Tag Archives: UEFA

Catalonia – just another small European country?

Four years ago, as Gibraltar became a member of UEFA, I welcomed it as the newest European country. In that post, I’ve tried my hand at predicting the next political entity to become a European country by passing the UEFA membership test. Since then, Kosovo joined UEFA in May 2016, becoming the newest small European country. Scotland almost made it, but the Scottish independence referendum flopped. Maybe in the Brexit fallout Scotland will have another chance. However, since Scotland already is a member of UEFA, I count it as an independent country, so as far as I’m concerned Scottish independence vote would not change much.

The cross at the top of the Canigou is decorated with the Catalan flag. Guess in which country the Canigou is?

Europe would not be what it is without a constant resurrection of ancient political rivalries. And yesterday, Catalonia, another potential newest country on my to-watch list, declared independence. Back in 2013 I guessed Catalonia would not dare make the run for freedom, but the chicken game the Catalan independence movement has been playing with Madrid has apparently forced both sides to call each other’s bluff. Whether Catalonia will indeed gain the ultimate recognition (UEFA membership) remains to be seen. But if I was the PM of Belgium, the next country on my list to split into smaller independent entities, I’d be very, very worried.




Filed under Europe, Just another small European country

How football bankrupted Ukraine

Ukraine has been out of the headlines in the last week, toppled by Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. But after this weekend, Ukraine will be back on top of the news, following the Crimean referendum. Its not going to be pretty for Ukraine and the question everyone will be asking is – how did it get this far? Well, I say football is to blame. This is my version of what happened.

Suppose you have a house. Its a nice house, a big one, that you have inherited from your parents. But it’s an old house, with plenty of problems – the roof is leaking, insulation is non-existent, some windows are broken and the piping is rotten. Your house needs a total overhaul to be restored to its former glory. The problem is – you have just lost your job, your wife is sick and the children need money for new school books, so you’re not exactly swimming in cash.

What would you do? You do have an asset – your house. So a reasonable option would be to take a loan with the property as guarantee, to last you through the tough times and make the repairs before the roof caves in on you. This way, you will have a solid home, your children will benefit from good education, your wife will go to a good doctor and if all goes well, with the new job you will repay the small loan you took and get your family back on your feet.

There is, of course, another option. Mortgage your whole house and spend all the money you get on a huge one-time party, making only cosmetic repairs, so that the roof doesn’t leak into the champagne and caviar you serve your guests. Invite everyone – the boss who fired you, the contractor who “fixed” the leaking roof the last time, hell, invite all your old girlfriends, too – show them how successful you’ve become in life. Who cares that the party will be over and leave you with a huge hangover, a ruined house and a loan you can’t repay? Sell your grandma’s jewelry, too, while you’re at it – no expenses can be spared for a good party!

Unfortunately, the last option is what Ukraine has done when hosting the Euro 2012. Various reports say that the tournament has cost Ukraine 10 to 14 bn USD – four to six times the original estimate! What’s even worse, half the money wasn’t event spent on unnecessary infrastructure like lavish football stadiums – it was just stolen. Who remembers now that Ukrainian media seriously claimed that Ukraine’s road to the EU will start at Euro 2012?

Football alone was not the cause of the downfall of Ukraine. The financial crisis and widespread corruption have hit Ukrainian economy hard, eventually leading to the ousting of the government of Viktor Yanukovych (and a Russian invasion). But hosting the Euro 2012 tournament has undoubtedly made the problems worse.

Ukraine’s woes must be a warning sign to other “emerging” countries that waste their assets on prestige projects. I’m talking to you, Russia and Brazil – chopping the fruit garden around your house and selling your winter coal stock to finance an even bigger party won’t make it better.

The conclusion is obvious – hosting huge events like FIFA World Cups and Olympic Games is possible only when you already have the money, the infrastructure and the judicial system that can cope with such huge money flows. Otherwise, you will be left with a herd of white elephants and a huge debt millstone hanging around your neck, like Ukraine, or Greece. And the last word about the burden of Beijing 2008 Olympics on China’s economy has not been said yet, I’m afraid.

