Thursday, September 18, 2014

Scottish Independence Referendum: A lesson for Europe.
For one day, the whole Europe turned Scottish. The Referendum on Scottish independence got the attention of the whole continent and everyone is waiting for the result. The outcome of the referendum is undoubtedly important for Europe, for a number of reasons.

First of all, one of Europe's biggest powers will never be the same again. If Scotland decides to leave, the United Kingdom, it's flag, economy and its position in the EU will dramatically change.

If Scotland gains its independence from the UK, as it is the most pro-European nation in the Kingdom, it will inevitably affect the referendum on UK's EU membership scheduled for 2017. Without the Scottish vote, if the rest of the Kingdom is still as Euro-skeptic after the Scottish departure, it will surely mean the withdrawal of the country from the EU.

That will create unprecedented changes for the EU itself as well as the UK. Economically a separated Scotland will face many challenges, but there will be surely some for the remaining Kingdom itself. Both they will have to either re-apply or re-negotiate their EU membership and as the UK is one of the EU's major economies, things can get complicated to say at least.

If the YES side of the referendum wins and Scotland becomes an independent nation, it will open the door for many other regions of Europe to also seek theirs: Catalonia is closely watching the Scottish vote result, but also Corsica, Flanders, Sardinia, the Basque country and many other regions might follow suit.

This will create a new Europe, a continent of regions. Many Europeans fear the secessionist agenda of the nationalist movements across Europe, as they fear the collapse of the whole EU and the European economy. Others welcome the development, believing that a new united or federal Europe must be a federation of regions and not of the traditional states that we know, so they see their breaking up as necessary.

No matter what, if Scotland says YES to independence, Europe will never be the same again. And even if it votes NO, some lessons are still to be learned for the EU itself.

One of the driving forces of the surge in popularity of the nationalist party in Scotland, was the very bad policies that the centralized UK government in Westminster followed for the past years. The London based elites, were ignoring the signs coming from Scotland, taking for granted the fact that their country remained united for more than 300 years.

They continued to implement neo-liberal policies, while the Scots were obviously increasingly unhappy. In fact some analysts believe that the whole referendum is based not so much on driven nationalism, but continuous dissatisfaction with Westminster's financial policies.

Similar events triggered independence movements and uprisings in European history so many times before. If a population is not happy about their ruling elite, they will eventually protest or revolt. And when this population has a national identity different than the elites that rule them, then what starts as a protest against the policies adopted, it becomes a nationalist and independence movement.

That was exactly what happened during the collapse of the Ottoman empire and the former Yugoslavia. So why don't our leaders ever learn? It is obvious that the economy and how it is managed is sometimes a greater force than any nationalist feelings.In fact dissatisfaction of one's financial reality can often incite them.

Our leaders should always keep the population happy and prosperous to avoid dissidence, or give the nationalists an opportunity to gain popularity. 

This can prove as a very valuable lesson for the EU itself and I think there are already signs of revolt against it, from ordinary Europeans. When power is centralized and detached from the people it is supposed to govern, it becomes irrelevant and secessionist or nationalist movements are eventually tearing this governing power apart.

So even if I am pro-European and a European federalist, I do not wish the EU to become a centralized government, under the model of France and Paris for example. A looser federation or confederation is more desired, especially when we are talking about 28, soon to be more different nation states.

If Brussels concentrates all power in Europe, it will soon (if not already) start behaving like Westminster: ignoring the voice or wishes of the people, blindly following policies that are very unpopular. That in return will empower the nationalists that will seek any opportunity to break away and so the dissolution of the EU as an institution will be inevitable.

If the EU or the UK are to survive, they need to change from within, before they are forced to change by the people. The weakening of a centralized power, taking always into account the public opinion and giving national and regional governments a greater say, might just do the trick to save a union.

It is obvious that the UK has failed but also others like Spain and the EU itself are not far behind. More integration does not necessarily mean concentration of power in one place, but standardization and harmonization of economic prosperity, living standards, opportunities and education throughout any union.

The above combined with a constant respect of the public opinion, cultural exchanges and a strong focus on our common identity, will prove much more effective in keeping the EU alive for the long term. At least more effective than a centralized government in Brussels.

