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Only fleeting relief

Max Hofmann / ng
September 20, 2014

Sighs of relief all round in Brussels after Scotland's independence vote - but why, you may ask? Scotland has shown how independence movements can pay off for regions seeking more autonomy, writes DW's Max Hofmann.


There was a bit of that Scottish independence spirit to be felt in Brussels - a city that symbolizes European unity like no other - after all. On Thursday night, Flemish nationalists showed their solidarity by decorating some streets with the Saltire and some candles.

A few days later, those images now serve as a reminder that the Scottish vote almost succeeded in making the European Union smaller for the first time in its history.

The collective sigh of relief from Brussels seems hardly justified though. Try, for a moment, to think like a separatist, be it in Scotland, Catalonia, or Flanders. He or she will have noticed that although the Scots will continue to be part of the United Kingdom, they have managed to gain from the vote.

Scottish blueprint

British Prime Minister David Cameron has promised more powers to Holyrood over tax and public spending among other things. Not bad for starters. So why stop there, especially since Scotland has offered a blueprint for how to deal with national governments that suppress efforts by its regions to gain more autonomy as well as for separatist movements.

Take Catalonia - if Madrid wants to keep this wealthy region it would do well to follow London's example and devolve more powers to it.

If Scotland's Yes vote had succeeded it wouldn't necessarily have led to the European Union crumbling like a Corsican baguette or a Catalan farmers' loaf.

Because a pro-Independence vote would have just been the beginning of a lot of hard work for the separatists like, for example, introducing a new currency, possibly setting up new institutions, gaining trust. All that could have scared off other separatists.

But a reduced United Kingdom would have changed the power structures in the EU considerably, possibly followed by years of bickering over assorted Scottish concerns like where to station the UK's nuclear fleet - which an independent Scotland would have wanted off its soil - or Scotland's membership in NATO and the EU. Plus, it would have been ammunition for Russian President Vladimir Putin's propaganda against Europe.

'No thanks' hasn't solved problems

In short, Brussels has to take separatist movements in Europe seriously, especially after this Scottish vote, because the benefits are there to see for Catalans, Basques, the Flemish and others.

Independence movements pay off - that is the message from Scotland to Catalonia and Flanders. National governments as well as the EU have to make sure that vast bureaucracy does not mean its regions are neglected. Otherwise, the deconstruction of the EU could come to pass after all.

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