On 1 June 2013, in the closing speech of the 29th Jornades del Cercle d´Economia held in Sitges (Barcelona), the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, declared that “to be able to participate in Europe, a country needs to be big. Small countries don’t count. They don’t count for anything.”
The following article is a translation of a response to this declaration by Carles Boix, a professor at Princeton University (USA), published in the Catalan daily Ara on 4 June 2013.
“Small countries don’t count for anything.”
The Spanish president’s sentence contains three errors. The first, factual: Spain is not an influential country. The second, strategic: Rajoy implicitly concedes (which he has not done previously) that small countries exist and are viable, even the ones rotting away somewhere in the Alps. And the third, philosophical: the world Rajoy depicts is not the sum of the actions of citizens, businesses and civil society but the outcome of the decisions of states and their rulers.
Rajoy’s political philosophy is that of an anti-liberal (in the oldest and broadest sense of liberal, a term that has become very undervalued today) – and, from what I’ve read, very much like that of Mr Lucena [spokesperson for the Catalan Socialists in the Catalan Parliament]. For anti-liberalism, whose forerunner in modern Europe was mercantilism, statemanship is a game in which whatever is won by one country is lost by another country. The international order is seen as a big banquet with a fixed number of dishes, with guests (the states) using their feet, elbows and even their fists, to grab all the food they can. Power, influence and physical or verbal violence are all that matter since they are the tools with which to grow and obtain even more power and influence.
The raison d’état rules above all else. If it is necessary for the state to overrule any of the powers of its regions, so be it. If it is necessary to breach or fail to implement agreements signed with neighbours, the state hesitates not a minute. If it is necessary to window-dress the state’s accounts, veto states recognized by the EU, force through the construction of a useless railway through the high Pyrenees, or opportunistically seek expedient alliances -- all this is done shamelessly. In this system, what matters is to be a state that counts for something. The worst that can happen to a state is to count for nothing, since first it stops growing strong and then its neighbours gobble it up.
Of course, that statist logic regarding the external world has dreadful effects within a country. The raison d’état, always interpreted in favour of its rulers, ends up serving friends and clients: the senior officials who move seamlessly between companies and general directorates, the bankers with direct access to power and the presidents of regulated companies and politicians from favoured regions who never dare question the established order. State legislation is the law of the jungle disguised as nice words and appeals to the public interest. The result is inefficiency and, in the medium term, an ongoing cycle of political, economic and budgetary crises. Historically, the solution was expansion, war and the capture of new colonies and markets. Today, especially for a country with the negligible military weight of Spain, the only way to relieve pressure is through the emigration of part of the population.
This philosophy is diametrically opposed to the mercantile, bourgeois, liberal thinking that made the Industrial Revolution in Europe possible. The Industrial Revolution proves that the banquet can grow to accommodate increasingly large numbers of people. But to make this growth possible, the state must act as a servant and not a master. The state’s role is to maintain the rule of law, to be impartial, to leave the maximum breathing space for civil society. The ruling elite (until the next elections) and the productive classes must accept a system of inflexible rules. The state becomes secondary. All that counts is the people. When countries are small, this ideal is more easily achieved, as there is no room for the Spanish politician or the French énarque to deploy their arrogance. (Germany’s saving grace is that its Länder have enough powers to restrain the federal government. Catalan federalists be warned: this will never happen in Spain because the political and social fabric of the regions is flimsy.)
Small states are the best friends and guarantors of the EU, precisely because they do not count for much and so cannot manipulate EU rules to antagonize other members. The Spanish state idolizes the EU as a source of resources, subsidies and cheap credit. Yet, at the same time, it fears the European Commission as a regulator that enforces competition laws and which could unravel the tangle of interests between central state, semi-state companies and the banking system.
The ambiguities of Mr Duran [secretary general of Unió Democràtica de Catalunya, one of the two parties in the Catalan government coalition] and the useless federalist programme of Mr Navarro [secretary general of the Catalan socialists] are incomprehensible. They are a waste time and effort, they condemn us to be part of a state that is both bankrupt and dangerous, and they are juggling with the wellbeing of Catalans. Genuine political reform and pro-growth policies are only possible in a country governed to serve the people, not in one controlled by melancholy bureaucrats obsessed with a moth-eaten imperial past.
Translation by Ailish Maher, with subsequent modifications by the author.