Independence movements and the role of the EU
Spain’s Catalonia is not alone in wanting to split off from its parent country. There is also a major movement in Scotland for independence. Two of Italy’s regions, Veneto and Lombardy, recently voted to ask for more autonomy.
These ambitions for greater independence are not new. There have been rumblings and expressions of a desire for greater autonomy in Catalonia, Scotland and the North of Italy for many years, even centuries. The interesting question is why such movements just now and all within the European Union?
There is a certain logic here. Any region that wishes to become autonomous must consider how it will function and administer certain government functions that are necessary to remain viable. It would have to legislate and negotiate its foreign relations, tariffs, treaties and border controls, as well as a host of laws and regulations setting industry standards , labour regulations, industrial policy, financial regulation, etc.
Replicating these for a newly formed nation state would be a formidable task. However, if the region is already part of a state within the EU, the prospect becomes much less daunting. It may expect (realistically or not) that it will remain a member of the EU and all these functions, which have now been assumed by the EU, would be applicable and operative in the new state.
As the EU has taken on more and more functions and responsibilities, the role of national governments has correspondingly become smaller. The nation state’s historic role and function is being transferred to the bureaucracy in Brussels. This process has inadvertently lowered the costs and risks of independence. The bureaucrats in Brussels no doubt see that this could encourage independence movements and thus the fragmentation of Europe. The prospect of a Europe made of up of mini states is not one that would appeal to the EU. Perhaps this is why Brussels has avoided any show of support for Catalonia’s initiative. Having received no encouragement, rather the reverse, an independent Catalonia cannot assume it would remain within the EU.
The opposition of Brussels provides a powerful weapon for any national government opposing an independence movement, such as that of Catalonia. But what if Catalonia did break away? This would pose Brussels with a dilemma. Could it continue to exclude a region that is an integral and historic part of Europe? That would be extremely difficult.
The Catalonian separatists, despite their brave words, have capitulated and their leaders have fled into exile. Whatever happens next it is unlikely that we have heard the last of either the Catalonian movement or that of similar initiatives. Other regions are watching these developments. Corsica and the Flemish part of Belgium, two areas where talk of a split has a long history, have been quick to remark on Catalonia’s drive for independence. Is this the end or the beginning? Only time will tell.