Catalonia is only one European region with dreams of independence

While Catalonia is still struggling to define what independence will look like after its unilateral declaration of emancipation from Spain on Friday, FRANCE 24 takes a look at some of the other independence movements across Europe.

After a first illegal referendum on independence in 2014 – and despite fierce opposition from Madrid, which deemed the vote illegal – Catalonia organised a new vote for self-determination on October 1. Despite only a 42% turnout the government of the autonomous Spanish region voted 90% in favour, making them the envy of many other European independence movements.
For Barbara Loyer, professor at the French Institute of Geopolitics at the University of Paris 8, the Catalan vote might ignite new moves for independence elsewhere on the continent. “The potential for destablisation is very large,” she said. Loyer estimates that the violent scenes witnessed during the Catalan vote are particularly damaging. “It opens the debate on the question of democracy, and we reduce the situation to a confrontation between people and the state and police. It’s a blessing for regionalism in Europe.”
But Vincent Laborderie, lecturer at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium, said the historical and cultural contexts across Europe as far too different “for there to be an impact” from one region's independence push. “Maybe the police crackdown will incite Catalans who were undecided to defend their people," he said. Laborderie added that the violence seen during the Catalonia vote may even discourage separatists elsewhere in Europe.
Nevertheless, many regional movements have been active for decades and appear unlikely to give up on their dreams of independence. FRANCE 24 takes a look at some of the European regions still seeking greater autonomy.
  • Basque country
After the dramatic referendum in Catalonia, attention naturally turned towards another region of separatist Spain: the Basque country. This autonomous region has had special status since the end of the 1970s. For decades the struggle for independence was epitomised by the struggles of ETA, the separatist movement classified as a terrorist group by Spain as well as the EU and the United States. In the spring of 2017 ETA announced its plans to disarm unilaterally, ending the last armed insurgency in Western Europe.
Both Loyer and Laborderie say the Basque country is unlikely to reignite its calls for more independence in the wake of the Catalan push. “They already have more autonomy than Catalonia, including the tax control long asked for by Barcelona,” said Laborderie, adding that, for now, the Basques are seeking to “heal the wounds of the civil war”.
  • Scotland
Although the Scots voted against independence in a first referendum in 2014, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon pushed for a new vote after Brexit, reflecting the determination of many in Scotland to remain part of Europe even if the United Kingdom leaves.
“Scotland is maybe the region best able to take the plunge and organise another [referendum], but we are still far from that point,” says Laborderie. Sturgeon announced in late June that the decision to organise a new referendum would be postponed until autumn 2018, after Brexit negotiations have been concluded. Even if a vote is approved it will not take place until spring 2019 at the earliest, immediately after the UK's exit from the EU.
Sturgeon expressed her support for the Catalan referendum on Twitter and criticised the heavy-handed security response from the Spanish government. “[I am] Increasingly concerned by images from Catalonia,” she wrote on October 1.
  • Balkans
Hit hard by the civil war of the 1990s, the situation in many nations of the former Yugoslavia remains tense. Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008, becoming the world’s newest republic at the time. The United States and 23 EU members have recognised its independent status but many other nations – including Russia and five EU member states – continue to consider it a part of Serbia.  
And Laborderie said more areas are likely to seek greater autonomy in the future. “We can imagine that Serbia’s autonomous province of Vojvodina wants to claim more control. There is also the Serbian side of Bosnia that could hold a referendum," he said.
Laborderie added that, unlike in Spain, the Serbian or Bosnian police would be unable to prevent a serious push for independence "because they do not have the means".
  • Flanders
Flanders, the Dutch region of Belgium, is home to a significant nationalist movement. The region already has its own parliament, where nationalists hold roughly 50 seats of a total of 124.
“The Flemish are ready for independence, but are they interested? They already have a quasi-federalist system under which the central government has almost no powers,” Loyer said.
Laborderie agrees, observing that Flanders has “never been so far from independence”. "After the 500 days of political crisis between 2010 and 2011 that gave way to the 6th reform of the state, Flanders has obtained more control, and its demands have been satisfied," he said. Moreover, the New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) has entered the federal government and can influence politics from the inside.
The N-VA criticised police violence during Catalonia’s referendum, declaring on Twitter that there was “no place in Europe for politicians who resort to violence. Those that continue to reject the call for international mediation deny democracy.” Belgium’s Prime Minister Charles Michel, for his part, is one of the only European leaders to have taken a similar position. He wrote on Twitter: “Violence can never be the answer! We condemn all forms of violence and reaffirm our call for political dialogue.”
  • Veneto and Lombardy
The northern regions of Veneto and Lombardy are some of the Italy’s wealthiest. Unlike Catalonia, the regions are not asking for total independence but want more autonomy from Rome, especially on financial matters. An October 22 referendum saw just over 40% of voters back these aims.
Veneto’s President Luca Zaia hailed the results of the vote but emphasised that his region did not aspire to total secession. While the votes are non-binding, they will give right-wing politicians in the two regions a strong mandate when they negotiate with Rome on the devolution of powers and tax revenue.
  • Corsica
Separatist sentiment remains very much alive on the French island of Corsica. In France's 2017 legislative elections, three pro-independence candidates were elected to the country's National Assembly, a first for the movement. Corsica already has special status in its relations with Paris and enjoys certain privileges.
“For the moment, things have stayed quiet in Corsica because the moment is not favourable," Loyer said. "But if Corsica organised a referendum the situation could be similar to that of Catalonia, where we would see the police facing off against the people."
The nationalists, who are a majority in the unicameral Corsican Assembly, passed a motion on September 22 highlighting “the undeniable legitimacy of the government of Catalonia” in the face of a “changing and worrying” situation.
Jean-Guy Talamoni, the president of the Assembly, even tweeted his support for "our friends" in Catalonia and condemned Spain's "aggression ... against democracy".
Catalonia is only one European region with dreams of independence Catalonia is only one European region with dreams of independence Reviewed by Alexander Von Stern on 03:12:00 Rating: 5