24 March 2009


Just a few moments ago, we achieved a great victory in the European Parliament’s hemicycle. Maria Badia was the principal architect, proposing a resolution to counter the report by Popular Party MEP Graça Moura entitled Multilingualism: an Asset for Europe and a Shared Commitment (A6-0092/2009). The alternative text received the support of various political groups who saw many problems with the original text. Put to the vote, the majority of deputies gave support to Maria’s proposal.

My hair stood on end when, in the plenary, Graça Moura tried to defend against the alternative resolution saying that “irritated nationalisms” wanted to water down his text and bring their battles to the European Parliament. On the contrary: the Spanish Popular Party deputies had introduced amendments into the report that questioned the very basis of linguistic politics in Catalonia, stemming from a supposed defense of the right of parents to choose the language in which their children are to be schooled.

The PP members thus wanted to subvert what have been the principal virtues of the Catalan model, a model that has turned out to be an extraordinary one—despite the quantity of work that remains to be done—if we look at the situation in many other areas of Europe. The first pillar of our model is social cohesion: today the Catalan language is the common patrimony of all Catalans, for those who speak it and those who don’t. The second pillar is that our model works toward valid objectives for all: it guarantees, by the end of schooling, thorough knowledge of Catalan and Spanish. Based on the principle of subsidiarity, deciding how and with what elements these objectives will be attained, and our hard-earned social cohesion preserved, belongs to our institutions and our people.

18 January 2009

The beginning of Obama's presidency

I'm traveling to Washington to attend Barack Obama's swearing in as President of the United States, in three days. In fact, the celebratory events already begin tomorrow--I'm planning to go to a reception organized by the state of Vermont for the occasion--and intensify Monday, arriving at their peak on Tuesday, with the central event.

Obama arrives in the capital today on a train from Philadelphia, emulating the historic trip of his predecessor Abraham Lincoln some 150 years ago. The inauguration of each new president of the United States has always awoken expectations and mobilized more people than we could imagine in the political life of any other country in the world. To the solemnity of the moment are added elements of revelry, spectacle and warmest explosions of enthusiasm, in a unique cocktail. The panorama heading to the White House is an occasion many people and groups take advantage of, flying all kinds of flags or rather, from the position of observers, enjoying the view of a very diverse crowd.

This time, however, things have taken on a certain edge: people are aware that these events have a profound meaning, way beyond the pomp and the pageantry. They mark a transcendental moment in the history of the United States and the world. The possible change that Barack Obama stood for during the electoral campaign in such an insistent and electrifying way now has arrived with the fact of his very election. For the first time, an Afro-American, a politician almost unknown just a few years ago, takes his place in the highest office of the country. For the first time, an audacious message in favor of the most disfavored, obtained majority support instead of the suspicion of supposed extremism. For the first time, the world is almost unanimously convinced that a new philosophy of international relations is moving into the White House.

In the last few months, when people asked me about the American elections, I often answered, half in jest, that with such high expectations, whatever Obama does will fall short and easily cause disappointment. I would then add that as for me, to avoid disappointment, I'm satisfied with what the revolutionary fact of his election has already achieved.

However, the truth is that more than ever we need an intelligent and ambitious president in the United States, and even the world. We need results now. Gaza cannot wait. Middle Eastern peace cannot wait. Hunger and the conflicts in Africa cannot wait. The fight against climate change cannot wait.

His tasks will not be easy. The fact that the new team has gained power with a program that bet firmly on multilateral collaboration does not mean, for example, that Europe and the United States will coordinate their international agenda overnight. It also does not mean that American society has suddenly changed its basic perceptions about the foreign relations options within reach of its government. Obama will be successful if he can lead a true "cultural" revolution that situates the implication of the destinies of the world in the very heart of internal politics. It will also be necessary to avoid letting his internal political agenda interfere in the resolution of the world's problems. The problems of earlier administrations should not be repeated, in which the prospects for the Middle East peace process were slowed down or intensified depending on whether the US was heading into an election period.

17 September 2008

One Europe and a half

It seems clear that in the next elections for the European Parliament we will not be presented with two competing models of Europe. The Right has for some years now renounced the process of European construction. It wants to put on the brakes halfway through the project; it proposes "half a Europe."

Socialists and Christian Democrats knew how to weave a united Europe from the 50s to the 90s. They did so with different accents, but with a desire for agreement and untiring ambition. In the last years of the twentieth century, Aznarists, Neo-Gaullists and Berlusconians interrupted the Christian Democrat family through a strange system of reciprocal invitations. They took hold of a tradition that was not theirs and dynamited the reputation of Europeanism and social conscience. In reaction, some who were unhappy with this machination moved to the liberal family, which thus became equally unfocused.

Liberal-conservative action for the future is predictable. Going into the elections, they will identify two or three subjects that awake particular fears in the public, not in order to present solutions, but to hide their knowing renunciation of a project of European political union. In the spaces of control that belong to them, they will follow the same line they started upon: administrating the status quo and taking advantage of any fault line to re-nationalize politics without attracting too much attention. They will work to improve the market and they will work to dismantle the checks and balances of the market.

The Left has the responsibility of making a political and social Europe fully visible in this coming electoral campaign. Let no one think that we will always have what we have. Let no one think, either, that "Europe moves" without us having to push it from behind. A much greater ambition is possible, but we need all the mobilization and all the commitment we are capable of.

23 August 2008


Obama's choice of Joe Biden to share his ticket in the November elections is, for me, a good piece of news. Biden has extensive experience: thirty-five years as Delaware senator, and chair of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee. If he is elected to the vice-presidency, surely North American international policy can be built around an unprecedented capacity for analysis of a wide range of issues.

