Euro trade surplus with the United Kingdom (it was unclear where he came up with this figure). Farage was also critical of the effects that the European Union has on popular sovereignty and national democracies, while also noting that if any country has the ability to fundamentally change the EU, it would be Germany.

Germany is the largest country in the European Union. It has the largest share of seats in the European parliament, with ninety-six (12.8%). The leader of the European People’s Party, the largest group in the European parliament, is the German Manfred Weber. And of course Germany is the economic leader of Europe.

There was no shortage of soundbites Friday night. At one point, Farage called Viktor Orban of Hungary, “the best and strongest leader of the whole of Europe.” When asked about Jean-Claude Junker, Farage said his advice to the president of the European Commission would be to, “drink less at lunch time… I mean, I like a glass of wine, but there are limits, you know.” As for current German chancellor Angela Merkel, Farage said that her decision in the midst of the refugee crisis, her “Wir schaffen das” approach, was “probably the worst decision by any Western leader in modern political history.” He also called Martin Schulz, “a dangerous man.”

Farage did point out something that many Germans are critical of, and that is the claim that Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic party and Martin Schulz’s Social Democratic Party have become indistinguishable on many issues. Farage called it “two different personalities offering the same menu.” Germany could be looking at its third consecutive ‘grand coalition’ between the CDU and SPD. The two leading candidates faced off in a debate recently which could best be described as dull and lacking substance.



As an attendee to Friday’s event, the first thing that struck me about it was the venue. The Spandau Citadel not only accommodated with ease Farage’s talk; it also represented a deeper symbolic meaning. The fortress is extremely well-preserved: built in the late 1500s, it has survived through many wars and is a staple of Berlin’s, and Germany’s, history.AfD rally 3 In a more practical sense, the Spandau Citadel is a military defense structure. Throughout centuries, the citadel served as a point of protection against invading armies from foreign lands. The AfD see themselves as the modern-day protectors of Germany. Much of their campaign rhetoric has to do with defending what they deem to be the German way of life, and German culture, from perceived threats, such as globalization, European integration, and Islam. Whether AfD leaders thought about this when they chose to host the event at the Spandau Citadel I do not know, but the irony was not lost on me.

Yet, that was not the only ironic theme of the night. During his talk, Farage chastised Obama for his meddling comments regarding the Brexit vote, in which he implored those in the UK to vote remain. This of course was rich coming from Farage, who has stuck his nose in just about every country’s politics so long as there is a right-wing, populist-leaning party on the ticket.

Whether you agree with his points or not, there is no denying Farage is a gifted orator who knows how to work an audience, especially an audience friendly to him and his ideas. He speaks with extreme energy, vigor, and enthusiasm. He also knew exactly on which points to hit in order to strike a chord with his audience Friday. At one point he referenced his experience in the private sector and claimed “there is not a city in the Ruhrgebiet that I have not visited.” He has become a kind of cult hero for those with right-wing populist leanings and sympathies. In previous interviews, Farage called 2016 a “global revolution against global governance,” citing Brexit, the election of Donald Trump, and Italy’s removal of their prime minister after a referendum. During his Friday talk, he mentioned multiple times “standing on a stage in Mississippi with that businessman from New York named Donald J. Trump.” Along with campaigning for Trump, Farage backed Marine Le Pen in France, has expressed admiration and respect for Dutch politician Geert Wilders, and is a regular contributor to Fox News.


Predictability, Farage checked all the boxes Friday. He harshly criticized the media, which is a common tactic of the AfD. The AfD have brought back the term ‘Lügenpresse,’ which translates to lying press. The term has appeared several times throughout German history, but its use is most commonly associated with the Nazi period. He criticized the political elite and rich Brussels bureaucrats (even though he falls under this very classification himself). He blasted big banks and big multinationals, as well as taking shots at Merkel, Schulz, Juncker, and Obama.

I found myself wondering before, during, and after the event, what was the purpose of Farage’s Berlin visit? Surely he must know that Brexit is simply not a salient issue for most Germans. There are far more pressing matters in German- and geo-politics to deal with. Of course Farage will go anywhere, anytime, to preach the evils of Brussels to anyone who will listen, but the event served another purpose. It was just the latest example of AfD thrusting itself into the public discourse. Alice Weidel debate.pngA common tactic of the AfD is to make headlines by any means necessary. Just a few nights before Friday’s event, AfD party co-head Alice Weidel walked out of a debate, citing biased moderation. Some in Germany suspected the move was staged, in order to grab headlines and push a narrative. It worked, as Weidel was mentioned more than any other candidate on Twitter that night, and many news outlets led with the Weidel story and her prepared statement.

