Europe's Secession Problems Aren't Going Away

Tyler Durden's picture

Authored by Ryan McMaken via The Mises Institute,

Earlier this week, The New York Times noted that movements for greater local autonomy appear to be spreading throughout Europe. In some ways, the conflict in Catalonia is just the tip of the iceberg. The Times reports

Coming on the heels of the Catalan vote, the Lombardy and Veneto referendums are yet another signal of the homegrown conflicts that persist in many of the European Union’s member states. Separatist movements are also simmering in Britain — where voters in Scotland rejected independence in a 2014 referendum but continue to debate the issue — as well as France, Germany, Belgium and Romania.

Like Catalonia - and unlike Scotland - the Lombardy and Veneto regions of Italy are among the wealthiest regions, and send enormous amounts of tax revenue to Rome. Italy's southern regions, which are significantly poorer than northern Italy, have benefited from Northern wealth ever since Italians were all forced into a single nation-state in the late nineteenth century. 

This has never been forgotten by Italians from Veneto, many of whom participated in a referendum in 2014 to declare Independence. Naturally, the Italian government in Rome declared the vote invalid. At the time, however, I interviewed one of the organizers Paolo Bernardini about the referendum. (See "Inside Venice's Secession Movement.") At the time, secessionists liek Bernardini appeared to be pursuing immediate and total independence from Rome, while remaining inside the EU: 

A tiny majority of Veneto people are in favor both of the EU and of the Euro as a currency. So I envisage a little, rich state, playing a major economic and political role in the EU, a stabilizing role. It will interact naturally with other rich and similar states, Bavaria (still part of Germany), Austria, and the Netherlands. It will be a Finland in the Adriatic. 

According to the Times piece, though, supporters of Northern independence have gone back to taking small steps, and realize - probably correctly - that there are numerous steps that must be taken between the status quo and total independence. 

The new effort appears to be focused on conducting local plebescites demanding more local autonomy. This doesn't conflict with the goal of eventual independence, of course, although it probably is an essential first step. 

Flemish Independence? 

A region taking a gradualist approach is the Flemish-speaking region of northern Belgium, also known as Flanders. The Flanders situation has been noted in a multitude of media outlets looking to find "the next Catalonia." CNBC reports

Political groups such as the New Flemish Alliance, a nationalist, conservative group which is dominant in the Belgian parliament, advocate a gradual secession of Flanders from Belgium. Euronews reported that the party even hung a Catalan flag outside its headquarters recently in support of the Spanish separatist region. With elections in 2019, the issue of Flemish independence is not likely to disappear soon.

The Catalonia and Scotland situations have brought secession issues to the fore in the English-language media, but there's nothing new about Belgium's problem. The unlikely unions of French-speaking and Flemish-speaking regions date back to 1830 when northern regions of Belgium won independence from the Netherlands. The resulting union known as Belgium has never been a totally comfortable one, as noted in a 2007 Chicago Tribune article, which compared Beligum to an unhappy and tired married couple

They stay together mainly out of habit, and also because it would be such a headache to break up the household and divide the communal property.


If you know a couple like this, then you will understand the Belgians.


Dutch-speaking Flanders and French-speaking Wallonia are trapped in a loveless marriage called Belgium.


In today's Europe, divorce no longer carries the opprobrium it once did. The Czechoslovakians had a very amicable split in 1993. The Yugoslavs less so. Even Scotland and England are talking about a separation.


But in Brussels, which these days feels more the capital of the far-flung European Union than the capital of a medium-size European nation, polite Belgian politicians don't like the D-word. They wish the whole issue would just go away.


It won't. That much became clear in December when RTBF, the French-language state broadcaster, interrupted its regular programming with an urgent bulletin announcing that Flanders had declared independence.


Grainy footage showed King Albert II and Queen Paola heading for the airport to flee the country. There also was video of trams stopped at the new Flemish border, and live interviews with familiar politicians discussing the crisis.


Not until half an hour into the broadcast did the message "This is fiction" appear on the screen. Too late. Embassies in Brussels already had scrambled to seek clarification while thousands of worried callers jammed RTBF's switchboard...


Belgian politicians were not amused.

Mind you, this was back in 2007 before it had become well established that the Scots could vote on their own Independence, and before the British voted for Brexit. 

These more recent developments make regionalist movements such as those in Spain, Italy, and Belgium of increasing notability. 

The question remains, however, if nation-states lacking the Anglo-Saxon deference to electoral politics will be as tolerant of election outcomes as the British appear to be. 

