Beyond Catalonia, Taking Stock of Europe’s Separatist Movements
- Events in Catalonia have left several EU member states concerned about autonomist and secessionist movements within their borders, some of which might be the next to rise up.
- Self-determination movements in Europe face their own dilemma, however; many sympathize with the Catalan cause but have little interest in making the same unilateral moves.
- Secessionist movements will remain a moderate threat to the territorial integrity of several EU countries, but the Catalan crisis probably won’t accelerate their progress.
A Cautious Camaraderie
Italy: Avoiding Comparison
Northern regions generally contribute more in taxes to the Italian state than they get in return. And in recent decades, Italian self-determination sentiments have been more active in the north, defended by, among others, the Northern League political party. Born in the late 1980s, the Northern League originally focused on achieving greater fiscal autonomy for northern Italy. By the mid-1990s, the party openly demanded secession. But after a series of disappointing electoral results and a leadership change, the party embraced anti-immigration, anti-establishment and Euroskeptic rhetoric in the early 2010s to appeal to a bigger audience. It now promotes a platform closer to Italian nationalism than northern separatism.
Even if Rome does not have an Italian Catalonia on its hands, it still faces the challenge of finding a balance that satisfies the regions without jeopardizing Italy’s fiscal revenues.
Belgium: A Delicate Balancing Act
The Catalan crisis has exacerbated the Belgian government’s struggles to stay united, especially now that the former Catalan president has fled to Brussels. Some Flemish nationalist groups are supportive of the Catalan cause, and a senior member of the New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), Flanders’ main nationalist and conservative party, recently offered asylum to deposed Catalan leaders. But Brussels, insistent both on keeping its secessionist movements under control and on remaining loyal to the European Union, later said the N-VA’s statement did not reflect Belgium’s official position. In another balancing act, the country joined the rest of the union in supporting Spain’s territorial unity, while its Prime Minister, the francophone Charles Michel, appealed to Flemish nationalist sentiments by criticizing the use of violence against Catalan voters.
The Catalan crisis has exacerbated the Belgian government’s struggles to stay united.