The Long Road to Independence

The EU and Self-Determination

From Planet 243

by Ned Thomas

In analysing the Catalan situation in 2021, Ned Thomas gives an insight into the institutional complexity and behind-the-scenes politics that means there is no simple answer to the question of whether the EU is capable of enabling self-determination more broadly; but concludes on an optimistic note.

‘Self-determination’ is a high-sounding principle mentioned in the United Nations Charter (1945) and the Atlantic Charter (1941): ‘the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live’; but not in Joe Biden and Boris Johnson’s New Atlantic Charter of June 2021. We shall have to make do with the references there to democracy, but democracy within what frame? Self-determination further suggests an orderliness of process, but within whose order? Very few new states have in fact come into existence in an orderly and peaceful fashion. The violent scenes of 1 October, 2017 in the polling booths of Catalunya reminded us of that. Now that elections held in Scotland and Catalunya earlier this year have for the third time in succession brought regional governments to power dedicated to achieving independence by peaceful means, we are looking for a viable process of decision in an orderly context. This article is about the Catalan drive for self-determination in its interaction so far with the European Union and the Council of Europe; and what this situation says about the capacity of the EU to enable – or inhibit – self-determination more broadly.

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