The Democracy Problem 

At the core of all these issues remains an unanswered question: If a majority of voters in a region vote for independence or greater autonomy, will the vote be respected by the central government?

After all, European nation-states have for decades been lecturing the rest of the world about the wonderfulness of democracy and how "the will of the people" must prevail. At the national level, it is simply assumed that "the will of the majority" is what grants a state a "right" to rule over the citizenry. 

But if a majority in a specific region votes for a divorce from the central government, is all this talk about democracy and the will of the majority to suddenly be ignored? 

Ludwig von Mises, of course, in his book Liberalism, advocated for the idea that any region, right down to the village level, be allowed to gain independence based on the outcome of a freely held plebiscite. 

In recent years, opponents of independence movements in Italy and Spain have bickered over the way these votes are being conducted, and over the extent to which a majority actually wants indepenence. 

These arguments are good at buying time, but they conveniently ignore the central problem at hand: if Catalonia held a fair-and-square election, and, say, 75 percent of eligible voters opted for independence, would the Spanish government allow independence? What about a similar situation in northern Italy? It's a yes-or-no question, but it doesn't seem to be one either the Spanish or Italian government is willing to answer. 

Thus, Europe's democracy problem persists. Is democracy only allowed when it is no threat to the established status quo for nation-states? Should the central government send in the troops to beat citizens and seize ballots when people vote "the wrong way"? 

This isn't just a problem for Europe, of course. Most of the "democratic" world, including Europe and the Americas, has a similar problem. 

Old Borders Have Outlived their Usefulness 

As time goes on, though, it's going to be harder and harder for nation-states to defend the current configuration of their national borders. 

The current model of nation-states is based on the idea that a single metropolis, or a group of them, can control surrounding rural frontier areas for reasons of military strategy and to ensure a food supply for the metropolis. In return, the wealthy metropolis will protect frontier areas from foreign invasions, and provide some semblance of order to far-flung regions lacking the wealth and power of the metropolis. 

This system of nation-states began to take firm shape in the seventeenth century, and was finally solidified in the nineteenth. The world wars of the 20th century showed us the heights to which nation-states can reach, and the extent to which they can seize and control resources.

This old model, however, was initially based on the idea that populations would be largely agricultural and rural, and that personal, cultural, and economic networks would be focused around the nation-states themselves, and the people within them.

As time has gone on, though, urbanization, international trade, and international communications have grown far beyond what the national governments of old could have ever imagined. Capital cities in nation states no longer command the attention and economic focus of other powerful cities within their nation states, and trade with foreign populations has in many cases become more important that trade within one's own nation-state. Agriculture is no longer a key source of wealth, which makes city-states with only small rural hinterlands increasingly viable. 

At the same time, these newly forced international connections reduce the importance of the old nation-states as "protectors" from the neighboring regions. After all, if trade with the foreigners next door is just as important as trade with one's own countrymen, it becomes increasingly difficult to see what one's national government is offering protection from

Does northern Italy really need protection from Austrian or Swiss invaders? Does Flanders need protection from the Netherlands? In an age of thorough economic integration, a war between two European states would mostly be a matter of mutually-assured economic destruction. 

Nevertheless, the force of habit is an important factor in political ideology. Many people continue to see their national borders as quasi-sacred, reacting with horror at the idea that their nation-state should be "dismembered." National governments are careful to downplay the fact that the borders of most modern nation-states barely reach back as far as the nineteenth century. Even a look at a map of Europe from 1945 should disabuse us of any notion that national boundaries are anything but temporary. 

In fact, border changes can often be measured in lengths of time similar to those of a single human lifetime. But this doesn't stop commentators from declaring that such-and-such region or such-and-such state (i.e., California) will never secede or dramatically change its national status.

In politics, claims of "never" should always be treated as laughably naive. 100 years is quite long enough to completely change the map of the world. 

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junction's picture

"Does northern Italy really need protection from Austrian or Swiss invaders?"

Italy is currently being invaded by Eritreans, Libyans and everyone else fleeing the North Africa and Middle East war zones.  A disaster created by Obummer and his NWO organ grinders.

MillionDollarButter's picture

D&C  ZH is just another tentacle.

Teja's picture

Actually, regarding Europe, the opposite of what the article claims seems to be true. The wave of secessions is almost over. Of course, Belgium/Flanders and Spain/Catalonia/Basque are still open. But the huge waves of secessions, around 1918 and around 1990, are over. What remains, like Hungarians in Romania or Albanians in Macedonia, are mostly irredentist situations - those guys want to reunite with a "Motherland", not founding their own states. On such situations, a STOP sign is a good thing, because they always lead to wars.

