THE OBSERVER

Leadership and accounts come due

Rage against globalization, with its components of free-market liberalism, immigration, technological changes, viral spread, and lies, has put an end to political leadership worldwide in just a few months

Rage against globalization, with its components of free-market liberalism, immigration, technological changes, viral spread, and lies, has put an end to political leadership worldwide in just a few months. When rage votes, the consequences are unpredictable and we forget about the possibility that everything could get worse, despite the feeling that there is little to lose. The punishment vote and withdrawal, looking inwardly, have been key in the referendums for Brexit and the Italian constitutional reform, as well as the US presidential election, and could also be so in France and Germany next year.

Obama will leave the White House without having fulfilled the dreams of those who carried him to the presidency through first-time votes, joining in with the dream of change, a way out of the crisis, an end to the wars in progress, the closing of Guantanamo, and the ideal of racial equality. Obama dragged the country out of the recession and brought unemployment down to 5%, extended healthcare, and reduced military action, but inequality and a lifestyle clash between the traditional values of American workers and servicemen and an open economy and globalization are irreconcilable.

France and Italy

This week the scenario has also changed in France and Italy. The French Prime Minister up to now, Manuel Valls, has opted to run in the socialist primaries and will try to face off against right-wing candidate François Fillon and, presumably, Marine LePen, who is happily wooing former leftist voters with the argument a "national priority", which so closely resembles Trump's "America First".

Valls is a follower of Michel Rocard, the Prime Minister under Mitterrand who moved from nationalizations and agreements with the community party to social-democracy. A man who, in the 1980's, said that "France cannot take in all the world's misery" and managed not to get carried away by closing borders and the lack of solidarity that would have been contrary to the values of the Republic. Nor was he swayed by the wishful thinking of unlimited open borders that would not guarantee either integration or progress for the new citizens. The French peculiarity is that its candidates are moving in the opposite direction from reversing austerity, the dominant discourse in its European neighbors to the south.

In France the public sector consumes 57% of GDP, more than in Sweden, and the continuation of this is uncertain. Hollande has not been able to lead an alternative, and lost to Chancellor Merkel on day one. The French will face the 2017 presidential elections either from nuanced or radical liberalism, unless Valls loses the internal fight between the two souls of the Socialist Party, not unlike the same battle being fought within Spain’s PSOE, and to a certain extent, Podemos.

Italy has voted against hasty reforms, but also against the style of imposing them, which provoked an unusually unanimous response against Renzi. In Europe we are seeing a chaotic revolt arising from protests and denial, and in which siren songs have become credible.

In Spain, social unrest is evident. According to the CIS, the public polling agency, the political and economic situation is rated as either bad or very bad by 74% and 63% of the population. The data for economic growth, which exceeds 3%, are not reflected in expectations, and a broad majority believes that the situation is worse than a year ago.

In Catalonia this discontent is channeled into the independence process, which is not only —nor even mostly— due to economic reasons. The Spanish government appears to be ignoring this and thinks that dialogue can be "imposed", to quote Spain’s Interior Minister. The mantra of dialogue is being repeated, but it is hollow, and the countdown for calling an independence referendum is ticking away. The Spanish government has deployed diplomacy based out of the vice president’s new office in its Barcelona HQ and Sáenz de Santamaría is meeting with journalists, businesspeople, and the opposition in parliament. The Spanish government has not offered a true negotiation, which would only be possible through a bilateral approach and the referendum. The Catalan government is torn by partisan interests and the joint project. While ERC appears to be cohesive and immobile while waiting for events to happen, in the PDECat (formerly Convergència) the leaderships are being neutralized. The party's discomfort with its dependence on the CUP's 10 MPs to govern stands in contrast with the links of trust that President Puigdemont has conjured up to lead the nation to an independence vote.

The future of the independence process

The process is forging ahead towards a referendum while the Spanish government stages a negotiation without substance which, nevertheless, creates an environment conducive to its interests. The parties are keeping one eye on when elections will be held and privately admit that it might be better not to have pass the new budget so as not to go through erosive negotiations nor undergo a new test of strength. In the end, only ballots will decide. If a majority must be built, now is not the moment to avoid debate and point fingers at those suspect of disaffection, but is instead the time to put forward projects worthy of the idea that a better country is possible.

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