Is Separatism A Threat To Europe?

Europe Separatism

At the risk of being thrown from the ramparts of Edinburgh castle, fed to the lions of Antwerp zoo or drowned in Barcelona harbour, let me venture this thought: separatism is an exaggerated threat to the European state system.
The UK, Belgium, Spain and other countries that contain restive national minorities and regions are not about to disappear in a puff of smoke.
The conventional wisdom is that Europe’s debt crisis is fuelling independence movements in places such as Scotland, Catalonia, the Basque Country, Flanders and Italy’s German-speaking Alto Adige (South Tyrol). It is striking that all these places are in the north of their respective countries and, Scotland excepted, are more prosperous than regions to the south. The Catalans, Flemish and South Tyroleans are said to resent paying high taxes to support their less well-off and allegedly corrupt and idle compatriots in Andalusia, Wallonia and Calabria.
There is clearly something to this argument, but it glosses over important details. Belgium has Europe’s most decentralised form of government, but it is an extremely difficult country to break up because of the near-impossibility of deciding what should be done with Brussels, the French-speaking capital surrounded by Dutch-speaking Flanders.
As for Scotland, the latest opinion polls suggest Scots will vote by a substantial margin to stay in the UK in their 2014 referendum on independence. Let me note in passing here that the government of Ireland, the UK’s nearest neighbour, is deeply troubled by the potential impact of Scottish secession on the stability of the British-ruled province of Northern Ireland.
Nationalists and separatists won last weekend’s regional elections in Spain’s Basque Country. But the region’s population, Basque and non-Basque, will settle for autonomy within Spain rather than what would undoubtedly be a precarious existence as a separate state. The central government in Madrid knows it needs to take Catalonia’s pro-independence movement seriously, but provided that it keeps a cool head it ought to be able to negotiate a compromise giving the Catalans more control of their affairs.
If ever South Tyrol detached itself from Italy, it would surely look to be absorbed into Austria (a goal for which many South Tyroleans agitated at the end of the second world war) rather than go its own way. But the prospect of losing national territory to Austria touches a raw political nerve in Italy. It is fortunate that South Tyrolean separatism these days is less militant than it used to be. I suspect many Italians would, quite literally, fight to retain control of the region.
I don’t want to give the impression that Europe’s national borders will never change. It is obvious that, in the 98 years since the first world war’s outbreak, they have changed an awful lot. It can certainly happen again. But remember: peaceful border changes are the exception rather than the rule in modern Europe.

Read the full story here.


  1. separation is not a good idea being unity is a good idea

  2. Hi Srilekha,

    Thankyou for your comment.

    Sikander Hayat


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