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Filed under Europe, Work

The newest country in the world will be a small European one

Gibraltar aerial view (source: http://www.flickr.com/people/14944226@N07, through Wikipedia)

Recently, Gibraltar has become the newest European country by passing the most rigid of all tests – acquisition of the UEFA membership. I didn’t see it coming, did you? Gibraltar is in fact, the smallest European country, smaller than San Marino in terms of both area and population (of course, Vatican and Monaco are even smaller, but they’re not members of UEFA, are they?). In the last decades, Europe has been the world’s primary supplier of new countries.  Even though Europe is called the “old” continent, of the 34 new countries formed since 1990 26 have been formed in Europe. Or is it 25? Read on to find out…

As the statistics clearly show, the odds are that the newest country in the world will be a European one. That it will be a small one, is even more likely. So what will be the newest small European country? There’s no shortage of candidates – the list of active separatist movements in Europe contains dozens of movements from some 30 countries. Some, like the ETA, are well-known, but who has ever heard of the Northern Epirus Liberation Front? In addition, there are 6 states with limited recognition in Europe, 5 of which have national football teams. Which one will become the newest UEFA member, thereby earning to be called a “country”? Here’s my shortlist of the most probable candidates.

  • Catalonia
    The Catalonia national football team has already played over 200 matches. That in addition to the unofficial Catalonian national team – FC Barcelona. The football basis of Catalonia is obviously as solid as they get. But do they have the guts to say “adios” to Spain? Talk of Catalonia’s independence has been going on for years, decades and centuries, gaining much autonomy for the region, but my guess is that Catalonia just doesn’t have what it takes to make the jump and will remain part of Spain for the time being.
  • Scotland
    Next year, Scotland will hold a referendum on the issue of independence from the United Kingdom. The announcement has fuelled speculations of Scotland becoming the newest European country. These speculations are, of course, nonsense. Scotland is already a member of UEFA and therefore is a country on its own, regardless the outcome of the referendum.
  • Wallonia/Flanders
    Two for the price of one? Ever since Belgium was created, its French-speaking and Dutch-speaking parts are not on speaking terms (good one, right? I came up with it myself). The country holds the curious – whether sad or happy is for you to judge – world record of spending 19 months without government. Belgium seems to split at every election campaign, but like an unhappily married couple, the Wallonians and the Flemish seem content with making each other miserable. I wouldn’t bet on the Belgian split just yet.
  • The Vatican, Monaco and the United Kingdom
    This unlikely trio are the only fully recognised sovereign European states that are not a member of UEFA. They should have little problems joining should they wish so, but the chances of any of the three making the step are rather slim. The Vatican doesn’t see the point, AS Monaco is satisfied with being part of the French league and the UK national football team is a mirage, forever showing all the Britons what could have been if they’d have the will to unite.
  • Kosovo
    While Kosovo is called a “country” by many, and is counted as the 26th new European country in the list mentioned above, its not a member of UEFA yet. Therefore, it doesn’t count as a country as far as this weblog is concerned. Kosovo is the most widely recognized non-UN member state in Europe, and its football federation has already applied for FIFA membership. However, approving de-jure the de-facto independence of Kosovo is a too bold step for the FIFA (and presumably, the UEFA as well). The formal approval of Kosovo’s independence might open Pandora’s box of breakaway-breakaway republics, such as Abkhazia, South and perhaps North Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh, Transnisria, Northern Cyprus, Republika Srpska and so on, some of which already possess the ultimate symbol of independence – a national football team. FIFA and UEFA do not want that responsibility.
  • The unexpected candidate
    As mentioned, there’s no shortage of candidates to become the newest small European country. Who knows, perhaps it will be Gagauzia, Samogitia, Chuvashia or Krakozhia that will surprise the world by becoming the newest small European country.
What do you think? Which entity will become the newest (small European) country? Or, alternatively, who would you like to become the newest addition to the list of European states?


Filed under Europe, Small European things