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Emerging independence movements may contribute to a stronger and unified Europe

Jose A Medeiros Macedo, a native of Horta, on the Azores Islands, gives us his insight into Scotland and Catalonia’s push for independence and why they should not be greeted with the usual scepticism by the EU.

National interests and vanities are a major obstacle to a better, unified Europe. Across the last decades these issues have hampered the building of a truly European union. Such national interests have recently increased as several countries have more radical left- and right-wing governments as the result of the rising populism and migration issues.

Within this context independence movements are emerging and resurging across Europe, with Scotland and Catalonia being the most prominent at the moment. At a first glance these movements seem to bring in some instability into the European construction process by potentially causing further fragmentation of the EU space. However, such nations as Scotland and Catalonia, though exhibiting deeper nationalist sentiments, are quite pro-EU as they desire to remain in the European Union. Yet these independence movements may well contract the strength of national egoisms which themselves are expanded nationalisms.

Curiously enough, these pro-independence political organisations are surging within the most populous countries of the EU, namely the United Kingdom and Spain, but not only there. This may pose important questions on the equilibrium between the most and the least populous EU member states since the stronger call for unity is nowadays to be concentrated within six or seven larger countries. This unbalanced status is one of the main reasons for the distrust and selfishness among EU members thus causing significant obstacles to European unity.

In fact, a further fragmentation of the larger countries will bring in a new equilibrium among all countries by diminishing their territorial controlling capacity and by providing a stronger cohesion among states through weakening the distressed relations among them. The identities of such separatist regions are much too strong to be included in greater national spaces. Furthermore, their future direct relationship with Brussels can carry greater advances and precise policies to them following the actual models and goals for the regional policies in the EU. These are just some of the advantages for the independent regions, apart from the benefits for the EU as a more cohesive and stronger political and economic bloc.

In order to achieve such goals, these regions must be supported as new members of the EU without having to leave and re-apply again, thus simplifying the whole accession process. However, some important political and legal impediments by the countries controlling the sovereignty on these regions may obstruct further advances on these issues and thus delay all the processes. It is necessary to warrant fast entrance mechanisms to such regions as an inducement to avoid negative influence within these difficult circumstances we live in. Consequently, it will be easier to get some national concessions, but to avoid some kind of blackmail to any country at the same time. It is not an easy process and only a fair balance among all the players can achieve credible results.

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7 replies »

  1. Moien, I was born in Cornwall, with my mother and all of her family Cornish (for sure I have a mix of genes due to their trade and piracy) and Mebyon Kernow have always campaigned for Cornwall as an autonomous region within the UK.

    The EU recognises the Cornish (brythonic celts) and the English laugh at that. The English (who are Germanic) like to insist that Cornwall and the Cornish are English.

    So the EU allows us all to celebrate our diversity but national governments have in the past, and in some cases currently, encourage pan nationalism for their own ends. Local nationalism is something that we can enjoy our differences to make a good holiday or good business.

    I enjoyed your article and agree entirely. My first trip out of the UK at 16 was to Schleswig Holstein, which changed my outlook completely. I didn’t stop travelling since. I have lived in Luxembourg for 9 years now hence the Moien greeting.

    Wish you peace and safe travels, Tim and family

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  2. I could not agree more to the conclusions drawn by Mr.Madeiros Macedo. Nation-states are an aberration of History, some kind of treason to our common heritage. It is high time they ceased to exist, making space for something far, far better. Thanks for this article !

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  3. Jose is making a point that is often politically ignored but can unquestionably work. There are enough examples old and new. Most recently we have seen federal Czechoslovakia divide into Czechia (formerly Czech Republic) and Slovakia in 1993 then both join the EU at the same time without any kind of political friction. Denmark granted Greenland autonomy, thus in 1985, Greenland left the EEC. Neither example has had any kind of negative outcome. In many respects small states like Andorra and Liechtenstein are to a point dependent on the currency, policing and military protection of neighbours, in these cases France and Switzerland respectively, yet remain essentially independent. More small states within a larger union does not need to upset the status quo at all but may well be far more representative of the diversity that, in this case, legislation within the EU protects. The arguments against greater autonomy and independence are only proffered by the states they at present ‘belong’ within. Acceptance and assistance of independence movements and clear signalling that they will be able to remain in the EU should indeed contribute to stronger and unified Europe.

