News / Europe

Euro Crisis Fuels Pro-Independence Movements

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron (R) shakes hands with the First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond (L), July 8, 2012.Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron (R) shakes hands with the First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond (L), July 8, 2012.
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Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron (R) shakes hands with the First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond (L), July 8, 2012.
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron (R) shakes hands with the First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond (L), July 8, 2012.
Henry Ridgwell
— Pro-independence parties have won a series of elections across Europe in recent days, many of them campaigning on anti-austerity platforms. Despite calls by the European Union for closer integration to overcome the euro crisis, the popular movement appears to be in the opposite direction.

Scotland already has its own parliament in Edinburgh and some autonomy from London; now the ruling Scottish National Party (SNP) wants to break away entirely from the United Kingdom.
 
First Minister Alex Salmond has secured a referendum on Scotland's future - to be held in 2014. In a press conference, he said Scotland could be a prosperous nation.

"I believe we'll win it by setting out a positive vision for a better future for our country, both economically and crucially, also socially," said Salmond.

Salmond says an independent Scotland would rely on energy economy - becoming the "Saudi Arabia of renewable energy."

But David Maddox, London correspondent for the Scotsman newspaper, says that is debatable.

"The problem with North Sea oil and gas is that the amount of tax collected is extremely volatile. So you can't really judge your future revenues on it. And also it's probably only got 30 years left," he said.

The referendum will be held on the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, when Scottish forces routed the English army. But polls show just 30 percent of Scots support independence.

"The argument the SNP used was to have Scotland as an independent country within the European Union. Their view was that they'd eventually join the euro. Now because of what's happened with the euro, nobody really wants to join the euro at all," said Maddox.

The Scottish referendum has also helped to energize independence movements elsewhere. In the Spanish region of Catalonia, Madrid has blocked a referendum - but more than half of Catalans say they want to break away.

Barcelona resident Ramon Mora echoes the call of many Catalans. He says the sooner they have a date for their referendum, the better.

In Belgium, the separatist New Flemish Alliance won a swathe of local elections this month. Voters say it is about the economy.

Francois Verswijvel, a resident of the Flemish city of Antwerp, says it could spell the end of Belgium. In his opinion, Belgians can no longer go on with the French-speaking southern part of Belgium, which he says is costing the country a lot of money.

James Ker-Lindsay of the London School of Economics says in many cases, the economic crisis has fueled long-existing grievances and independence movements.  

"A lot of unhappiness about the state of various countries in Europe and movements which have long existed but I think now have a much greater degree of freedom to express this idea of separatism. But in terms of viability, to my mind absolutely no question at all, an independent Scotland, an independent Flanders and an independent Catalonia are quite clearly viable entities," said Ker-Lindsay.

Ker-Lindsay fears the wave of separatism could reach more volatile regions like the Balkans.

"What happens if you then start talking about Republika Srpska in Bosnia for example, northern Kosovo, problems in Macedonia? These are areas where there is a lot of concern about it," he said.

Pro-independence parties across Europe will be watching the Scottish referendum closely to see if this is the birth of Europe's newest nation-state.

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