I say this not only in terms of the quantity of Biden's experience, but also in terms of its quality. I have read that Biden himself (initially a candidate in the Democratic primary) suggested that Rudolph Giuliani's sentences invariably contain "subject, verb and... '9/11'". Biden, in effect, situates himself according to some very different coordinates, those of a complex and interdependent world with conflicts of a changing nature, where not everything can solved with a battering ram.

Over the next few weeks we'll probably see an attempt to air dirty laundry, which always happens. With his long experience, Biden will be vulnerable to attack. But above all, Obama's choice offers a new example of his courage: he did not choose to recruit some figure who would ensure him success in one of the swing states like Pennsylvania or Florida. Instead, he chose to believe in
the senator of the tiny state of Delaware. Rather than calculating how he could capture the support of different minorities or social segments, he gives priority to a high level of discourse with a global dimension, one in which everybody who wishes to be can be recognized.

24 July 2008

Manifest Destiny

Sioux Center is a tranquil little town in the west of Iowa. The fields of corn transform almost imperceptibly into streets bordered by closely cut lawns and tall trees.

Two thirds of the population are of Dutch origin, the highest proportion in the United States. Orange City, a half hour distance away by car, is also a place of decided Dutch predominance. Under the welcome sign, a series of posts in the form of a wooden shoe point the visitor in several directions. On one corner, you are surprised by a telephone booth in the form of a perfectly detailed windmill. At the wooden shoe shop in the town center, in addition to selling cinnamon cookies and their own products, they give certificates of authenticity to accompany the purchase of Delft pottery from Holland.

I take a look at the Wikipedia entry about Dutch enclaves in the United States. Reading about Holland, Michigan - a place that I visited last year - I notice an entry that speaks about the "cultural clash" between the activist Calvinists who settled there in the middle of the 19th century and the original inhabitants, the Ottawa Indians. I can't imagine that a dialogue about customs and world visions led to the "displacement of the latter towards the north". We should agree to speak about this "clash" without adjectives, using its literal meaning. The same goes for the Sioux Indians of Iowa and other Indians around the country.

The European newcomers continued to widen the frontier in their realization of the "Manifest Destiny" that they had been promised, the acquisition of territories between the Atlantic and the Pacific masquerading as a "civilizing" mission of liberty and democracy. By the twentieth century this had probably turned into a global mission, once those territories had been exhausted.

For almost 150 years, some of these communities have continued to nourish their original European idiosyncrasies, either by the arrival of compatriots from their homeland, or by intermarriage and through the maintenance of their own universities, schools and churches.

You shouldn't be reminded of the movie "Witness" or the Amish: they've got nothing in common. These are communities that participate in all of US culture and lifestyle, while keeping this traditional bond strong, which is disconcerting for the European observer of today. But like so many other secular realities, it may become more and more diluted.

23 July 2008


Today I start upon a journey of some twenty days through the American Midwest and West: first Iowa and South Dakota, and afterwards, in a second stage, Nevada, Arizona and California. Even though I have traveled often to the United States, I have never been west of Chicago - with the exception of Seattle- and so it seems that this youngest part of the country is a new world to discover. We will follow the frontier that advanced from New England towards the Pacific.

In spite of the temptation, I have not taken along any related reading. I did have Steinbeck in my hands, in a moment of hesitation before departure. Others have enthusiastically suggested On the Road by Jack Kerouac. I am halfway through (have been for ages) American Vertigo, an exploration of the continent that Bernard-Henri Lévy wrote for Atlantic Monthly, originally published as essays in the magazine. But I have preferred to avoid the excesses of suggestion and decided to make the journey more like the trips that I make on the train, during which I find reading difficult: the fast succession of landscapes has too great an appeal.

Lévy's aim - I quote his work, instead of others, for practical reasons only - is to put the European (read French) perspective in
relation with today's American space, to see qu'est que ça donne. Is there a progressive separation of the two societies? This is the question mark behind all levels of their relationship today (except in that of large corporations).

I believe, however, that the question has to be properly situated: in Europe and in the United States there are many people capable of merging, quite naturally, some huge differences. For example, on the North American side, the visibility of religion, active optimism, or the public expression of feelings; on the European side, open treatment of sex, the complexity of political and economic structures, or the extensive range of ideological views. It is a question, however, of knowing whether the two societies are evolving towards systems incompatible with their mutual communication. Europe has discovered a vast "progressive" America with Obama. Where was it until now? Had we really even looked, scratching deeper than the surface? Or were we satisfied with a televised image? From the European Left, from its social movements, have people ever thought seriously of "disembarking" in the United States to explain their vision of the world? Have we truly tried to find interlocutors and allies in civil society, workers, women, minorities... to improve our relationships?

It is necessary, on the other hand, to get rid of the idea of a North America that is "basically" the same as us, because we are disappointed when it is not so. I suspect that this concept is an invention of the cold war, or was at least reinforced by it. The 50s and 60s might have been the only moment of convergence, which led us to believe it had always been this way. The point is that until that moment, European societies mistrusted the laisser-faire attitude of the United States, in the same way that North American society has mistrusted the European laisser-passer.

In short, like all societies in today's global world, Europe and North America have both similarities and differences. The idea, to put it one way, that we are included in their E pluribus unum (or its war version, "United We Stand"), will have been a quite successful illusion in the construction of another West, that of cold war politics. Is the American west the heart and soul of this global west, of this fabulous construction? We shall see. I tend to think that this is a country with many people who just now are beginning to hear their voice and that they definitely don't want a world of cowboys. These are the same people who, for example, gathered in Idaho at one of the largest demonstrations of support for Obama, defying all stereotypes.