Catalan crisis poses fresh challenge to battered EU

Catalan Raimon Castellvi wears a flag with an Estelada (Catalan separatist flag) as he protests outside the European Commission in Brussels. (Reuters)
Updated 06 October 2017
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Catalan crisis poses fresh challenge to battered EU

BRUSSELS: Catalonia’s independence stand-off with Spain risks deepening the EU’s woes just as it was beginning to contemplate the end of the Brexit and migrant crises and a bright new future for the bloc.
Only days ago EU leaders held a summit to declare they were plotting a new course together, while European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker proclaimed recently “the wind is back in Europe’s sails” after being buffeted by the euroskeptism that drove Britain’s shock vote to leave.
But the escalating crisis over Catalonia’s hotly contested independence referendum on Sunday – banned by Spain and marred by violence – has left the EU floundering in the shoals again.
The Catalonia crisis has trapped the EU between the rock of its principle of non-interference in member states’ internal affairs, and the hard place of its role as a champion of democracy and freedom of expression.
The European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, on Monday broke weeks of virtual silence on the subject, after scores were hurt in clashes at Sunday’s vote in Catalonia, to say the referendum was “not legal” under Spanish law and was an “internal matter” for Madrid.
While the EU has called for dialogue, it has ruled out taking any mediation role itself.
The response from Brussels after the dramatic scenes of violence in Barcelona, including riot police dragging voters from polling stations, has prompted accusations of hypocrisy.
Euroskeptic British MEP Nigel Farage – normally the first to criticize the EU for interfering in the affairs of its member states – said it was “extraordinary to realize that this union is prepared to turn a blind eye”, and criticized Juncker for saying “not a dicky bird” about the violence.
The head of the Greens in the parliament also voiced astonishment at the commission’s response, saying it undermined the EU’s credibility in the eyes of its citizens.
Heightening the claims of double standards, the EU’s muted response to the Catalan crisis has come as it is taking legal action against both Poland and Hungary over democratic issues.
Stefani Weiss of the Bertelsmann Foundation think tank said the Catalan crisis had been brewing for some time “without gaining the attention it needed” in Brussels.
“The EU in a way is a good weather institution – as long everything goes well, it works well. As soon as problems arise the EU has huge difficulties in positioning itself and taking action,” she said.
With separatist movements affecting states across the continent – from Scotland, to Flanders in Belgium, and the Basque country of Spain – EU members were reluctant to get involved in the Catalan issue, she said.
Aside from Belgium, where Flemish nationalists are an important player in the ruling coalition, and Slovenia, born of secession from the former Yugoslavia, EU capitals have lined up to support Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, fearful of a chain reaction of secessionism.
“If today you let Spain break up with Catalonia, a domino effect will follow across the continent. Instead of a Europe of 27 we will have a non-Europe of mini-states,” warned Esteban Gonzalez Pons, an MEP from Rajoy’s Popular Party.
While the Catalan standoff has not yet threatened to reach the gravity of the eurozone debt crisis, the migrant influx or Brexit, it is “clearly a drag” on the EU, Frederic Allemand, a European affairs expert at the University of Luxembourg, told AFP.
Allemand said the EU’s focus for now was to keep the crisis confined to Spain, and despite appeals from independence supporters, it would have no interest in mediating, as doing so would amount to “legitimizing the separatists”.
A further risk to the EU is that the more time and energy it expends on issues like the Catalan crisis, the less it has for bigger challenges such as terrorism, the North Korean nuclear crisis and remaining economically competitive, Weiss of the Bertelsmann Foundation said.


Gunfire erupts at New Jersey arts festival; 22 wounded

There were people trampling other people, cars hitting other cars an eyewitness said. (AP)
Updated 17 June 2018
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Gunfire erupts at New Jersey arts festival; 22 wounded

  • Of 17 people treated for gunshot wounds, four of them, including a 13-year-old boy, remain in critical condition
  • A “neighborhood beef” is behind the shooting: prosecutor

TRENTON, N.J.: Two gunmen opened fire at an all-night arts and music festival early Sunday morning, sending people running over each other in the scramble to safety, authorities said. One suspect was killed and 22 people were injured.
Of 17 people treated for gunshot wounds, four of them, including a 13-year-old boy, remain in critical condition late Sunday morning, said Mercer County Prosecutor Angelo Onofri.
The shots rang out around 2:45 a.m. during the Art All Night Trenton festival that showcases local art, music, food and films. Onofri said a 33-year-old man was killed, apparently by police, and the second suspect is in custody. He said a “neighborhood beef” is behind the shooting.
On Sunday, crime scene tape surrounded the site of the historic Roebling Wire Works Building that now shares a parking lot with a supermarket, bank and laundry.
Police are also investigating an attempted carjacking that occurred in a nearby alley. Onofri said police are working to determine if it’s connected to the shooting.
Gennie Darisme was getting ready to leave the festival around 2:45 a.m. when she heard shots and saw people running.
“There were people trampling other people, cars hitting other cars,” she said.
When she was walking back to her car after the shots stopped, Darisme said she saw someone bleeding on the ground, in handcuffs.
“People were running to him, trying to see his face, to see if he’s a family member or a friend,” she said.
Theresa Brown, who has been volunteering at Art All Night for 12 years, said she was leaving her volunteer shift around 2 a.m. when she heard “pop, pop, pop. I thought it was a car backfiring,” she said.
The remainder of the two-day festival has been canceled.
“We’re very shocked. We’re deeply saddened. Our hearts ache and our eyes are blurry but our dedication and resolve to building a better Trenton through community, creativity and inspiration will never fade. Not tonight. Not ever,” festival organizers posted on social media Sunday.
A spokeswoman for St. Francis Medical Center in Trenton said 10 men and women, ranging in age from 17 to 48, were being treated for minor injuries. They were in various stages of being released, she said.
One man with a gunshot wound was transferred to Cooper University Hospital in Camden.
Capital Health Systems spokeswoman Kate Stier said they have “at least 16” patients there, including the 13-year-old boy in critical condition. That total may not include people treated and released.
Trenton Mayor Eric E. Jackson said the violence can’t be “discarded as just random violence; this is a public health issue.”