Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Could Separatist Regions in Europe Save the EU?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 6 –Vladimir Putin wants to weaken or even destroy the European Union so Russia can deal with its current members one by one. But his policies toward that end clash with his support for separatist causes across the continent given that any new states that may emerge will seek EU membership and thus could prove to be the Union’s salvation.

            In Tallinn’s Eesti Paevaleht, Vadim Shtepa, editor of the Region.Expert portal makes that argument, one especially intriguing not only because of the problems it highlights in Moscow’s approach but also because many have long insisted that the EU as such makes separatism in its member states more possible rather than less ( in Estonian; in Russian)

            That is not only because the existence of EU structures means that any new countries that do emerge as a result of separatism can aspire to becoming members and thus argue that they will be able to provide for their own populations better than in the case of many regions elsewhere that seek secession.

            That is especially the case with Scotland given that the United Kingdom of which it is currently a part has chosen to leave the EU via Brexit. Scots nationalists in almost all cases want to remain in the EU and argue that independence is the best way for residents to do so, a position that garners them additional strength.

            The divide between England and Scotland over Brexit was in evidence on January 31 when the UK decision to leave took effect. There were major celebrations in London, but in Edinburgh, where opposition to leaving is strong, there were not. Instead, activists bathed the region’s capital in blue and yellow, the colors of the EU, and sang its hymn, “Ode to Joy.”

            The Scots feel that they were taken out of the EU against their will given that 62 percent of them voted to stay and that ill certainly add to the 45 percent who voted in 2014 to seek independence from London. Not surprisingly, many Scots are already talking about the need for a second referendum, not about the EU but about the UK.

            London will work hard to prevent that, Shtepa says. “Prime Minister Boris John in justifying Brexit aid many fine works about the advantages of self-determination and self-administration,” the regionalist writer says. “But it turns out that relative to Scotland, they are inoperative” – and show Johnson to have “double standards” on these issues.

                By himself, the English prime minister can delay but not stop the Scots from pursuing a referendum and insisting that its results be the basis of future policy, Shtepa argues.

            “The general conclusion from this story is that Eurosceptic attitudes often dominate and even win in the larger countries of the EU which up to the present live in dreams about their imperial past.  In France, Marie Le Pen is pushing for Frexit; but she faces the same problem Johnson does: French regionalists are “consistent supporters of European integration.”

            And that means, Brexit and a possible Frexit notwithstanding, “European history has not yet ended;” and regional forces that some have viewed as a threat are in fact now among its biggest defenders.

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