‘For freedom and the republic’: tribunes and Catalans in flight

Last week, Europe’s attention was focused on the sudden appearance of Carlos Puigdemont and other Catalan leaders in Belgium on 31 October, in the wake of calls for them to be prosecuted by the Spanish authorities for rebellion, sedition and the misuse of public funds. After several more days of confusion, along with the detainment without bail of other Catalan separatists back in Spain, on 5 November the group handed themselves in to the Belgian authorities, who will decide whether or not to implement the European Arrest Warrant issued for them. To the infinitely complex question of Catalan demands for independence is added the prospect of a legal dispute between two EU countries.

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The dramatic flight of Puigdemont and his colleagues has echoes of events in Roman history at the end of the 50s BC. Julius Caesar had spent this decade mainly campaigning in Gaul, extending Rome’s empire and earning the loyalty of several legions, while other politicians back in Rome witnessed long-established political checks and balances gradually dissolve and placed their hopes in Caesar’s former political partner Pompey the Great to keep order without taking undue power for himself (at one stage he was chosen as consul – the Roman state’s highest office – without a colleague, which was unprecedented in the republic’s history).

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Book review: Europe, Anyone? The ‘Communication Deficit’ of the European Union Revisited

[this review has also been published on the blog of the Library of the Council of the EU]

What is the best way to share information about the European Union’s institutions and activities with a diverse, diffuse and often uninterested public? This question, regularly posed over the past few decades, has in recent years come to be asked with ever increasing desperation. Bernd Spanier’s study, Europe, Anyone? The ‘Communication Deficit’ of the European Union Revisited, was published in 2012 and is based on a dissertation submitted in 2010, but many of the observations it makes are still highly relevant, perhaps even more so, in 2016.

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(image from amazon.com)

Not that the EU’s problems began this year, of course. The wide-ranging chapter that follows the introduction to this work is a excellent summary of the major setbacks that beset the Union between the signing of the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 and the global financial problems of the late 2000s. The account of the Greek debt crisis can follow events only as far as 2011, but Spanier’s description of how referenda in the Netherlands and France stood in the way of the European Constitution’s ratification in 2005 is very instructive. This section includes some trenchant remarks on the unsuitability of popular votes in individual countries for deciding wider European issues, and his conclusion in passing that such votes ‘can be problematic when member states which usually adhere to a representative model of democracy suddenly resort to direct, plebiscitary models whenever fundamental decisions about Europe are to be taken’ (p. 31) looks all too appropriate today.

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Anglophone = monolingual?

In the aftermath of the UK’s vote to leave the EU, there has been much debate about the consequences for how Europeans communicate. Will calls for English to cease to be an official EU language be heeded? If so, would native speakers of other languages feel less disadvantaged?  Does Boris Johnson’s ability to read a speech in French make up for everything else?eu-1473958_1280

However the next few months and years play out, the status of English as a common language in the institutions – and outside them, of course – is likely to endure. The erosion of the once all-powerful position of French, which began as the Union expanded north and east in the 1990s and 2000s, will not be reversed. This could ultimately mean that English, despite often being seen as the de facto working language of the EU (although in practice this varies), will not be the first official language of any of its member states.

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