The political shape of Europe is changing. The British Prime Minister is trying to persuade European leaders to approve fundamental changes to the European Union in an attempt to satisfy those of his back bench M.P.’s who want Britain to go it alone. Whereas he is only interested in a political fix, real political change with a social conscience is already happening across the continent.
Two examples of this are featured in this week’s Guardian, both reforms happening in Spain and both the result of deep conviction by two remarkable women.
Ada Colau will be sworn in as Barcelona’s first female mayor on Saturday and has spoken about the need for a more ‘feminised’democracy in which cooperation could become more enjoyable and effective than competitiveness’. She is an activist who has been campaigning against the harsh laws that require mortgage defaulters, evicted from their homes, to continue paying off their mortgage whilst they are disqualified from filing for bankeruptcy.
She will take office setting herself with thirty tasks to achieve in the first few months which will include creating jobs, guaranteeing basic rights, and fighting corruption. In her first week she will invite all Barcelona’s banks to discuss how to halt evictions, and will legislate against banks that don’t allow their empty properties to be used for social housing. Sister Teresa Forcades is a Benedictine nun, a very unusual one. Before she was accepted into the order in 1997, she had a professional background in medicine and had studied liberation theology. In 2013 she and the economist Arcadi Oliveres published a manifesto calling for an independent Catalonia where banks and energy companies would be nationalised and all citizens would have the right to a home and a decent wage. She has openly criticised the Catholic Church for being misogynis and patriarchal and has said that the economic crisis in Spain has got to a point where it threatens the very fabric of society.
She has been reluctant to trade in her monastic commitment for a career in politics. But her religious community proposed a solution, offering her a sabbatical of up to three years, the kind given to nuns to look after a sick parent. ‘But my mother is not sick’, she said. They replied ‘ but society is sick so you can go and take care of it’. She is being heavily criticised, with the old mantra that religion shouldn’t interfere with politics raised aginst her. She recognises that the criticisms will increase but they ‘are to be expected. I follow someone called Jesus and he had a lot of that’.