Separatism in Europe - Catalonia and the others

Separatism in Europe – Catalonia and the others

Might we see some revival of some secessionist movements in Europe due to the situation in Catalonia or maybe not so much, and why?

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By Andrej Matisak

Do you think we might see some revival of some secessionist movements in Europe due to situation in Catalonia or maybe not so much, and why?

James Ker-Lindsay, Professor of Politics and Policy, School of Arts and Humanities, St Mary’s University, Senior Visiting Fellow, London School of Economics

I don’t think that the events in Catalonia will lead to a rise in secessionist activity elsewhere in Europe. Of course, many other secessionist groups will be watching developments in Catalonia with keen interest and hoping that somehow an independent Catalonia emerges. However, this seems unlikely. People rarely understand just how difficult it is for a territory to secede unilaterally. States are usually extremely reluctant to let parts of their territory break away. And the international community is loathe to recognise states created in this way. If Catalonia – a wealthy and populous territory with a high degree of autonomy in a Western democratic state – faces such problems, then other places have little hope.
If by some chance, Catalonia did manage to succeed and become independent, then I think that this would become a rallying point for other secessionist groups – which is precisely why many other states will be watching developments with concern and, either privately or publicly, supporting Spain’s position.

It is interesting to see how the comparisons with Kosovo are being made. In some ways, this is to be expected. The main reason why Spain has not recognised Kosovo is because of its fears that it would stoke separatism within its own borders. It has invited the comparison. Overall, I don’t see the two cases as similar for a whole range of reasons. To my mind, Catalonia is more like Scotland or Quebec. However, where there are similarities are in terms of how the issue is handled. Like many others, I think Spain made a huge mistake in how it has managed the situation with Catalonia, especially the violence used by police on the day of the referendum. This type of disproportionate force only breeds greater anger and resentment. This is where Serbia made its big mistake with Kosovo. Madrid would be wise to heed that particular lesson.

Markus Thiel, Associate Professor, Department of Politics and International Relations, Florida International University

While I believe that there will be a more vocal drive of certain secessionist movements for independence in the next few years, I don’t see that Catalonia is the reason for those trying to follow this example.

Catalonia is a very special case, given Spain’s distinctive post-Franco history, and can, if at all, only be compared to the Basque Country. But the Basque Country’s secessionist movement has actually been pacified through more political and financial concessions given to it.
Scottish independence is almost as old as the Catalonian push for independence, and is also a particular case as the Brexit decision of the UK has inspired Scotland more strongly to leave, as they don’t want to be taken out of the EU once/if the UK leaves the EU.

And Flanders and Wallonia could be considered secessionist, but there is no outright majority-minority case in which a region wants to split unilaterally from the rest of the nation.

Italy’s north has ‘Padania’ and South Tyrol, but both regions continue to live within the Italian state, with no immediate increase in secessionist pressure visible.

But the EU has certain effects on these regions and movements as well: while the EU leaders & institutions needs to make sure that they remain primarily supportive of the member state governments which make up in part the leadership of the EU (and therefore have insisted that any new breakaway region would have to separately apply to become a new EU member state, rather than automatically continue membership in the EU), the EU regional cohesion funds also provide regions with more immediate access to EU institutions and funds independent from their capitals. This gives regions politically more power and visibility vis-a-vis the EU, and with that their ambitions rise.

But overall, I don’t expect a rise in secessionist activities as the Catalonian and Scottish case are quite distinct.

Andrej Matisak is a journalist for Slovak daily Pravda. Andrej writes regularly about security and international issues and global politics.

This article was Andrej’s blog, ‘A Stamp on the World’, and is available by clicking here. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of TransConflict.

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1 Response

  1. Jugoslav Rinas

    Short article, but good as basis for discussion. There are several scales where someone put Catalonia issue. It can be, let’s say, the position of an entity within some state (federal, confederal, autonomous…), it can be the behaviour of central authorities towards that entity (exploitation, violence towards population, discrimination)… One was omitted for sure…does the wannabe independent entities have the local ethnic majority (which is actually minority in the state as a whole) which ethnically belong to a nation of a neighbouring country. We should put Autonomous province of Kosovo and Metohia in that scale, the same as , let’s say issue of Hungarians in Romania. Catalonia issue would then go in scale together with Baskia, Scotland, even with “Kurdistan” ….secessionism of an ethnic group which doesn’t have its own state.

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