Regarding the two situations above, I wish they would just push through the separations and be done. More urgent issues waiting for Europe.

The other situations mentioned, like in Italy, are between people with a common language and culture, more or less. There is not much emotional pressure there in most cases. Scotland might be an exception due to historic reasons and the "common language" not really being such. Most of these situations can be defused with more local autonomy, which is a good thing.

What the article ignores is the Rest of the World, especially former colonies,  where there are many local languages and also religious issues seen more emotional than in Europe. Some countries seem to be able to live with these issues, like India, with more diversity than in all of Europe, but for many other Asian and also African countries, this is a bomb ticking and probably exploding in the remainder of the 21st century.

Teja's picture

Believing in a BIG PLAN is easier than thinking for yourself and accepting that people have different and often contradicting goals. Grow up.

luckylongshot's picture

What this article missed was the underlying issue and because of that it was not very insightful. The underlying issue is abuse of power and the key contributing reason abuse of power occurs is that in 3000 years we humans have still not figured out the right way to apply power. It is a bit like having carnage on the roads and avoiding introducing driving lessons, avoiding setting up road signs and  avoiding introducing driving rules. 

The calls for independance in Europe are at their core a response to centralised governments disrespecting the fringes and abusing power and the reason this occurs is that noone has a clue about how power should be applied.

The business world has been making progress in this area and the benefits of decentralising power, taking a hard line with problem egos and having respectful cultures can now be shown through bottom line performance. Hopefully this will work its way through to the political stage sooner rather than later.

Teja's picture

Agree. Only the business world is rather slow here, too, in many instances I know at least. On the other hand, sometimes decentralizing too much, with cost center thinking blocking important decisions and actions. But at least there is continuous dynamics in large parts of the business world, in contrast to the static structures within most governments today.

doctor10's picture

"secession" is a natural process in the face of increasing complexity. At the end of WWII there were about 100 countries in the world. There are now 200.

The EU is as artifical construct as could be conceieved.  In the absence of a US Fed Reserve currency spigot indirectly supporting the ECB it would all have collapsed nearly a decade ago.  As it is the entire Western World's 21st century remains in abeyance awaiting the dissolution of 20th century institutions and thinking-(and that includes the pernicious Bolshevism the world's bankers envision for all of us) something that hopefully will not require war.

Teja's picture

Well, the concept of a nation state and of an alliance or federation of nation states is older than the 20th century, and in itself an answer to increasing complexity. Secession is an answer to quite another question, that of representation of large groups of the population, more or less located in a region, within the state. In that sense, decolonialisation is not that different from secession, btw..

I would not think these institutions you are referring to might collapse anytime soon. Coming under pressure, granted, but the only revolutionary movement that tried to do without banks, schools, local government and other "antiquated" institutions were the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, even less successful than classic Bolshevism and much less so than the Bolshevist Banker Capitalism, to use your concept.

Déjà view's picture

Should mention possible reunifications...

• Bessarabia with Romania...
• Süd Tirol with Austria...

Weisshorn's picture

"Swiss invaders"????  Really?  The author is a dolt.

I love talking about white privelege to the perpetual victims like blacks or moslems.  The people of the village where I live had to purchase their freedom from the Austrians in Sankt Gallen in the 14th century, and it was an independent republic of about 1000 people until after the Congress of Vienna.  It was for centuries a dirt poor Allemani settlement, and it never enslaved anyone, it never invaded anyone, it have never had a colony anywhere, and it didn't get to where it is because of privelege.

But that hasn't stopped a certain tribe of satan worshipping imposters from being on the brink of destroying everything.

Expat's picture

Bullshit.  That is an old number.  Euro-28 unemployment is at 7.7% which is lowest since 2009.  While it is true that net employment since 2008 (pre-crisis) has gone up only by a million or so jobs, you are basically pulling out old data. 

#Lame #Fakenews

Why bother?  Or are you just to stupid and lazy to find the real issues?

kellys_eye's picture

7.7% isn't reflective of a number of issues.  One being the 'major countries' and the second - the most critical figure - those that are under 25 years of age and unemployed. 

The 2017 figure for the EURO AREA is 9.3% - a TWENTY PERCENT jump in the figure you quote (7.7%).


wisehiney's picture

You fuckers keep listening to Southern Rock.