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  4. Completely disagree. First, the case of Catalonia and Scotland are not comparable in historical and economic terms. Second, in the case of Catalonian the recent explosion of independentism is a consequence of the crisis and the raise of populism movements who wanted attacked the existing establishment, is based on a feeling of superiority towards the rest of Spain, the wish of stop all sort of solidarity towards pooerest regions (others are richer, such as Madrid or Balearic Islands) and increase the existing barriers within Europe. The basis of this independentist movement is contrary to the idea of equal treatment, solidarity and a closer Union. Moreover, the implosion of the EU in smaller entities will render the EU “ingovernable” and weaker the presence of Europe in the world. Independentism is no good news for Europe in the medium, long term.

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    • Javi, I doubt anybody will dispute the fact that Catalunya and Scotland are very different, so too the fact that in some cases varying different levels of autonomy may serve purposes far better than independence. Unless you know UK history and how the respective Acts of Union of 1707 and 1801 came about it is very difficult to take that apart. I believe most people see it in terms of unionist supporters of the UK against re-unionist republicans who prefer the Republic of Ireland. It goes deeper. The unionist protestants are descendants of Scots resettled in Northern Ireland by the English in an attempt to bring the whole of Ireland to heel. It did not work, the majority became isolated in a single province. That there are ‘protestant’ areas in the Republic like the city of Cork tends to escape attention. Anyway, more to the point is that strong ties between Northern Ireland and Scotland remain. There are still families partially in both, certainly their protestant churches are still conjoined. If Scotland decides to withdraw from the union, which it would be to revert to being an independent country, then Northern Ireland would have stronger links with them than England. The UK would lose the unionists who may well remain unionists but then to Scotland. That would inevitably lead to political change that could even see an increasing secular Northern Ireland that is economically intertwined with the Republic wishing to reunite. Economically, at present even the proposition is not viable but the fact remains.

      Furthermore, the UK is not a unitary state. Even its name gives that away. It is a union created by the 1707 and 1801 Acts. In fact the latter has never actually been repealed and in some respects it explains why Irish nationals go to the UK then enjoy full rights immediately. By the same token, Ireland considers all people in Northern Ireland to be Irish and extends them the right to take Republican citizenship. What does not, never has and it is now to late to contemplate, is a constitution in which the members of the union are part of a single state formally. Such a constitution does not exist.

      Catalunya has its Estatut d’Autonomia in which the first article states: ‘Catalunya, com a nacionalitat, exerceix el seu autogovern constituïda en comunitat autònoma d’acord amb la Constitució i amb aquest Estatut, que és la seva norma institucional bàsica. (Catalonia, as a nationality, exercises its self-government constituted as an autonomous community in accordance with the Constitution and with this Estatut, which is its basic institutional law.) That may be compared with the Scotland Act 1998 which avoids a comparable first article, although the Westminster Parliament has retained the ability to legislate for Scotland, by convention it no longer does so without the consent of the Scottish Parliament. The 1707 Act of Union is also taken into account but not too often mentioned for the sake of political expedience in Westminster since they know that Scotland, unlike Catalunya, has the unreserved right to leave the union if the majority of the electorate so choose, whatever political ‘noises’ one hears to the contrary from pro-unionist MPs.

      Thus, to compare not just the two examples you and I chose for obvious reasons, but in general throughout EU states, not only present political arrangements but the historical ‘constitutional’ and similar ties must always be taken fully into account. Thus, for instance, Corsica has an excellent argument for independence from France on the basis of it being bought and sold by various royal and ducal families without the consent of the Corsu population at any time, whereas the people of Breizh, Bretagne in French, have been incorporated into France since the 12th century, to some extent earlier, although formally part of France only in the 16th century. Arguably, during Roman and then Norman occupations it was part of their provinces within greater France and certainly at the time of Karl de Große was part of the West Frankish Empire, unravelling that is nigh on impossible, therefore autonomy within the state is the best compromise. In the UK Wales is similar. Catalunya has a constitutional status with Spain, thus achieving independence is a unique Catalan cause and in no way comparable with elsewhere. However, if countries becoming independent emerge, as long as the EU treaties remain intact within their own (new) constitutions nothing fundamentally changes. Autonomy affects almost nothing unless it is, perhaps, like Greenland and enables part of a political state to be either out of or in (when the state it belongs to is out of) the EU.

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