First Scotland, then Catalonia, now Northern Italy and next Bavaria? Independence seems to be contagious at the moment. The precise manner in which regions struggle for greater autonomy or independence might be different, but the motivations are the same: many people in Europe are increasingly in favour of self-determination. Catalonia is in the headlines today. Which region will it be tomorrow?
The EU is in a pickle. It doesn’t want to encourage the disintegration of European states, but nor does it want to interfere in Member States’ internal affairs either. If the Commission is seen to be on the side of the Catalans or acting as an intermediary, it would set a precedent that would also apply to other regions. Anyway, European integration was supposed to make national independence movements irrelevant. Why should people in Northern Ireland or Südtirol care which side of an invisible border they are on?
The Spanish government has now decided to take measures against Catalonia, which may enter into force on Friday after a vote in the Senate. What happens next? New elections, and an official declaration of independence? Civil disobedience? Basque separatists are also closely following developments, gauging the reaction of Spain’s central government.
The Northern Italian regions of Lombardy and Veneto have also voted for greater autonomy. In contrast to the Catalan vote, they do not want a formal split from Italy and the referenda are covered by the state constitution. Nevertheless, critics accuse the organisers of merely wanting to keep more tax money in the region instead of revenue going to central government. The model is apparently South Tyrol, a relatively autonomous region in Italy (though even there some still strive for independence or merger with Austria).
Scotland is also considering another referendum. In 2014, a majority of Scots voted against independence – but EU membership was an important reason for their decision, and the majority of Scots also voted to remain in the EU. The Scottish government has said it wants to make a second referendum dependent on Brexit negotiations. While there seems little appetite for another Scottish independence referendum right now (especially after the Scottish National Party’s poor showing in the 2017 election), the issue has certainly not gone away.
The list goes on: Corsica; Northern Ireland; the Danish Faroe Islands and Greenland; even in the heart of the EU, Flanders and Wallonia both claim the capital of Belgium. Why are all these regions struggling for independence? One thing they have in common is that usually they are economically strong. The debate around independence is also being fuelled by tax and spending questions, as an excuse to stop supporting poorer regions in the country after autonomy. So are these democratic revolutions, or economic self-interest?
Is Catalonia’s independence contagious? Should the EU keep out of the way? Or act as an intermediary? And is independence driven by economic selfishness or a desire for greater self-determination? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!