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Europe Follows Scottish Independence Vote with Wariness and Hope

  • Lisa Bryant

"Yes" supporters gather at a rally outside the BBC in Glasgow, Scotland, Sept. 14, 2014.

"Yes" supporters gather at a rally outside the BBC in Glasgow, Scotland, Sept. 14, 2014.

Europeans are closely following the run-up to Scotland's September 18 independence referendum with a mix of wariness and hope. Some European capitals fear a 'yes' vote may lead to demands for greater regional autonomy back home. There is also the question of whether an independent Scotland can join the European Union.

A massive march for independence took place last week. Not in Scotland, which holds a referendum on seceding from Britain September 18, but in Catalonia. Hundreds of thousands of Catalans poured into the streets of Barcelona ahead of their own November vote for independence from Spain. Some of the flags they brandished were Scottish ones.

London's Center for European Reform analyst Stephen Tindale said Scotland's upcoming vote has ramifications across the European Union.

"Support for Catalan is growing, and they are inspired by what the Scottish are doing. What's happening is being watched very closely by many other parts of Europe, so they (regional governments) can take the message and argue for more powers from their central governments or, in the Catalan case, complete independence," said Tindale.

In France, the island of Corsica has long had a simmering independence movement. In other French regions, activists are pushing for greater autonomy rather than full independence - like the Breton Democratic Union party in Brittany.

Mona Bras, the party's spokeswoman, said Scotland sets an example for Brittany, which is pushing to assert its linguistic and territorial identity and have greater say in things like managing water pollution.

Even if the 'no' vote wins next week - and Scotland remains part of Britain - Fabian Zuleeg, who heads the European Policy Centre, a Brussels think-tank, says it will motivate other European regions.

"This process in Scotland will actually lead to more demands for autonomy from a number of places. Because part of the deal for a 'no' [vote] is already the unionist parties have all offered quite far-reaching further powers to Scotland. So I would expect there would be a number of regions across Europe, which will look at that and say this is a deal which we would also like," said Zuleeg.

European governments are viewing the Scottish vote - and Scotland's potential EU membership - quite differently. Analyst Tindale said that is particularly true of countries with strong autonomy movements of their own.

"The Spanish, the Cypriots and the Belgians are all very nervous about letting in a breakaway country that was previously part of another member state. Because Catalonia, the Basque country, Flanders are all quite keen on separating from their existing state. And Cyprus is already divided between the Greek bit and the Turkish bit," said Tindale.

Whether an independent Scotland will actually be able to join the EU is unclear. Pro-independence campaigners want Scotland to remain in the 28-member block. But joining will not be automatic - and the biggest decider, Zuleeg believes, might be Britain.

"In my view, the decisions about whether Scotland would become a member of the European Union will be taken at national capitals… and of those national capitals, by far the most important one is London. It will depend a lot of separation negotiations between London and Edinburgh… whether EU membership and all that entails will form part of the negotiations," said Zuleeg.

Meanwhile, Britain's Conservative leader David Cameron has promised to hold a referendum on remaining in the EU if he stays in power after 2015. If pro-Europe Scotland leaves Britain, analysts say chances will increase for a 'no' vote, which raises the possibility of an independent Scotland being an EU member someday - while the rest of Britain is out.