The ultimate anthems to freedom, soulfulness, and fine crisp, scuppernongmuscadinewine, not to mention all the rest.

but just for your next fine ten hours.........

Ghordius's picture

article somewhat ok

here: "After all, European nation-states have for decades been lecturing the rest of the world about the wonderfulness of democracy and how "the will of the people" must prevail."

this sentence alone, if I was in such a business, would call for a "Russian POV Flag" and "Probably Paid Propaganda". why? because the US is missing, the West is missing, but above all... Dubya is missing

quadraspleen's picture

Surely a neocon POV flag? Or are the Russians and Dubya on the same side now, Ghordius? falling for the reds under the beds bullshit, too? Et tu Ghord ?

Ghordius's picture

Am I the only one here old enough to remember Dubya's "We have to spread Democracy"? (not to you, to the guy above)

he took, in my view, a moral high ground and... trashed it, completely. including his "you are either with us and against us"

Obama's time in the White House... did not regain anything, and now Mr. Trump is burying the corpse, (again imho)

but yes, +1, there is a reason to put a "tentative US neocon flag", instead

thanks for the thoughtful reply, QS

Ghordius's picture

"Russians and Dubya on the same side now?"
sometimes, they were, and - drum rolls - us europeans too. example: Afghanistan

the whole campaign was only possible thanks to Russian logistical support. this was even more so when Pakistan stopped giving any (the same Pakistan that by now is a solid Chinese ally and client)

(it only gives headaches if you believe in "white hats vs black hats", the worst way to look at geopolitics, btw)

ChaoKrungThep's picture

Is this an example of Martian humor?

kellys_eye's picture

You miss the irony of that statement: European nation-states have for decades been lecturing the rest of the world about the wonderfulness of democracy.

Nation states are not the EU.  The EU abhors democracy, avoids democracy and rejects democracy.


Ghordius's picture

silly wabbit, the Nation States steer the EU
if they say "jump", the EU asks only "how high?"

see: EU Council, the key body of the EU. who sits there?

Singelguy's picture

It is more like the EU Council or the most powerful members of the EU (Germany and France) say "jump" and the other 27 members ask "how high?". The classic most recent example is when Merkel announced the Europe welcomed the refugees and they streamed in by the thousands and each EU member was expected to take their share. There was no vote in the EU parliament or even in the EU council. So much for the nation states steering the EU.

SpanishGoop's picture

"At the time, secessionists liek Bernardini appeared to be pursuing immediate and total independence from Rome, while remaining inside the EU:"

All that does is that they have to ship their tax-money a but further.

Brussels instead of Rome.

Like Catalonia they will become a nett contributor to the EU if they stay and are to small to have any EU influence.


Redneck Makin-tosh's picture

Oh Scotland, Southern Spain and Italy aint so poor:

Free spirit, fresh oranges and beautiful turqoise coastlines is way better living than hard labour in a border locked  city state - xenophobic or otherwise.

For me the hardest thing for the builders of the NWO (once they get over the apparent need to beat folks into submission) will be where to make the capital.  

dark_star's picture

As a proud Scot I just want to confirm what everyone else seems to know.

"Like Catalonia - and unlike Scotland - the Lombardy and Veneto regions of Italy are among the wealthiest regions"

It is a contstant source of relief to me that having been a part of the UK that Scotland has been able to relinquish 97% of the tax revenue from what the UK Government has very convincingly renamed Scottish waters as the "UK Continental Shelf" in order to factually state oil tax revenue belong to the UK and not the porridge wogs from North of the Wall.

Imagine what Scotland would have done with circa £300 billion in receipts since the 1970's! Disaster, that's what. look at Norway for gods sake.


ChaoKrungThep's picture

How can one be proud of an event that one had nothing to do with? Unless from the womb you whispered, Bear me here among the heather in the glen. Patriotism has always bemused me.

Redneck Makin-tosh's picture

Took the kids for pizza and a couple of cokes/ beers in Tromso once,  €240.

kellys_eye's picture

LOL - yes.... I can imagine how Salmond and Sturgeon would have p1ssed £300bn up the wall had they had access to it - ended up paying much of it to the EU too given their strive for 'remain'. 

Or maybe they could have repaid the monies received from the Barnet formula....? 

In any event it's unlikely that any of it would have been properly invested and since the collapse in oil prices I can't imagine how/where Scotland would get its funding post-collapse.

