Separation in Europe: The need for independence
By admin October 3, 2014

People hold "estelada" flags, Catalan separatist flags, during a gathering to mark the Calatalonia day "Diada" in central BarcelonaEven though Scotland rejected independence from the United Kingdom in September, the ramifications of this referendum have had an impact outside of the Union. The Scottish referendum has reignited and reenergized political movements and debates throughout Europe. It may even entice other separatist groups to replicate and adopt the ‘Scottish model’ which carries out the referendum process in conjunction with Parliament (central government), making the outcome legally binding. This is in contrast to the referendums held in May 2014 in the Donetsk region of Ukraine and the recently announced Catalonian referendum to be held on the 9th November 2014, which has been publicly contested by Madrid and Spain’s Constitutional Court.

The Basque country, Corsica and Padania are some other regions in Europe that aspire for greater autonomy, or even clear-cut independence. Unlike Scotland however, many of these regions and political movements base and center their identities and political arguments for self-determination around language. With rising unemployment and falling living standards, the economic crisis that has wrecked the EU since 2008 has actually legitimized many of the continent’s independence movements and given credibility to their arguments and agendas in the face of an apparently incompetent and distant central government that acts as an obstacle to future growth. For example Padania, the prosperous northern part of Italy, seeks separation with what they deem to be a stagnant and lazy south. In a similar case in Spain, the country’s most wealthy region Catalonia, expresses it discontent and weariness of having 8% of its total GDP levied in taxes by Madrid only to never see it return as investment or increased budgets.

The rise of European separatist movements can also be attributed to a generation change, with political parties rooted in class struggles on 19th century losing ground to newer forces that are seen to be more representative and responsive to voters in these regions. Nevertheless the main Catalan, Scottish and Flemish nationalist parties remain pro-European. For its part the EU has always given an important place to regions through a European regional policy and European regional funds, even going as far to create a regional committee to allow regions to voice their opinions on European legislation.

Far from taming demands for separation, the devolution that occurred in the 1970s and 1980s has actually entrenched separatists into the European political landscape and ensured continued debates on greater autonomy and independence.

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