Among the curious political consequences of the sovereign debt crisis afflicting the eurozone has been the rise of regional parties with secessionist agendas.
These parties don’t seek to leave the European Union (EU). Rather they argue the EU’s existence allows their respective regions to cut themselves off from traditional nation-state moorings while remaining under the banner of Brussels. Scotland plans to hold a referendum in 2014 to decide whether to leave Britain.
Belgium has seen a resurgence of Flemish and Walloon parties which wish to split the country. But the real litmus test was this weekend’s vote in Catalonia. This part of Spain has had a long and troubled relationship with Madrid, subnationalist parties have ruled the province for years, and the country has been badly affected by the ongoing European economic crisis.
The voting results have come as a relief to those who believe the EU will be able to survive its present crisis, possibly in a stronger position. Spain, among the countries worst affected by the present turmoil, has experienced strong protests by Catalan nationalists. The ruling moderate Catalan nationalists seem to have expected a surge in electoral support in favour of a referendum on secession. The subtext to this platform was a desire to divert popular attention from the painful economic austerity measures being carried out by Spain. The results showed that secessionism commands roughly the same amount of support in Catalonia as it did before, but it has shifted to a more left-wing ideological position in protest against the economy.
This will come as a relief for the beleaguered political elite of Europe. The Catalan vote indicates that the present economic recession has not fused with regional sentiment. This would have created a new and potentially extreme political state of affairs in Europe. Spain, after all, had indicated it would not accept nor allow an independent Catalonia. A small civil war combined with a vicious class struggle was predicted by doomsayers. Instead, it can be said that European voters continue to protest the costs being imposed on them but decline to make that a reason to change the map of their continent.