November 8, 2012 at 5:00 am
An advisor to President Obama last week condemned the European Union's weakness on security issues, and one, in particular, namely its disgraceful and pusillanimous behaviour on what should be an open-and-shut case.
Speaking in Dublin last Saturday, the chief counter-terrorism adviser to President Obama, John Brennan, criticized the European Union for its complete failure to stand up to the terrorist group Hezbollah.
It will be amazing to many Americans – and indeed to many Europeans – that the group remains able to operate, recruit and raise funds within the EU. In America, which like France, felt the full brunt of Hezbollah activities in Beirut in 1983, the organization has long been banned in any and all of its guises. This last August Washington, which already sanctions and classifies Hezbollah as a foreign "terrorist organization," additionally put the group on a list of organizations under sanctions for involvement in the slaughter being carried out in Syria by Bashar al-Assad's regime. As Brennan added, in addition to its involvement with terrorist activities carried out by Iran, Hezbollah "is training militants in Yemen and Syria." Even that does not do justice to the scope, range and history of Hezbollah's ambitions.
In the EU however, the group is able to fundraise unhindered. This appalling fact has come about because of an entirely false distinction which the EU continues to observe. It is a distinction entirely of its own invention.
For the EU claims that there is a difference between the "political"' and the "military" wings of Hezbollah. Therefore as long as the "political" side of their activities is being pursued the EU considers it legitimate activity. Of course there is a striking fact here: nobody outside the EU believes there is any such internal distinction within Hezbollah. The American government does not see it; the Canadian government does not see it. The governments of Iran and Syria do not see it. The people of Lebanon do not see it. And of course Hezbollah itself certainly does not see it.
For the leadership of Hezbollah the issue of its legitimacy within the EU is a source of considerable satisfaction. Where would Hezbollah be without the EU? The Secretary General of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, has already made it very clear where they would be. A few years back Nasrallah said that if the EU designated Hezbollah as a terrorist group in its entirety it would "destroy" the organization; as Nasrallah put it, "[t]he sources of our funding will dry up and the sources of moral, political and material support will be destroyed."
Any other political entity in the West would recognize that as an invitation. But for the EU it is a terrible warning. For one of the reasons why the EU continues to argue for a political-military divide is that proscribing the fictitious "political wing" of Hezbollah would risk destabilizing Lebanon. Anybody who knows anything at all about Lebanon might observe that Hezbollah is doing perfectly nicely at destabilizing Lebanon already. Hezbollah's parallel state within Lebanon, its private army and road-blocks, its blackmailing of its opponents and its bribery of those it wishes to keep it in power is destabilizing enough. And that is not even to mention the deeply "stabilizing" (if you are the EU) effects that the group must have as they carry out assassinations of opponents, bombings in civilian areas and so on.
The EU has been here before. During the same period they came up with their false wall-of-separation within Hezbollah they did the same thing with Hamas. That terror group too, they decided, had a military and a political wing. After the atrocities of the Second Intifada, however, that fiction disappeared. It did not disappear because the EU was made aware of something it had previously been unaware of. It disappeared in Europe because it was no longer possible – in terms of public opinion or political expediency – to allow a group to operate which blew up buses full of civilians.
Of course in July this year an Iranian proxy of some kind – believed by many to be Hezbollah – did exactly that on European soil. The bombing of a bus of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria showed that Iranian proxies like Hezbollah are not only willing but able to use within the EU the tactics they have used for years in the Middle East and, in the case of Hezbollah, as far away as Buenos Aires in the 1990s.
That the same EU which has seen a member country attacked by such terror should continue to permit such terrorists to recruit and fundraise on EU soil is an utterly unsustainable position. The distinction will break down, but it will have to be pushed. Recently in Dublin John Brennan did some of that pushing. He described the European stance on Hezbollah as something that "makes it harder to defend our countries and protect our citizens."
He is right, and should be applauded for stating the case. The EU will have to listen. The only question is how long they remain willing to help Hezbollah in its last European hurrah.
November 8, 2012 at 4:45 am
Spain is divided into 17 autonomous entities, of which only 14 can be considered truly Spanish. Two states have their own language, Catalonia and the Basque Country, while in a third state, Galicia, a dialect of Portuguese is spoken. Like the Basques, many Catalans are striving for independence from Spain. The independence movement has been growing since the economic crisis hit Spain.
Catalonia encompasses less than 6.5 percent of Spain's territory. Its 7.5 million inhabitants comprise 16% of Spain's population. However, its GDP constitutes almost 20% of Spain's. Over the past years Catalonia's economy has been contracting, though at a less dramatic rate than the overall Spanish economy. The Catalans resent the fact that each year they are forced to transfer about 8% of their GDP to other Spanish regions because the central government in Madrid demands that Catalonia help support the poorer regions of Spain.
The Catalans claim that this enforced form of "solidarity" is harming their own region. Every year the Catalans pump some $20 billion more in tax revenue into the central government's coffers than they receive in return. Like the rest of Spain, the eurocrisis has cast Catalonia into heavy debt. When Madrid recently turned down Barcelona's request for a no-strings-attached bailout of $6.2 billion, angry Catalans began to clamor for secession from Spain.
