22 - 28 September, 2013
By Cillian Donnelly
t is wrong to think of the intention of the independence movement in Scot-land as being motivated by the desireto simply “break away” from the EuropeanUnion, a Scottish MEP has said. Alyn Smith, a member of the pro-inde-pendence Scottish National Party (SNP)told New Europe that recent comments by European Commission vice president, Joaquín Almunia, which have fuelledspeculation about the place of secessionistmovements in Europe only serves to de-flect from wider arguments for independ-ence.Speaking on 16 September, in com-ments clearly directed at the Catalan inde-pendence movement, Almunia said “if onepart of a territory of a member state decidesto separate, the separated part isnt a mem- ber of the European Union.” His commentsecho an earlier statement by commis-sion president, Jose Manuel Barroso, thatseemed to suggest that Scotland would notautomatically be allowed to remain in theEU if it voted to leave the United Kingdom.Scotland will vote in an independencereferendum on 18 September 2014.However, the pro-EU SNP, which is ina strong position to increase its represen-tation in Brussels at next years EuropeanParliament elections, retains its ambitionto remain firmly within the union, saysSmith. The party, he says, wants a brandof independence that keeps the country “within the EU trademark, in a governmentthat represents ourselves.”“Catalonia is Catalonia, Scotland isScotland,” he says. “Each case is based onindividual circumstances. Each case is very, very different.”The comments made by the Spanishcommissioner, while directed at a domes-tic audience, have wider implications forcountries or regions with ambitions for in-dependence.The European Commission has beenreluctant to address the issue directly, andprivate sources have acknowledged that Almunias comments do not represent EUpolicy. Officially, independence move-ments are treated as an internal matter forindividual member states. According to Almunias analysis, break-away regions would have to re-apply to jointhe EU, a process that requires unanimity from the other member states in council.The SNP “has always recognised that theEU is a community-based instrument,”says Smith, adding that the party does notsee this as a hurdle to them remaining amember of the union.More broadly, and with a year to go tothe independence referendum, the SNPand its supporters are “feeling good rightnow,” says Smith. It will also be the firsttime that 16 and 17 year-olds will be en-franchised. “People are now thinking aboutthis in earnest; and it is a justifiable vote. Ithink people are up for it.”
Scotland ‘up for independence’
SNP express keen desire to remain in EU
The Scottish Saltire hangs in Edinburgh in August during the annual Festival Fringe. Witharound a year to go before Scotland’s historic referendum, which could see the 5.5 million-strong nation move to split from the rest of the UK, a string of shows on the festivalprogramme tackled the thorny issue of independence. |
AFP PHOTO/ANDY BUCHANAN
The European Commissions vice president, Joaquin Almunia, threw a curveball into theraging debate over Catalonia independence by warning that this north-east region of Spain will be forced to forfeit the EuropeanUnion if it declares independence.“If one part of a territory of a member statedecides to separate, the separated part isnta member of the European Union,” he said.His strong statement came as a surprise. Ordid it?Even though Almunia is a prominent Span-ish politician, he was speaking as a Europeancommissioner. But instead of easing the ten-sion created by the growing calls for Catalo-nias independence, his warning may havestirred more controversy - throwing moreoil on the fire.Lets briefly consider the reasoning behind Almunias decision to make this statement. As a member of the Spanish Socialist Party,his statement is clearly political.Now lets put the debate in context. Spainhas been hard hit by the economic crisis andhas been scarred by unemployment - thesecond highest rate in the entire 28-member bloc. One can argue that it is this crisis andthe harsh austerity measures being imple-mented by officials in Madrid that has onceagain fuelled Catalonias bid for independ-ence and renewed calls for a referendum todecide its fate once and for all.So, the economic crisis has made the prob-lem more acute than ever before.But there is also reason for a widespreadconcern that must be addressed. Scotlandalso wants independence from the UnitedKingdom. And there are other regions inEurope that feel the same and could follow suit if Catalonia separates from Spain.The big question now is whether Almunia was right to warn that separation means aone-way ticket out of the EU. Absolutely not.Those who support Catalonias independ-ence are asking only that the region be al-lowed to cut ties with the distant capital. Asregards integration with the European Un-ion, they dont want less, but more of it.One can also argue that it is wholly incom-prehensible that the EU, which is strugglingto hold onto member states facing huge fis-cal problems and is even proceeding withthe accession of new countries, would evenconsider expelling those who seek inde-pendence.Even if this can legally be done, it could backfire on the EU. Logic says that a unionlike the EU - a union that takes great pridein convergence and integration and hailsthe Euro currency as the first step toward atruly unified Europe - cannot shun regions just because they decide (for historical, eco-nomic or political reasons) to secede fromthe state to which they belong especially if separation comes after a peaceful referen-dum. And lets not forget that in the case of Catalonia, those who support separationalso support the European Union.It is clear that the 21st century presentsplenty of new challenges that need to beaddressed in a new way. History has taughtus that failing to find solutions to new prob-lems will create even more problems and failto bring the desired results.
s homage to EU
By Alex Beaulieu
Throughout Europe there are various regions hop-ing to secede from the larger country they are tiedto. These movements are all at different stages withdifferent degrees of demand. While some of these di- visions may have been caused by the tensions of therecent economic crisis, many of these secessionistmovements come from deeper conflicts found in cul-ture and history, perhaps exacerbated by recent devel-opments. A common theme for all of them, however,is the shared desire to be autonomous.One of the most well known separatist movementsis found in Spain. The region of Catalonia has beenfighting for independence for years. For the peopleof Catalonia, Spain has suppressed their culture sincethe times of Franco. While the movement to secedehas been in action for years, it continues to gathermomentum. Catalonia is now attempting to pushthrough a referendum regarding its independence.Similarly, there is growing support for the secessionof Scotland from the United Kingdom. There is aplanned independence referendum to take place inSeptember of 2014. While Scotland does not havethe same overwhelming support for secession that isfound in Catalonia, there are many people who feelScotland is no longer fairly represented in the BritishParliament. Another well know separatist movement can be foundin Belgium. Between Flanders of the north and Wal-lonia of the south, Belgium is split in two. The desireto partition the country stems partially from culturaland language differences and partially from economicdifferences. The tensions between these two regionscontinue to increase and the demands for separatismhave only gotten stronger.There is another struggle for independence occur-ring in the Basque region of Spain. Compared to theother separatist movements, the desire for independ-ence in Basque country has an additional elementof violence. The Basque country previously faced afour-decade period of armed violence against Spainand France. While the majority of the violence hascome to an end, the separatist movement is still at theforefront of regional politics.Previously, there has also been separatist behaviorin northern Italy. The area of South Tyrol began de-manding independence not long after the beginningof the economic recession. While nothing directly came from these demands, some of the separatist sen-timent still remains.In Romania, the area of Transylvania has been callingfor independence. The tension between Transylvaniaand the rest of Romania comes from both issues of economics and the fact that Transylvania is home to alarge population of ethnic Hungarians. That particu-lar area, in fact, has belonged to bother Romania andHungary at different points in history. While techni-cally part of Romania, the people of Transylvania rep-resent a different culture and ethnicity even today.In 1993, the country of Czechoslovakia was parti-tioned into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Fol-lowing the split, both countries were able to becomemembers of the European Union in the enlargementof 2004. If any of the current separatist movementssucceed, however, it is difficult to determine how EUmembership will proceed.