In a campaign dominated by Merkel and Schulz, the other periphery parties are struggling for media attention. Predictability, Farage speaking in Berlin as a guest of the AfD was not only national news, but international news. At the event, I encountered journalists not only from Germany’s largest national publications and outlets, but from international news outlets such as CNN, Reuters, BBC, and The Guardian. Nigel Farage is a poster-boy for the values that the AfD espouses; they knew the event would sell, and they were right.

I had the opportunity to ask Farage a question during the Q&A period. I decided to press him on Russia, since a proper discussion on Russia and Ukraine has been largely absent from the German political debate in recent months, and there are emerging reports of Farage’s dubious ties with Russia. My motivation for asking about the conflict stemmed also from the AfD’s non-committal, non-unified stance on Russia and Ukraine. The relationship between Russia and the AfD has been the topic of much scrutiny, and the ties between the AfD and Moscow are shrouded in secrecy. On this occasion, Farage chose to simply sidestep the question.


Alex Baker is a second year MA student in European Studies currently on exchange in Germany at the Free University of Berlin. He completed his BA at Michigan State University’s James Madison College of Public Affairs and International Relations, majoring in Comparative Cultures and Politics and minoring in German. During his undergraduate studies, he spent a year living in Dessau, Germany. Alex has an anticipated graduation date of May 2018.


European Responses to North Korean Missile Tests

September 8, 2017


On July 28th North Korea’s test fire of its second ICBM caused United States President Donald Trump to respond by saying if they endangered the U.S. they would be met with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.” Both North Korea’s persistent missile development and the United States’ hardline rhetoric has caused ripples with allies within the European Union and across the international community.

In Berlin, anxiety is growing over the rising tensions between Washington and Pyongyang. “Our main concern,” states German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, “Now that this struggle is escalating…both sides are ramping it up, and this can in fact end in military conflict.”

France’s defense minister, Florence Parly, warned that the missiles could now hit London or other European cities. In a speech to the French military, Parly said “The scenario of an escalation towards a major conflict cannot be discarded, Europe risks being within range of Kim Jong Un’s missiles sooner than expected.”


British Prime Minister Theresa May is urging China to put pressure on North Korea to freeze its nuclear development program, a call to action echoed by the White House.  “The Prime Minister and The President (U.S.) agreed on the key role which China has to play,” a Downing Street spokesman said, “It is important (China) use all the leverage they have to ensure North Korea stops conducting these illegal acts so that we can ensure the security and safety of nations in the region.” The Prime Minister has expressed renewed interest in working with the United States and other international partners to continue to exert economic pressure on the rogue nation.

After North Korea performed its second ICBM test on July 28th, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a new sanctions resolution against North Korea. The sanctions banned the import of coal, iron, iron ore, lead, lead ore and seafood from North Korea. These sanctions did little to deter Kim Jong Un, who pressed on with a slew of missile tests at the end of August. The most recent one, a ballistic missile launched on August 28th, traveled 1700 miles over Japan, landing in the Pacific Ocean. Despite these recent aggressions The U.N. has taken no further action against North Korea.


Last week, British Prime Minister Theresa May visited Japan and told her hosts she was “outraged” by North Korea’s most recent ballistic missile launch. Additionally, The European Union has also come out in clear support of pressure on North Korea. Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign policy chief, issued a statement in which she expressed support for calls for an emergency meeting of the Security Council. She added that the EU would look at an “appropriate response in close consultation with key partners and in line with UN Security Council deliberations.” It is, however, unclear if the EU would commit military forces to the region should tensions deteriorate to the point at which fighting breaks out.



North Korea’s missiles ‘could reach London’ say experts


Estonia: Small Country, Powerful Influence

August 31, 2017

Currently, Estonia is center stage for the ongoing NATO exercise Operation Atlantic Resolve. Due to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, many NATO countries, particularly those Untitled.pngwho share a border with Russia or that are nearby, were fearful of possible Russian aggression into their territory. To ease these fears, Operation Atlantic Resolve is geographically conducted in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. These exercises are intended to send a clear message to Russia as well as to reassure these concerned countries. The operation consists of numerous exercises designed to promote partnership between US and NATO troops in a wide range of environments. The operation also gives US forces the opportunity to learn about customs, politics, and other valuable knowledge about the region.

For a country roughly 217 times smaller than the United States and with approximately 323 less million people, Estonia sure pulls its weight when it comes to meeting the 2% graph-1GDP defense spending requirement agreed to by NATO members. In fact, this small country is one of only five countries that are currently meeting this requirement. While this might surprise some, Estonia has long had a history of being the workhorse in many aspects of European Security against Russian aggression.

