EU response on Catalonia reveals fears of separatism


Catalonia's independence ambitions in the northeast of Spain have increased the fear of separation in a number of other European countries such as Belgium, France, Italy, the U.K. and Germany.

EU member states which say the Catalan vote is illegal under the Spanish Constitution, have often emphasized that they will not recognize any unilateral declaration of independence.

The referendum, which took place despite a tense atmosphere and heavy police action on Oct. 1 was a milestone in Catalonia's independence demands.

Although Catalan President Carles Puigdemont has suspended a declaration of independence in order to ensure dialogue with the Spanish government, he claimed Catalans in the wealthy region had secured "the right to independence".

One of the neighboring regions that closely followed Catalonia's initiative for independence is Spain's Basque Country which -- although an economically less-developed region compared to Catalonia -- already has extensive autonomy.

Basque independence continues to be a priority issue for many voters in the northern region, which also has historical territory in southwestern France. The region also saw more than 800 people killed in decades of violence, mostly by the ETA terrorist group.

Following the United Kingdom's decision to leave the EU in June 2016, Scottish nationalism received a boost following a 'no' vote to independence in 2014.

Scotland, part of the U.K. since 1701, could see nationalists gain momentum after the developments in Catalonia.

Signs are widespread that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) could initiate another referendum on independence, as Scots voted to remain in the EU.

This, the SNP argument goes, means Scottish voters should get the right to decide again on independence -- within the EU.

Another country closely following developments in Catalonia is Belgium with its three linguistic communities -- French-speaking Wallonia, Flemish-speaking Flanders, bilingual Brussels and a German-speaking eastern territory.

Flanders has a long-running independence movement.

A Belgian governing coalition partner, the New Flemish Alliance party (N-VA), defines its ultimate goal as "Flemish independence".

It is thought that Belgium would have difficulty in maintaining its existence as a country if Flanders seceded.

Italy, which is still struggling with the economic crisis which shook all of Europe, is among a number of EU countries affected by separatist movements.

Its northern region, the industrial and banking center of the country, contributes the most to national GDP.

In this context, the Veneto region plans to organize a referendum on Oct. 22 to achieve greater autonomy. In addition to Veneto, the Trentino-Alto Adige and Lombardy regions in the north are noted for their territorial claims for independence.

France, the first EU country to rule out accepting a Catalan declaration of independence, also tried to prevent separatist claims on the island of Corsica, northern Catalonia and its own Basque region.

France does not accept demands that Corsican be recognized as an official language and has taken a firm stance against armed groups on the island.

There are currently three Corsican nationalist deputies in the French parliament. Although some Corsicans have said their regional administration would be satisfied with autonomy, the prospects for independence calls are reviving.

Even in Germany, the region of Bavaria has seen a revival in separatist sentiment, with a recent survey claiming one out of every three people there wanted to leave Germany. However, Germany's constitutional court prohibits any Bavarian referendum on independence.

In Denmark, the self-governing Faroe Islands could also claim independence. Partly autonomous for decades, the islands will hold a referendum on a new constitution in April 2018, which could function as a de facto vote on independence.

The current picture explains why some EU members are opposed Catalonia's attempt to gain independence and have renewed calls on Catalans to comply with the Spanish Constitution.

EU institutions and countries, which remained silent even in the face of robust police action on the day of the referendum in Catalonia, are refraining from encouraging Catalans, so as not to set an example in their own countries.

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