Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Better together or happy apart?

Better together or happy apart? Independence movements in Europe. Hertie School of Governance // Berlin, Germany 

European experts ask the EU to stop avoiding the debate on the possible emergence of new states

The Hertie School of Governance hosted the first conference of the Public Diplomacy Council of Catalonia (DIPLOCAT) in Germany entitled Better together or happy apart? Independence Movements in Europe, organised in cooperation with this international school of governance. The event was attended by approximately one hundred people, which included, amongst others, representatives from the German Parliament, the Spanish Embassy, students and faculty, who were all able to participate in the ensuing debate.

The conference was inaugurated by Albert Royo, Secretary General of the Public Diplomacy Council, who thanked the Hertie School for its collaboration before giving a brief summary of the current political situation in Catalonia after the vote of the 9 November.

During the first part of the conference, Nico Krisch, ICREA Research Professor at the Barcelona Institutes of International Studies (IBEI) and Fellow at the Hertie School of Governance, explained the margin offered by International law for European independence movements. According to Krisch, the scope for operability is limited, as the movements are not cases of decolonisation or cases where basic human rights are not respected. However, Krisch endorses an approach in accordance with democratic values, whereby the aspirations of a broad majority of a society cannot be silenced. In this sense, the EU should formulate an approach rather than avoid the issue using the excuse that it is an “internal affair”. Krisch ended on the affirmation that the Catalan and Scottish movements are inclusive, not ethnic, more so than the States they aim to part from.

In a round table moderated by Mark Dawson, Professor of European Law and Governance, Hertie School of Governance, Catalan, Belgian and Scottish experts discussed the consequences of a new state within the European Union. Representing a Catalan perspective, Jaume López, Associate Professor of Political Science, University Pompeu Fabra (Barcelona, Catalonia), explained the repeated failures of federalist reforms which Catalonia has proposed to the Spanish state throughout history. He also underlined that Madrid’s repeated refusal of such proposals have caused a rise in pro-independence positions in Catalonia.

Eve Hepburn, Senior Lecturer in Politics and Deputy Director of the Academy of Government, University of Edinburgh highlighted two aspects from the recent Scottish independence referendum. Firstly, as a political leader, you have to respect the democratic will of the people and let them vote. Secondly, as Mr Krisch had also pointed out, the Scottish independence movement was broad and inclusive, which made it especially strong.

Finally, Steven Blockmans, Senior Research Fellow and Head of the EU Foreign Policy Unit, Centre for European Studies (CEPS), and Professor of EU External Relations Law and Governance, University of Amsterdam, asked for more flexibility on behalf of the EU to accommodate regions, and not only to be a club of States. He also spoke about the case of Flanders, where 35 years of constitutional reforms have debilitated the independent movement.

With this event the Public Diplomacy Council of Catalonia continues the series of conferences on the right to decide in prestigious European universities. The cycle started at Sciences Po Paris in June 2013, and continued with conferences in London, Seville, Uppsala (Sweden), Toulouse, Lisbon, Utrecht, Santiago de Compostela, Oslo, Geneva, Reykjavik and now Berlin. Upcoming conferences of the series will be held in Rome and Vienna during the month of December.

The Hertie School of Governance was founded in 2003 by the Hertie Foundation, its main partner. The Hertie School is an international centre, with a variety of first-rate academic projects and a diverse student body. The school prepares students for leadership positions in government, business, and civil society. The Hertie School also actively promotes public debate.

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