Next year the European Free Alliance (EFA) is supposed to celebrate its 40th birthday… but will it celebrate? The European political party and group EFA, promoting self-determination, is in bad shape, decimated, divided, it’s being held hostage and is marginalised by a Catalan obsession. Meanwhile Scots demonstrate “ever closer” ties with European leaders and institutions. While Catalans are being ignored, the Scots prepare a return to the EU through independence, to sit at Europe’s top table.
The past few weeks have been an emotional and political rollercoaster. Last Wednesday, 29 January 2020, 4 EFA MEP’s voted for the last time on an important topic: the withdrawal of the UK from the EU. They voted against. They have now returned home. The UK has left the EU. The UK is now a third country for all remaining 27 Member States.
The EFA group lost 4 MEP’s: 3 Scottish and 1 Welsh. Thank you Christian Allard, Aileen McLeod, Heather Anderson (who replaced Alyn Smith) and Jill Evans for your work towards self-determination. Now the EFA group is reduced to 4 MEP’s: Tatjana Zdanoka as the longest serving EFA MEP; François Alfonsi who was re-elected on a Green list; also Oriol Junqueras is re-elected but has to leave his seat empty, since he is still in prison; and Diana Riba, the wife of imprisoned former Catalan Minster of Foreign affairs Raul Romeva. None of them are part of the EFA party board.
Not only is the EFA group reduced to 3 physically present active hard working MEP’s, it is led by the one that isn’t present: Oriol Junqueras. Although he would want to, he cannot be MEP nor EFA group president. Spain doesn’t allow it and the European institutions don’t care to stand up to a Spain – where Franco’s ghost still wanders through the institutions- out of fear to lose another Member State. How long will these 3 active EFA MEP’s in a group of over 60 Greens -now no longer 4th strongest group, but 5th, maybe even soon 6th group in the European Parliament-, be referred to as EFA?
On that same day, 29 January 2020, 3 potential EFA MEP’s could not only have reinforced the EFA group but also the Greens/EFA group. The 3 are not just some 3 random inexperienced people: Carles Puigdemont, exiled 130th President of Catalonia, Toni Comin, a former minister of the Catalan government, also in exile and Professor Clara Ponsati, also former minister in the Catalan government, in exile in Scotland, professor at St. Andrews university.
Who are they? Carles Puigdemont leads a party that is the continuation of Convergencia (CiU), an observer member in 1981, when EFA was founded as a movement. EFA ever since had tried to have the party join EFA in full. Toni Comin, former ERC member, minister in the former government, feels that ERC has abandoned him. Clara Pontsati is a respected professor. All 3 were, under explicit invitation of ERC, in the EFA office, in those first historic days end October 2017 when a part of the Catalan government decided to go in exile to Brussels.
In those unreal days, all media camera’s were pointed at these Catalan political exiles and yet they were so grateful to have been harboured by EFA people they had quickly considered as “being their family”. So why were these 3 family members not allowed in the EFA group nor EFA/Greens group. Why?
Puigdemont not welcome in EFA
ERC, who is running the EFA group and party, doesn’t really want them IN but out of fear for not being understood by the Catalan electorate, they officially managed to decide (more then 6 months after the first knock on the door) to formally declare to accept them. You can’t exactly call it a love declaration. So officially ERC says YES, but their strategists behind the scenes all shout NO and so Greens cease the opportunity to say NO for them (in the same time burdening the further existence of the EFA group and EFA party -see further).
“Their values are not consistent with ours” said German Greens ‘unisono’, who see their political ‘serieux’ potentially damaged by what they see as troublemakers. The Greens want to avoid Puigdemont – Comin – Ponsati in the group, since they aim to be in the next German government. The Greens do not want to stand on the toes of some Member States like Spain or France.
