Our lords and masters here in Spain are holding local, regional and European elections on May 26 and a general election on April 28, and said leaders are under the impression that this will provide fertile ground for manipulation, or cheating.
With four elections coming up in April and May, the Spanish government has set up a special unit to fight threats including cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns.
Experts from the National Security Department, the Office of the State Secretary for Communication, and several Spanish ministries are leading the effort. The European Union is having its own fight against disinformation ahead of the European parliament elections of May 26. The scope of the challenge is great and there have been ministerial meetings in recent weeks in a bid to at least identify the threats, (in other words, they don’t know if or where it’s coming from). The fact that the National Security Department is involved in the effort underscores how the government views disinformation as a national threat. Personally, I’ll believe the whole thing when I see Donald Trump inaugurated as the Spanish President, roll on May!
I’ve been following the Catalan independence trial at the Spanish Supreme Court in Madrid - where Catalan independence leaders are being tried for crimes of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds. It’s an unusual and highly-divisive trial.
Instead of a first-instance court, a seven-judge Supreme Court panel presides. As Spain’s highest court, there will be no merits appeal, and for a case about such serious crimes, the evidence is surprisingly mundane. Much of the time is spent on procurement and payment procedures for referendum-related services, facts pertinent to the misuse of funds charge.
To prove rebellion, the prosecution must show violent insurrection. But witnesses talk only of incidents of a kind expected during large, otherwise peaceful protests.
There are three prosecutors: the public prosecutor, state attorney, and Vox, the far-right party bringing a “popular indictment”. They sit side-by-side, pressing similar lines of questioning; a strange sight given that the elections are approaching fast, any decision on the defendants is likely to inflame opinions on one side or the other.
What is really needed is not the theatre of a rebellion trial, but a forensic examination of whether public funds were misused and a process of dialogue and negotiation on how the Catalan peoples’ right to self-determination can be satisfied in Spain.
The EU should be at the forefront of encouraging this, its multi-layered governance system, based as much on dialogue, negotiation and compromise as equality and the rule of law, is the best we have ever known for binding Europe’s many peoples together.
The pretrial approach in Spain was a repudiation of these principles and appears to have violated EU rules on the European Arrest Warrant, access to evidence and the presumption of innocence.
The European Parliament has been dragged into the dispute and will be further.
EU member states learn from each other and may adopt Spain’s divisive pre-trial approaches to their own minorities. This needs to be prevented. As this trial is showing, divisions caused by the criminalisation of self-determination campaigns are not easily reconciled.
In the past I’ve explained why the EU would be happy if the Commons accepted May’s deal. In essence, the Withdrawal Agreement would allow the EU to impose its integration project on the UK, - and the UK wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. In contrast, EU federalists have made it pretty clear they fear a Brexit delay.
This is consistent with the tough rhetoric coming out of Brussels last month demanding a ‘price’ for any long delay. The United Kingdom Prime Minister has avoided that by proposing a short delay. There are noises coming out of Brussels that suggest there will be an EU Council decision on delaying Brexit. In that case, it seems likely that May will try to circumvent Erskine May, so MPs can have a Meaningful Vote (3) on her deal before that meeting. At that point, the choice will once again be between May’s deal or a serious delay to Brexit.
For some reason a long delay is seen in the UK as the worst thing that could ever happen. Why this view has taken hold is a bit of a mystery to me. There is a fear in the UK that the Remain movement will use a delay to cancel Brexit, but the People’s Vote campaign has been unable to muster anything close to the political and popular muscle to push that through in the last three years. This will not suddenly change if the UK and EU hit the ‘pause button’.
But if the Withdrawal Agreement is voted through, the UK will not
really leave the EU, but stay inside its regulatory framework. The main problem of the Withdrawal Agreement and backstop is that it creates a democratic deficit. It will force the UK to implement EU legislation without having any say over it for an undefined period of time.
If the Withdrawal Agreement is accepted by MPs, then the consequences described above will put a lot of pressure on the UK in the subsequent negotiations with the EU on the future relationship. Soon after, the UK will become desperate to prevent the backstop from being triggered, or very desperate to get out of it. The EU will, however, feel no pressure at all.
EU institutions will therefore be very successful at making sure that the future relationship between the UK and EU will be as Brussels-oriented as possible. By then, the UK might even have a new government that will be open to ‘much more Brussels’. In this case, it would be easy for this new government to reverse Brexit altogether. Brussels will in any case be able to impose itself on the future relationship as the UK will have given away all the cards when it accepted the Withdrawal Agreement.
Not so if the EU and UK hit the ‘pause button’ on Brexit. The UK will be obnoxiously present in the EU and the pressure will be on the EU to resolve the whole situation. The UK will maintain a much stronger position in the negotiations that will continue regardless of the ‘pause’.
Voting through the Withdrawal Agreement will be the end of a real Brexit. Hitting the ‘pause button’ may allow it to happen after all.
Welcome to April 2019, welcome to Streetwise Magazine