Monday 18 February 2019

John Daly: 'Brexit joins a long list of EU problems'

 

Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez. Photo: Paul White/AP
Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez. Photo: Paul White/AP

John Daly

I dozed off in the midst of a revolution last weekend. And while it wasn't an insurgency of the bombs and bullets type - not yet anyway - it did serve to underline the fact that Ireland is not the only country where discord exists around the topic of a border.

In the town square of El Masnou, a half-hour north of Barcelona, the warming winter sun had me nodding off in the open air after a few lunchtime glasses of wine - an act entirely unheeded by my fellow diners in a country where the mid-afternoon siesta is still an accepted way of life.

Snapping out of my catnap I awoke to the ubiquitous sight of posters and flags hailing Catalan independence, a festering sore on the Spanish body politic that will find renewed vigour this week. 'Europe's New Republic' and 'Independence Now' are the militant slogans daubed across many a wall, bolstered by heroic imagery of the 'Valiant 18', adorned with Che Guevara-style berets and clenched fist salutes.

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When former deputy premier Oriol Junqueras and his 17 other pro-independence co-conspirators face their first day in Spain's Supreme Court tomorrow, the simmering discontent that has gripped Barcelona and much of Catalonia will doubtless find vivid expression on the streets once again. Already members of the activist group Committee for the Defence of the Republic have dumped faeces and waste at the doors of a number of courthouses across the province to protest against the trial. The group's Twitter message encapsulates much of the public sentiment toward a legal process that could result in jail sentences of up to 25 years: "Soon the fake trial will begin with the verdict already decided. They want to lock up an entire people. In the face of this attack against the rule of law, we remain strong and mobilised."

While the prospect of further street protests presents a challenging prospect for the government, the situation is made even more complex with the threat by pro-independence parties to oppose the 2019 budget proposal. The minority government of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez relies on the support of these parties to pass legislation, and should this support be withdrawn, a general election and deeper chaos would likely follow.

Sitting in that peaceful town square, with snow finches and bitterns chirping on the branches of the black poplars, that iconic final line from Sean O'Casey's 'Juno and the Paycock' came vividly to mind: "The whole world's in a terrible state o' chassis."

Brexit may occupy all the airtime on our small island, but distance does lend perspective to the many problems plaguing Europe. France continues to be beset by a 'yellow vest' dissent showing no signs of abating; Italy is heading for probable recession; Greece continues to teeter on the edge of financial abyss; and even mighty Germany has been forced to contemplate economic contraction and shrinkage. Add to that the growing migrant crisis washing upon multiple national shorelines, and it's clear Europe is basking in a predicament of infinite perplexity.

Into this rich stew of diabolical dilemmas wades our Brexit angst - the cherry atop a continent already staggering dangerously under the weight of multiple potential calamities. Never was that famous dictum of 'Yes Minister's' Sir Humphrey Appleby more appropriate: "Politicians like to panic, they need activity. It is their substitute for achievement."

And yet, even as the clock ticks ever closer to the March 29 deadline, the gambler in me can just about make out the blurry shadows beginning a slow tango across the slippery dance floor of compromise.

It is still the case that "jaw jaw is better than war war" - and that's why a deal will eventually be done.

Irish Independent

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