Scotland is due to vote on independence this year, on September, 18th 2014 and Catalan on November, 09th 2014. The European election is the last major political set piece event in the UK before Scotland votes on its constitutional future. How it plays out will be a key part of the story of the referendum.
In Spain, Catalonia's president has called on European Union prime ministers for support as the region seeks a vote on independence in November this year, the source of an increasingly bitter fight with Spain's central government.
I, therefore, intend to reflect a more general trend across Europe as ancient nations, regions, and peoples, currently under the jurisdiction of various states, are increasingly calling for either enhanced autonomy or outright independence and for all the benefits that go with bringing decision-making power back to the people.
Gaining independence or regaining independence is, globally, a standard democratic process. In Europe, more than half of current states did not exist just a century ago. Between the 20th and 21st century, 28 new European states have emerged.
Contrary to what the mainstream media and political parties, and to an extent the EU, would have people believe, recent events show that the desire for independence and the creation of new states is completely normal, almost routine, and all part of the process for mature democracies.
Today, the EU has the possibility to welcome two new member states with Scotland having its independence referendum in September 2014 and Catalonia holding a referendum shortly thereafter.
Independence for these countries will of course bring numerous benefits. Scotland is likely to follow Norway’s path and be freed up to realize its true potential as an innovative and energy-rich north European nation. Catalonia, on the other hand, has always been an economic powerhouse for the Iberian peninsula and the western Mediterranean region.
But independence is about so much more than economics; it is about the right to decide on every aspect of your country’s future and not to have to follow the commands issued from capitals such as London and Madrid. Independence brings freedom, the sovereignty of a people, and ultimately self-respect.
The Scots and the CatalansThis last notion no doubt helps fuel the desire for independence. How can any self-respecting Scot or Catalan look around and see their Slovene or Estonian EU colleagues sit at top table, being stakeholders in the European decision-making process, while Scots or Catalans sit waiting to hear what London or Madrid tells them.
Furthermore, independence is a wholly pragmatic choice, especially in a Europe that inadvertently promotes that option by only investing EU decision-making power with States and not regions. Two examples are, firstly,Luxembourg, Scotland and fisheries. Although Luxembourg doesn't have any coastline, it has a full seat in the EU Fisheries Council, while Scotland, with an economy partly dependent on fisheries, has no say and no seat on the EU Fisheries Council
Secondly, there is the Catalan language question. The EU refuses to make Catalan an official EU language despite there being 10 million Catalan speakers (nearly as many as Greek, and more than Swedish). However, if Catalan-speaking Andorra, with less than 90,000 inhabitants, were to join the EU, Catalan would become an official language of the EU.
In addition, when Spain returned to democracy in the mid-1970s, regions such as Catalonia and the Basque Country saw a vibrant resurgence of their culture and languages that had been crushed during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco.
Catalans speak a language similar to, but distinct from, the Castillian Spanish spoken in the rest of Spain. The region accounts for 15% of Spain's population but 20% of its economy. With Spain's economy in freefall from the euro zone debt crisis, Catalans complain of paying billions of euros more in taxes than they receive back from Madrid.
That's why Spain is conducting a deliberate, premeditated campaign against Catalan immersion education, raising the question of why one nation should accept another nation’s attempts to undermine its own language. As the EU has failed to protect Catalan (as well as all regional, minority and endangered languages), their only option in order to protect their language is independence.
Autonomy is the best practice in governanceIn addition, many of EU member parties representing small nations have an array of options open to them. While full independence may be a choice for some, many are benefiting from the various levels of autonomy currently in place across Europe.
Established models of autonomy such as the Åland Isles and South Tyrol have today become recognized as examples of best practice in governance. Åland thrives, and the previously poor and remote agricultural backwater of South Tyrol has revitalized itself economically and can boast that it is one of the wealthiest parts of Europe.
However, despite their relatively advanced level of autonomy, both Åland and South Tyrol are working to improve the level of self-determination, with Ålands Framtid working for independence. Furthermore, the Basque Country retains its control over taxes, a situation envied by Catalonia, while Wales looks forward to gaining tax-raising powers next year.
The “internal enlargement”Meanwhile, central and eastern Europe is witnessing increasing demands for substantive autonomy with mass movements calling for autonomy in, for example, Transylvania and Silesia.
With autonomy comes decision-making power, and with that the evidence almost invariably shows that autonomy brings greater economic success and administrative efficiency; powers over education and culture, for example, result in a vibrant language and culture, which in itself brings further economic benefits.
Today’s calls ( Scotland-Catalonia) for self-determination/Independence are modern, 21st-century, outward-looking civic nationalists. Invariably, both are inclusive, social democratic, and pro-European. The ongoing process of self-determination leading to the creation of new states has consequences for the EU. As pro-Europeans see these new states as an integral part of the EU. This is called ‘internal enlargement’.
What topics will be neglected in the European elections?This brings me to the question: that of what topics will be neglected in the European elections. Normally, self-determination is not a topic for discussion during European elections.
Except this time: because in 2014 two freedom-seeking peoples are voting for independence, re-drawing through strictly democratic means the borders of two states, and rewriting the map of Europe. It means that, at least in some states, the self-determination issue will be prioritized in the forthcoming election debate.
The self-determination issue takes center stage. The era of the old-fashioned nation-states is over. It’s time for a Europe of Latvia, Ireland, Scotland, Brittany and Catalonia as well as Portugal, Sweden and Austria, a Europe in which old nations can finally start to work together on the basis of equality.
By Guylain Gustave Moke