Internet-is-Beast's picture

Not discussed: how does mass immigration affect peoples' desire for secession? Is this the elephant in the room? It is certainly clear that citizens were and are given no voice on this issue and had immigration forced upon them. Perhaps by seceeding they hope to have a voice.

Expat's picture

Not discussed: how does turning every discussion into racism affect your desire for group approval?  Is this the asshole in the room?  It is certainly clear that you were given a voice but that it should be taken away from you. 

Joe A's picture

Yes, the Flemish are really fed up with paying up for Wallonia. Up to 80% I think. Not only that, there is also a language and cultural divide. Most Flemish learn French at school. Most Wallons don't learn Flemish/Dutch at school or the quality is very poor. Some even refuse to speak it even if they know how to. They say it is a too difficult, too ugly language to learn. Btw. in the history of Belgium, French was -and still is- the preferred language at the royal palace. Also in the army. Top positions were held by Wallons while the Flemish were considered peasants and occupied the lower ranks. Flanders however, does much better economically. So the Flemish are fed up with paying up for Wallonia and they are fed up with the disdain. But don't expect that they will want to join the Netherlands. Perhaps with Brabant and Limburg in the South of the Netherlands, but not with the North. You see, a break away can open up other cans of worms.

Blue Steel 309's picture

I guess the European governments need to elect a new people via immigration, before this gets out of hand.

rphb's picture

The Catalonian secession movement aren't a problem for the EU and its NWO masters, it serves it.

Notice how they do not truly want independence, they want to be part of the EU, to be subject to Brussels, they just want to destroy Spain, a nationstate, and the best shield we have against supernational imperialism.

And most of the so called "independence movement in Europe are the same way. They claim to be for independence, but really only seek more dependence.

The only way the United Kingdom can truly become independent is if they remain United. If Scotland secedes only to join the supernational union, England will be surrounded by enemies, and incapable of acting in any independent way.

I am all for Scottish independence, but let it be an honest independence, so let us make it clear for the Scots from the getgo, that they will not be allowed to join into any foreign alliance or union, and that any attempt to do so will be considered a deceleration of war.

Redneck Makin-tosh's picture

Cunning plan. They may wish to consider moving trident to the Thames before getting too uppity about it though.

yvhmer's picture

If you look at seccessionist movements in European history, you might notice that not being a threat to the biggest bully on the block is the usual drivel that is presented. Ultimately it will lead to cutting the ties to the bigger bully. Step by step. It is about cutting out the middle man first.

So I would not be at all surprised if such a motive will become apparent in time.

You also wrote: "they will not be allowed to join into any foreign alliance or union, and that any attempt to do so will be considered a deceleration of war."

Is that not exaclty the point?  Yes, you grant independence, if it suits you.

Consider you as an individual are living under a law that permits you to voluntary associate with other people. Nice, no. It is an expression of your individual independence. Now suppose that the government would have a law against you associating voluntary with people deemed unworthy. And because you associate with those people, your house is being invaded, you and your family are dragged of to prison, or, you have to suffer a permanent oversight.

If you think this notion is absurd .... Look again to the laws on the books in your country. And it so happens to be the most egregious form over governmental overreach.

GreatUncle's picture

Europe is a crafted form of governance by elites that was made so the democratic principle is undermined and not able to influence or moderate.

An appointed system that best serves those running the show.



Kind of feel the Greek population probalby have the highest level of that kind of feeling, but don't worry the mechanism itself will create much more this is just early days on this.

Now if you would just dump the appointed commission, allow the MEP's to become sovereign for each of their respective nations then maybe they can come to some common agreement how best to move forward. Elites, you would would now have to buy all the voices throughout all of europe to get what you want.

Democracy is but an illusion it is how much those with everything have to pay to get their way.


Grandad Grumps's picture

Europe is being held together by fraud and the threat of force.

ThinkAgain's picture

As long there are heydays nobody is complaining. When it become dire straits the game is different. The problem is Europe is zero growth and no leadership able to handle that. They need to grow or to stablize (but a credit boom can't be stabilized that easy). See

Greed is King's picture

Self determination is ONLY legal when it suits the purpose of the Neo-Con Globalist Piggery, if it does`nt suit the purpose of the Neo-Con Globalist Piggery it is subversive and un-democratic. This is not opinion, it is fact, fact as proved by past and recent events in amongst others Crimea and Donetsk, Vietnam and several Latin American countries and now Catalonia.

We are still trapped under the yoke of a Patrician and Plebeian society, democracy is an illusion, an urban myth, propaganda recited over and over to brainwash the peasantry into believing that they are free.