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Separatists still vindicated

Christoph Hasselbach / esSeptember 19, 2014

After a close 'No' vote for Scottish independence, many governments in Europe breathe a sigh of relief. But other regions are now calling for a referendum.

Image: Reuters

Relief is spreading among those who want to keep nations in their present form. On the other hand, Catalonian, Flemish, and South Tyrolean separatists had hoped for a victory for their Scottish comrades. But perhaps they still have reason to be happy. First, independence supporters in Scotland are a relatively large minority and were able to get London to promise more self-determination in the future. Secondly, secessionists elsewhere in Europe now have hope that they too will get a referendum. At any rate, the pressure is growing on several European countries to comply more heavily with these regions' wishes.

The European Union and NATO

Another relieved party is the European Commission. For an institution that is duty-bound to remain neutral in these matters, the Commission stuck its neck surprisingly far out for the status quo. Or so it seemed. Commission President José Manuel Barroso made clear before the referendum what an independent Scotland would have to do if it wanted to join the EU, and that was to go through the entire accession process and then receive the consent of all existing members of the EU.

EU Gipfel Cameron mit Barroso 27.06.2014
David Cameron and Barroso at an EU summit in JuneImage: Reuters

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen made similar comments regarding NATO membership. Accordingly, both have now welcomed the outcome. Barroso wrote that the referendum result was "good for a united, open, and stronger Europe, for which the Commission stands." And Rasmussen said on behalf of NATO: "I respect the choice of the Scottish people, I welcome the statement by Prime Minister Cameron that the UK will go ahead as a united country."

The European Parliament, however, was divided. MEP Jo Leinen, of Germany's Social Democrats (SPD) for example, who is also a member of the Constitutional Committee, had called for a "seamless transition solution" in the event of Scottish independence. On the other hand, Manfred Weber, the chairman of the conservative European People's Party (EPP) parliamentary group, was reassured, saying the Scots had decided for stability, economic growth, and employment. At the same time, Weber warned the euro-skeptic British government to consider, "that the majority of the Scottish people are pro-European," and that London should be prepared to deal rationally with their identity. Even Parliament President Martin Schulz admitted to being relieved.


Even if the issue of Scotland's independence is settled for now, the same is not true for other regions of Europe. Artur Mas, president of the Spanish region of Catalonia, wants to hold a similar referendum on November 9. If a majority vote for a separate Catalonia, Mas sees this as a political mandate to negotiate with Madrid on independence. But the Spanish central government has already rejected the planned vote as illegal. Madrid considers the situation in Catalonia muddled and confrontational.

According to the most recent polls, a majority would approve a measure for the rich region to secede from Spain. In this case, however, there was an unusually clear warning from the European Commission. Former EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said, "Seconds after a vote for independence, Catalonia would be outside the EU, would be outside the euro system, and Catalonians would not have EU citizenship."


The New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), now under the leadership of Bart De Wever, had hoped for some tailwinds to follow towards independence. De Wever is convinced that the Belgian state as a whole will "evaporate" as it is, and he wants to achieve an independent Flanders by negotiation. The N-VA sent its representative Mark Demesmaeker specially to Edinburgh for the referendum, and he wrote on the party's website that the result of the vote is "regrettable" and that European politicians, including fellow Belgian and current EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy, had propagated "doomsday scenarios" to guard against a Scottish 'Yes.'

EU Parlamentswahl 25.05.2014 Belgien de Wever feiert
Bart De Wever during the European elections in MayImage: Reuters

Another Belgian and EU representative, Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht, confirmed his concern on Friday in an interview with Belgian radio. An independence vote, said De Gucht, "would be an earthquake of a magnitude tantamount to the breakup of the Soviet Union." Europe would become "ungovernable," he said, noting not least those of his own countrymen who dream of an end to Belgium.

South Tyrol

For the South Tyrolean Freedom (STF) party the result of the Scottish referendum is less important than the fact that such a vote took place at all. "Self-determination is possible - the snowball effect" reads their website the day after the vote. The mostly German-speaking region of South Tyrol, which until the end of the First World War was part of Austria-Hungary, was annexed by Italy in 1919.

Karte Separatistsische Regionen in Europa englisch
Separatist regions of Europe

Today, South Tyrolean Freedom and two other parties have been calling for such a referendum in their province. STF's goal is either to rejoin "homeland Austria" or gain independence; anything but remain part of Italy. The chances of such a referendum happening remain unclear. But the economic crisis, which has hit Italy hard, has increased separatist tendencies significantly.


At the very least Bavaria and Scotland have the colors of their flags in common: blue and white. The Bavarian independence movement, however, is relatively small. The Bavaria Party, which supports secession, received just over two percent of the vote in the most recent state election. On its website, the Bavaria Party wrote: "We wish our Scottish friends a victory in the referendum from the bottom of our hearts. A 'Yes' would be a real support for us, and our media would not so easily make this topic a subject of ridicule."

This might have been referring to a statement made by Berlin government spokesman Steffen Seibert, who recently told journalists that Bavarian independence was "an almost absurd idea." MEP Angelika Niebler, a member of Bavaria's Christian Social Union, certainly does not dream of an independent Bavaria. She sees the outcome in Scotland as a "wake-up call towards regional autonomy in Europe", for which many people would offer support in the age of globalization.