If 300 years of unity fail to convince the Scots in remaining in the United Kingdom due to economic failures, what can be said about the EU with just over 50 years of history?

The European Union must become a federal socialist entity, promoting prosperity and equality across the block. Yet it must not limit itself to economic governance, it must become a cultural and a social project itself. After all it is also culture and common values that bind people together, not just a single currency.

The best of luck to Scotland, no matter what the outcome. This day is yours and the whole Europe is watching you. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The neverending war on terror!
Since last Monday and after the International Conference on Peace and Security that took place in Paris, the world edges closer to another war in the Middle East. (The Guardian)

Western Powers, this time joined by leaders of many Arab countries,vowed to use "whatever means necessary" to defeat the ISIS threat. France and Britain already are stepping up to join the US in the fight against the militants.

Overall leaders and diplomats from over 30 countries agreed on the urgency of stopping the expansion of ISIS in Iraq and the surrounding region. 

Sadly I am afraid that Europe and the West has no choice but to intervene. We should have never meddled with the region's affairs and declare a war on "terror" so easily, especially when there was no evidence to back it up. Europe made a mistake in joining the war in Iraq. 

We have destabilized the region and what is going on over there is serious. We need to take action, or it will  come back to bite us if we ignore it.  

In case the region falls under ISIS control, it is obvious that these fundamentalists won’t stop there. The whole region will sink into a radical theocratic Middle Ages and having a neighbor like that is not good. How could we have relations or trade with a country gripped by such regimes?

After they committed their recent gruesome criminal acts, of beheading two US journalists and one British aid worker, their hatred towards the West is evident. It is one thing to kill captured military personnel and another to kill an aid worker, who is there to help and do humanitarian work.

To them, the late David Haines was just another much hated Westerner. The fact that he had nothing to with the policies that his country has pursued in the region, did not bother his executioners. Solely his nationality was enough to get him killed. 

So imagine how could we ever send businessmen, tradesmen, aid workers, tourists, doctors or journalists to a region gripped by radicals and enhance our cooperation and collaboration with these countries. In other words, while ISIS is strong in the Middle East, we can never have any safe relations with the Levant.

And not just that, but if we take into account the number of the European born Muslims that were radicalized and fled to Syria or Iraq to fight, the issue becomes even more serious. It is known that Mr. Haines' executioner had British accent. In other words, there are radical Muslim individuals, perhaps with connections to ISIS living in Europe as we speak.

If ISIS gets absolute control of the region, what tells us that they won't seek to act within our countries too with their European Muslim members? Perhaps they could organize terror attacks on European soil, in retaliation of Europe's involvement in the US led wars in Iraq.

Everyone in Europe could be in danger then, either their government took part in the operations against Iraq or not. The free movement of people within the EU could be in jeopardy, once we enter a phase of high terror attack risk and the implications will affect everyone.

It is clear that the threat of ISIS must be eradicated. But it must not be only the work of America, Europe or the "West". Firstly because we can not be seen as the "Crusaders" again, as this will drive more people into the ISIS circles. 

Secondly, Arab countries and other nations from the region must actively participate in the operations. It is in their interests too to stop the spread of radical elements in their neighborhood. ISIS has been killing Islamic religious minorities in the territories that they have captured. 

The threat they pose is universal, so the Arab and other Muslim nations (yes, including Turkey and Iran-they are at risk too after all) should stop hiding behind America's or Europe's back and take action. If ISIS gets more empowered, it will be their citizens, either Christian or religious Muslim minorities that will also be under threat. What nation would allow that to happen?

My overall attitude is anti-war and against any European, or Western invasion and military intervention anywhere on the planet. But since we have made a huge mistake in following America in every war, now it is time to face the consequences and clean our act up. Having ISIS and any other radical organization right on our doorstep, with potential members in our lands and with a totally mistaken policy towards the Middle East, is a recipe for disaster and a serious security threat.

I hope Europe and the West have learned a lesson here. Next time they decide to intervene and meddle in another region's affairs they must think twice. Once you destabilize a region you open a Pandora's box. All bad things that were hidden dormant, or were laying as sentiments in the bottom are stirred and come up to the surface. 

Especially when you are doing a shake up to overthrow a lesser bad, or someone who you have been supporting initially, it indicates either the highest level of stupidity or corruption in the Western political elites.