by Chris Scarr
On September 18th, 2014, over 3.5 million Scottish citizens flocked to the polls to vote on a very important subject: should Scotland become an independent country? Though the referendum ended with a 55%-45% vote in favor of Scotland staying in the UK, it put European independence movements in the spotlight. Why do these kinds of independence movements gain so much ground, and what are the reasons behind wanting to be independent? This article focuses on how these kinds of questions apply to European independence movements.
What are some reasons for these movements?
Many independence movements have their roots in economic factors. While this usually isn’t the primary reasoning behind desires for independence, it can greatly fan the flames. As an example, the Catalan independence movement is centered around the region of Catalonia in Spain. During the 2008 recession, Catalonia was heavily affected in both unemployment and taxation, with the unemployment rate hovering around 27% in 2013. Despite the harsh effect of the recession on Catalonia, Spain continued to tax the region heavily; it is estimated that up to 19% of Spain’s tax revenue came from there. This sparked many nationalistic sentiments which, tied to a feeling of cultural independence, led to a vote in the Catalan parliament on November 9th, 2015.
Culture is the most common cause for nationalism. Of the independence movements in Europe, nearly all of them are due to the mix of cultures in different countries. States such as France, Germany, and the UK are cultural melting pots. For example, the Breton culture is completely different from French. It has its roots in Britons who fled from Saxon invaders in the 5th century CE, whereas French culture is based heavily off of Latin. Because Brittany is a province in France, these kinds of cultural differences can lead to tensions between different areas of countries.
Another good example is the Basque culture. Spread over parts of southern France and northern Spain, its cultural background is in no way linked to either Spanish or French, and many parts of their ethnic traditions contradict those of France and Spain. Many Basques feel that, due to these differences, they shouldn’t have to follow another culture’s traditions, and desire a state centered around the Basque culture.
Geography is very closely tied to the cultural aspect of nationalism. Many geographic constructs are considered the base of certain cultures. Examples include the British Isles for British, Italian Peninsula for Italian, Brittany for Breton, and Greece for Greek. So if a geographical construct like Brittany, with its own developed and intricate culture, is conquered by a country with a completely different culture like France, tensions can arise.
Why should I care?
The reason that these recent movements matter is that, while the effects economically may be less impactful in the United States than in Europe, it will bring on new levels of political strain with the US’s European allies. For example, if the US recognized Catalonia or Scotland as independent countries, this would undoubtedly anger Spain or Great Britain. In this time of ISIS’ terrifying rise, a massive migrant crisis, and a growing Russian threat, the US can not afford to alienate their friends in Europe.