In a recent visit to Indiana University, Estonian Prime Minister Juri Ratas expressed Estonia’s willingness to have a productive dialogue with Russia. However, Prime Minister Ratas was quick to admit that dialogue with Russia has been increasingly op3c4421-2more challenging after the annexation of Crimea. Prime Minister Ratas also advocated for a unified European and US voice when dealing with Russia, which may be challenging under the current US administration who has sung high praises for Putin and who has questioned NATO members for not contributing their fair share of the defense spending.

“EU relations with Russia is another widely discussed topic. It is quite often on the table in my meetings with different state leaders and also frequently asked about by journalists. Russia is our neighbour and naturally we would wish to have good relations based on the same values and principles. Unfortunately Russia has shown over the years by attacking independent states such as Georgia and Ukraine that it does not follow the principles of international law nor respect the norms and principles that it committed itself to in the early post-Soviet era.

Therefore, dialogue with Russia is only possible in limited areas with clear understanding of our interests and values. We, be it the EU or the United States, should convey a common message when we engage in bilateral contacts with Russia.”

Regardless of the productivity of any potenital discussions with Russia and the current US administration, Estonia plays a vital role in European Security and will for the foreseeable future.

Barcelona Attack: Will it Have a Larger Impact on the Spanish and European Political Climates?

August 24, 2017
Rajoy Puigdemont 2

Photo credit: Andreu Dalmau (EFE)

Although the immediate aftermath of the August 17 terrorist attacks in and near Barcelona has witnessed an outpour of displays of unity in support of the victims, it is not altogether clear how long that climate of unity will last. It is easily predictable that many among the growing number of Europe’s populist right-wing politicians will loudly voice their concern about the presence of Muslim communities across the continent and about the alleged incapacity of the EU to deal with the influx of foreigners. For one, Nigel Farage (the euroskeptic former leader of UKIP who spearheaded the Brexit campaign) has already come out with accusations that EU leaders are endangering their citizens and are partly responsible for the attacks. Naturally, it is in these times of crisis that the resilience of European institutions is most severely tested, but at least so far the Union has withstood the majority of attacks against its core principles of integration and inclusiveness, as the post-Brexit electoral defeats of the far-right in France (which has experienced the largest numbers of casualties during the recent wave of terrorism) and elsewhere shows. Nevertheless, it is hard to tell whether the increasing prevalence of the terrorist threat will ultimately take its toll in the continent, and thwart features as fundamental to European integration as the freedom of movement.

Similarly, the Barcelona attack is likely to generate further backlash against the admission of refugees into the EU, although in the coming days it will be important to keep in mind that the attackers, while of Moroccan descent, had been long settled in Spain and were seemingly well integrated into Spanish society. Therefore, this latest attack bears little relationship with the refugee crisis. But despite the presence of similar facts surrounding prior acts of terrorism in Europe, refugees remain a frequent target of exclusionary rhetoric. This summer, for example, the EU was forced to take legal action against three of its member states (the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland) based on their refusal to harbor asylum seekers as required by a 2015 agreement. The leaders of these nations have cited security concerns in refusing to comply with their allocation quota. And such concerns (whether real or invoked for purely opportunistic reasons) are likely to increase now that Spain, a third principal avenue (besides Greece and Italy) of North African immigration into Europe and a country usually seen as among the most efficient in thwarting terrorist plots, has been unable to prevent an attack in one of its main cities.

Notably, one country that has not experienced the all-too-common surge of far-right rhetoric into the political mainstream has been precisely Spain, and it does not seem likely that such rhetoric will find its way in now that the country is beginning to see the end of the economic crisis that hit it so hard in 2008. But Spanish politics are facing conflicts of their own, and these conflicts have much to do with Barcelona. Indeed, Barcelona is the capital city of Catalonia, a region currently undergoing a debate on secessionism that has brought it to a point of seemingly unsolvable crisis with the Spanish government. In a rare show of unity, the leaders of the national and regional governments (Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and President Carles Puigdemont, respectively) stood together, along with King Felipe VI, in commemoration of the victims of the attack. Moreover, both leaders have for the most part refrained from explicitly making use of the attacks for political purposes.

The truce, however, is not likely to last. Newspapers and some political figures are already using the tragedy to attack the opposing side. Thus, for example, the main national newspaper, El País, published an editorial arguing that the attacks highlight the misplaced priorities of the Catalan government, which according to the piece should focus on the needs and security of its citizens instead of concentrating exclusively on the “chimera” of independence. Conversely, others have claimed that the attacks would not have happened in an independent Catalonia, and that the response of the local authorities demonstrates the capacity of the region to function as a separate state. And all this is taking place as Catalonia gets ready for an informal referendum on secession that the Spanish government considers illegal. Whether the terrorist incident will have an impact on secessionist sympathies is yet to be seen, but at least for the time being, it is essential that all sides maintain an attitude of respect regarding the events in Barcelona and refrain from unduly using the tragedy to generate discord or gain a political advantage.