Some other Greens, like Philippe Lamberts, quietly apologised for depicting Puigdemont as an almost far right conservative some weeks earlier in Strasbourg, but nevertheless he did a “Barroso trick”. Lamberts was threatening using a veto to EFA that didn’t exist. He was saying that Greens could veto the 3 potential EFA MEP’s. But he can’t! Since the 1999 agreement of Greens and EFA, it gives full autonomy to EFA to decide over who joins the group and who doesn’t. If this agreement doesn’t mean anything anymore and if Greens can now veto EFA MEP’s then surely EFA can veto Green MEP’s or Pirates, no?
So why is EFA accepting this? Why are they abiding by a non-regulated, nonexisting veto? The European group in the European Parliament and the European political party, who as their corner stone principle promote self-determination, bow their head and allow their autonomy being breached by the Greens.
A Group for self-determination that lets others (contrary to the rules and agreement) decide for them, is bound to lose all ground. One can only hope that the Party EFA has a strategy to be the umbrella for all MEP’s supporting self-determination and to make EFA MEP’s work together with MEP’s in EPP, RENEW, Greens, GUE and nonattached members.
Brexit creates opportunities
Brexit is a disaster but it creates different opportunities. It created the opportunity for ERC to take all power and positions in EFA. It created the opportunity for the Greens to cannibalize EFA and EFA to cannibalize itself. Soon a quiet process of absorption will materialise and the group will be renamed simply to Greens at midterm.
But Brexit also creates another opportunity. Although many pro-Europeans Scots in 2014 had themselves fooled by false promises -they voted NO out of fear to be thrown out of the EU- and that is now exactly what has happened with Brexit. Scotland has been dragged out of the EU against its will. New polls say that around 75% of Scotland’s citizens want to stay in the EU.
It has now become clear that the only remaining way to re-enter the EU for Scotland is to get its independence through a legally binding referendum. A growing potential of pro-European Scots will blow new wind into Nicola’s independence sails, to steer the Scottish boat back to mainland Europe. The slogan “Scotland loves Europe – Europe loves Scotland” projected on the EU commission building at 23h on 31/1/2020 is just a small indication. There are many declarations that Scots will be welcomed in the EU, that they will be brought – with priority – to Europe’s top table.
Leaders across Europe seem to have decided that, if Scotland, within the legal path, becomes independent, then they will be accepted IN. That is what we hear here in Brussels and not just from former leaders like Donald Tusk. The important difference, post-Brexit, between the Catalan Way and the Scottish Way is that the EU institutions do no longer need to tread with care on a Scottish accession in the EU, since the UK is now a third country to the EU (and thus has NO say in it, nor veto).
But Catalonia remains locked up in Spain and the EU will continue to look away from the barbaric and simply unforgivable breaches to democracy committed by successive Spanish governments -either socialist or conservative and who knows soon in the future by far right Franco adepts. The EU will not stand up to Spain (yet).
New approach to self-determination?
The Greens/EFA Co-President Lamberts halting Puigdemont as the symbol of the “illegal” self-determination and the other Greens/EFA Co-President Ska Keller supporting Scotland’s legal path to self-determination, leaving a light on for Scotland to find their way home.
For 20 years I worked always believing that all forms of peaceful self-determination processes are legal and enshrined in international law. It seems a new approach is pushed forward by the Greens and accepted by EFA now. You have legal and illegal self- determination, you have good and bad self-determination. I strongly disagree with that but, as on Brexit itself, history will judge on this. In my opinion it is and abuse and misinterpretation of self-determination.
This brings us to the conclusion that the Greens have successfully instrumentalised the Catalan divisions between Catalan actors working for self-determination in order to
absorb EFA. There is one Catalanist active MEP left within the Greens and the EFA party and EFA Youth (run now only by ERC friends) are placed by the Greens on the wrong side of the divide.
In the meanwhile the EFA party stays very quiet and one can only hope they work hard to bring more unity among Catalan political actors, more unity in the Greens/EFA group, more unity among MEP’s defending self-determination and more unity in its own political party.
Günther Dauwen, former EFA Director (2004-2019)