Sunday, 14 October 2012

Catalonia: on the precipice of secession?

I’m on a plane back to Brussels from Barcelona at the moment, still digesting the amusingly polarised reaction to Friday’s announcement that the EU has won the Nobel Peace Prize. The significance of the announcement was only heightened for me this weekend by the fact that, as the Nobel committee spoke of the achievement of the EU in keeping Europe together, I was in a country that may be about to tear itself apart.

Friday was Spanish National Day, but you wouldn’t have known it on the streets of Barcelona. The Catalans may have been happy to take the day off work, but they were clearly not in the mood to celebrate. There was no parade, no festivities and - most noticeably - not even any Spanish flags.

In fact the only way one would have known it was national day at all was that in the morning, the streets around Placa de Catalonia were filled with Police officers preparing for a planned march by secessionist demonstrators. Helicopters thundered above us, preparing for the possibility that the city would see a repeat of the massive secessionist demonstrations that took place on 11 September (Catalan National Day) that saw more than a million protestors flood the streets of Barcelona. However from what I saw, this time around the Catalans seemed to prefer ostentatious non-observance to demonstrations.

Though there were Catalan flags draped from nearly every window (perhaps left over from the 11 September celebrations), I did not see one Spanish flag except for those on government buildings.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Does the EU deserve the Nobel Peace Prize?

What a day to be away from Brussels! I'm in Barcelona this weekend, but awoke this morning to the news that the European Union has been awarded the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize. I'll admit, I had to do a double-take after reading that news.

This is another deliberately provocative move by the Nobel committee, following last year's selection of Barack Obama. Like last year's choice, this one is going to have its share of critics.

The Nobel committee seems to have adopted a strategy of trying to aid well-intentioned people/institutions at a time when they're down on their luck. When they chose Obama, he was in a weak position domestically, showing the scars of the healthcare fight. And obviously, it goes without saying, the EU is also in a difficult place right now. The awards seem to be almost like a pep talk - don't get discouraged, keep hope.

And yet many of the uncomfortable contradictions are still there. Many questioned how a US president currently waging a war in Afghanistan and a secret drone war in Pakistan could be awarded a prize for peace. Several EU member states are also participating in the Afghan war, including Britain and France (though France is about to pull out). Of course the Nobel Committee would likely argue that this is member states, not the EU itself.