Last September 11th, a staggering million and a half of the 7.5 million Catalans joined a pro-independence demonstration in the streets of Barcelona, shouting No Vull Pagar – I don't want to pay.
While in the past, the arguments in favor of Catalan independence were mostly cultural and had to do with the need to preserve Catalan national identity, today the arguments have become financial. They have to do with the need to safeguard Catalonia's economic prosperity. The mostly center-right Catalans do not want to subsidize regions over whose – often leftist – economic policies they have no influence.
A similar phenomenon can be observed in Flanders, the most prosperous region of Belgium. The Dutch speaking Flemish are increasingly averse to supporting the French speaking Socialist southern part of Belgium, which is in economic decline. A conservative Flemish-nationalist party, the ideology of which resembles that of Artur Mas's Convergence and Union party in Catalonia, won the recent local elections and has taken over the city council of Antwerp, Belgium's economic powerhouse.
In Italy, too, the economically stronger North – so-called Padania – is increasingly reluctant to subsidize the poorer South. The Lega Nord, the largest party in many parts of northern Italy, wants to lead Padania to independence.
The unwillingness of the richer northern parts of Belgium, Spain and Italy to pay for the southern parts is mirrored on the pan-European level by the unwillingness of the North to pay for the South. Indeed, as the Financial Times has noted, many Germans are wondering why they should support poorer Spanish regions if even the Catalans object to it.
It is a legitimate question: the point that the North is richer than the South cannot be attributed to natural phenomena beyond the people's control. On the contrary, politicians in the South have for decades been pursuing wrongheaded Socialist policies, showering their voters with subsidies, in the knowledge that if these policies led to bankruptcy the North would foot the bill.
Last October, the Catalan regional parliament decided to stage a "public consultation" on Catalonia's future. The word "referendum" was carefully avoided: under the Spanish Constitution of 1978, a referendum on regional independence is prohibited. Even a referendum probing the Catalan voters about their views on greater fiscal autonomy is illegal.
The Catalan initiative was immediately slammed down by Spain's central government and parliament. The Cortes, Spain's national parliament in Madrid, overwhelmingly voted down a proposal to allow the Catalonians to hold a referendum with 276 votes against, 42 votes for and no abstentions, while Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy pledged to halt any illegal referendums. Ironically, Rajoy is a Galician and happens to be the grandson of one of the drafters of the botched 1932 Galician Statute of Autonomy.
Despite the opposition from Madrid, Catalan Prime Minister Mas has announced that after this month's regional elections he will carry on preparing for the "public consultation," regardless of Madrid's position.
The Catalans feel encouraged by events in Scotland, where the Scottish National Party (SNP), which is governing the province, has announced that within two years it will be holding a referendum on Scottish independence. The Scottish situation is different from the one in Catalonia, Flanders or Padania. Scotland is poorer and more leftist than England. The Scots are even being subsidized by the English. They reckon, however, that with the proceeds from North Sea oil flowing directly into Scottish coffers, they would be better off than they are today.
The international implications of Spain, Belgium, Italy and the United Kingdom unraveling might be considerable. The Catalan, Flemish, Padanian and Scottish nationalists have all indicated that they want to remain members of the European Union. When Catalonia, Flanders, Padania and Scotland secede, they become new nations and will have to reapply for EU membership. Given that every EU member state can veto new members, the governments of what remains of Spain, Belgium, Italy and the United Kingdom would be able to block the accession of the seceded entities.
However, as Catalonia, Flanders and Padania will be rich countries and net contributors to the EU institutions in Brussels, it is unlikely that the EU would refuse the new applicants' membership. As far as Scotland is concerned, England is much more likely to leave the EU than Scotland. Viviane Reding, the EU Commissioner for Justice, has already indicated that Brussels would be ready to take a constructive attitude toward a Catalan membership application.
But there will be implications for the United States as well. Given that most Catalans, Flemish and Padanians are center-right, they are much more pro-American than the remainder of Spain, Belgium and Italy. Independent Catalonia, Flanders and Padania are likely to be trustworthy allies of Washington. Their secessionist parties have all indicated that they want to remain members of NATO. Here, too, the Scots differ from the others. The SNP used to oppose NATO. With independence becoming a serious possibility, however, the SNP has changed its position. At last October's SNP party conference, it voted to ditch its 30-year opposition to NATO. With 394 votes against 365 the SNP decided that following Scotland's eventual independence in 2014 it would apply for NATO membership.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said last week that the crisis in the eurozone is likely to last for at least "five years or more" -- with the eurocrisis putting ever more pressure on richer center-right regions to pay for poorer leftist regions. As the former are increasingly unwilling to pay for the latter, the strain on multi-ethnic nations in Europe is growing. If the eurocrisis continues for another five years, we might very well see an entirely different Europe – with a handful of new nations – five years from now. Washington would be wise to take this possibility into serious consideration.
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