Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A Lesson for Putin: Hyper-Centralization Destroying Both EU and Its Member States, Stepa Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 20 – Britain’s vote to leave the European Union has pleased the Kremlin, Vadim Shtepa says, but the Russian government has failed to see that the same forces behind the Brexit vote – irresponsible power in in the hyper-centralized EU member states and the EU itself are tearing apart not only the United Kingdom but many other EU member states as well.

            Voters in the United Kingdom as a whole voted to leave the EU, Vadim Shtepa writes, angry at the centralization of irresponsible power in Brussels; but at the same time, voters in Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain out of anger at the centralization of irresponsible power in London (

            That constitutes what the Karelian regionalist now living in Estonia says is “the dialectics of Brexit” and provides clear lessons to all those, including the Putin regime in Russia, who believe that centralization solves the problem of regional challenges rather than exacerbates that problem.

            If other EU countries follow Britain, this “dialectic” will continue, he says. Thus, if Marie Le Pen holds a referendum in France on French membership in the EU, it will undoubtedly be the case that “the majority of French regional movements (Breton, Normandy, Alsace, and so on), will be undoubted supporters of the EU,” angry as they are at “Parisian centralism.”

            Indeed, “in the case of a hypothetical exit of France from the EU, [these regional movements] in turn will demand local referendums on the right to remain” in the EU even if the country of which they are now a part votes to leave. Thus, the European “paradox”: many countries don’t like Brussels, but many regions don’t care for their national governments.
            The EU has in fact suffered from this “paradox” since its founding, although it has never been as obvious as it is now, Shtepa says, because from the outset, European institutions promoted expanding the rights of regions at the expense of the nation state members even as those states expanded to cope with the additional demands on them from their populations.

             As early as the 1960s, some commentators like Jean Fouere talked about “a Europe of 100 flags,” the result they said of the demise of larger member states and the rise of regionalist movements, who would nonetheless remain together because of their economic interconnectedness.”

            At the present time, this vector of development is reflected in the composition and agenda of the European Free Alliance, which unites more than 40 regional movements and, together with its ally, the Greens, occupies 50 seats in the European Parliament and promotes the devolution of power from Brussels to the regions rather than to the member states.

            One of the sources of its power is the reaction of many to “the extraordinary unification of the European Union and its standards” that has provoked many in the existing member states to view it as a threat to their prerogatives, even as the “extraordinary unification” of power in national capitals has had the same effect in the regions.

            That pattern is one that Russians often do not understand, convinced as they are that centralization is the solution to what they see as the threat of secession rather than as its primary cause, Shtepa continues. That shows they have failed to learn the lessons of “glocalization,” Roland Robertson’s term for the impact of globalization on local identities.

            But this European dialectic has even more lessons for Moscow, he says.  “If Russia aims at rapprochement and cooperation with continental Europe, it has nothing to fear from genuine federalism in its domestic policies.” Instead, what it must fear most is the opposite – hyper-centralization -- which will lead to the demise of the country rather than its stabilization.

            Unfortunately, the Kremlin has not learned this lesson so obviously offered by Brexit and its consequences, Shtepa observes. Instead, “federalism in Russia has remained only on paper, and regional parties which freely operate in Europe are banned in Russia.”  The consequences of that will soon make themselves known, Brexit suggests.

             In reality, Shtepa concludes, “present-day Russia is a strange mirror image of the United Kingdom. While traditionally criticizing this country, the Kremlin nevertheless seeks exactly the same thing as the UK by seeking to distance itself from Europe.” If Russia continues in that direction, he says, the prospect of numerous Russian “’Scotlands’” is “inevitable.”

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