The EU’s ignorance of Catalonia’s plight is a fundamental error, that will further undermine the EU’s legitimacy and future.

States represent – serve – societies, at least that is what they are supposed to do.

EU self-inflicted

An inadequate response to Catalonia’s plight for more autonomy from Spain, further undermines the European Union.

States are organisational structures that are supposed to (especially) ensure the security of the societies they represent. The characteristics of states in Europe (centralisation of government, monopoly on violence, etc.) and the specific territories they control, are the outcome of a process of social integration and expansion that unfolds in Europe, and started in earnest in 1495.

After the Second World War (the fourth systemic war, 1939-1945), states in Europe (with a delay until 1991, due to the Cold War) were finally able to implement a non-anarchistic order in Europe. The merging of European states and the establishment of a next level of organisation (the European Union), allow(ed) for the development and exploitation of new opportunities.

Internal borders – established to define states and to ensure their security – are abolished, and no longer hamper interactions between Europe’s citizens, communities, businesses and societies, and between and with – what I call –  ‘sub-societies‘, like Catalonia and Scotland. Sub-societies are integral parts of ‘larger’ societies, but still maintain a distinct identity.

Because of various reasons state-structures in Europe have become increasingly obsolete. These reasons include: (1) the fact that the European Union has taken over certain state-functions, and (2) because sub-societies – like Catalonia and Scotland – have developed and exploited their own opportunities, that have reinforced their sense of identity and autonomy. These sub-societies were able to exploit new opportunities because they were no longer restricted by state-borders that hampered their ‘freedom of movement and development’. At present, however, forces for disintegration (fragmentation) are stronger than forces for integration.

Brexit is illustrative for the disintegration of Europe, at two levels.

The United Kingdom – a reluctant member of the European Union – has decided to leave the EU, while the interests of one of its sub-societies and autonomous regions (Scotland) are now often better served with a membership of the EU, than with a membership of the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom has become a stifling straightjacket for Scotland (and Spain for Catalonia), while Europe offers (new) opportunities.

The EU (again) does not know how to respond to these challenges; to assertive sub-societies who claim their autonomy, and consider the states they are integral parts of as obstructions to further development.

The resurgence of these autonomous regions impacts on their interactions, and on their ‘place’ in Europe. And now, as is often the case: Structure follows process.

But the EU cannot simply ignore these developments. These dynamics – sub-societies and communities that demand more autonomy – point to the future development of the European Union, and to its future structure.

It seems more probable – and it does make more sense – that the EU develops toward a network of communities and (sub-)societies, than into a superstate with states as its provinces.

Instead of reinforcing obsolete state structures, the EU should stimulate the development of sub-societies and communities, within an agreed upon European framework, in which the function of the state is further diminished. States (as long as they are functional and exist) and the EU, must serve their societies and not obstruct them.

Instead of developing such a sensible framework in the interest of its citizens, the EU and the UK exhaust themselves in divorce negotiations. A discussion that makes no sense, also Scotland and Catalonia show.

The response of the EU to Catalonia’s and Scotland’s plights for more autonomy – and especially of the Spanish government in case of Catalonia – point to a lack of vision and to fundamental shortcomings in the governance of Europe.

With their actions (or lack of proper action), both Spain and the EU do not serve the societies and populations they represent, but only their own – increasingly outdated – ideas about governance.

The response – reflex – of the Spanish government is from a historical perspective maybe understandable, but is fundamentally wrong.