Separatism in Europe: current and medium term assessment

1. Overview

The separatist phenomenon and the corresponding autonomist and secessionist parties and movements in Europe, as in the rest of the continents, is a result of long historic processes and, as such, they are a constant challenge for the nation-state authorities, as well as for the supra-national ones (the European Union’s governing and legislative bodies).

According to recent statistics, Europe has more than 50 such separatist movements, including 18 in Italy and nine in Spain. France has four irredentist movements, four secessionist movements, five autonomist movements and several movements to change the borders of departments. There is one each in Poland, the Netherlands, Romania and Switzerland. Parties in Greenland also want to secede from Denmark.

The adepts of separatism say that secession (i.e. political disintegration) is fully and always compatible with economic integration. Even more, some of them sustain that secession must be seen as a last resort solution to trigger economic integration and prosperity, since the reforms implemented so far had only very modest results.

Some of the separatists and secessionist movements, mostly skeptical with regard to European integration have proposed interesting new small-scale political arrangements. However, most of them are treated with reluctance by the national states’ authorities and neglected by the media.

The separatist and secessionist phenomenon is not to be considered as marginal in Europe, where several new states were created in the last 20 years (the Baltic republics’ secession from the former USSR, the splitting of the Czech and Slovak republics, the 6 new states of former Yugoslavia and recently Kosovo) – a process that, by the way, did not stop the secessionist movements. According to some experts, in the XXIth century we will see at least 10 new states in Europe.

On the other hand, the separatist, as well as the anti-secession ideas and slogans have a very high emotional potential and, as such, they were and are permanently used in order to achieve other goals, mostly connected to economic and political and trans-regional, even trans-national interests.

  1. 2. “Historic” separatism in Western Europe

When examining the separatist phenomenon in Europe, one has to bear in mind the difference between the Western European countries (with strong economies and powerful nation-states) and the newer and less powerful economically Eastern countries (EU members and non-members alike).

In the first group, almost all of the “founder states” of the European Union had and still confront strong separatist forces with a long historical tradition, but none of these is perceived as a threat against the strong nation-state, mainly because – at least so far – the separatist forces are not perceived by the people as having the economic resources to provide the same services as the “welfare” nation-state.

2.1. The biggest challenge is considered to be in Spain, where the main provinces and regions, led by Cataluña and the Basque Country, are still promoting separation in spite of the high degree of autonomy they already have.

Cataluña is an autonomous province in the north-east of Spain with its own language and culture. The province enjoys extensive autonomy in Spain, and relations with the central government in Madrid are being regulated by a separate charter. In 2005, the new version of the charter said that the Catalans are a separate nation. However, there are dozens of parties and public organizations in the region, mostly left-wing, which are advocating cessation from Spain. Their goal is to hold a referendum on independence until 2014.

The Basque Country, with almost 2 million people, has a higher living standard than average in Spain, and great administrative and political local power, including the official status of the Basque language. However, secession is one of the strongest desires of the population.

The Basque Separatist Movement wants to establish an independent socialist Basque state straddling northern Spain and the southern end of France’s Atlantic coast. The Basques consider their culture distinct from those of their neighbours and speak a language called Euskara, which is believed to predate the arrival of the Indo-European languages to the continent. The Basque region, home to large fishing ports, heavy industry and wealthy banks, has historically been one of the richest in Spain.

Francisco Franco was responsible for the growth of Basque separatism – the Basques were not allowed to publish books and newspapers; conduct instruction in euskara; give children Basque names or put out their national flag. Euskadi Ta Askatasuna or ETA (Basque for “Basque Homeland and Freedom”) was set up in 1959 as an anti-Franco party and evolved into a terrorist organization. Its attacks made more than 900 victims, in the name of the Basque “independence.”

Catalan and Basque nationalism are creations of the late 19th century. They stem from industrialisation, which made these the richest regions in the country, taking in migrants from elsewhere in Spain. At the time the Spanish state, unlike its French counterpart, lacked the resources to integrate the country, otherwise Cataluña and the Basque country would have been as content within Spain as Languedoc and Brittany are within France.

2.1.1. In the ‘70ies, The Spanish constitutional and legislative bodies tried to strike a balance between the central government and the claims of the historic provinces for home rule. The formula was known as “estado de las autonomías” (a state formed of autonomies), or, in the popular terms, “café para todos” (coffee for all): Spain was divided into 17 “autonomous communities” (plus the enclave cities of Ceuta and Melilla on the Moroccan coast), each with its own elected parliament and government. Over the past 30 years more and more powers and money have been devolved. The regional governments are now responsible for schools, universities, health, social services, culture, urban and rural development and, in some places, policing. But it is becoming clear that even as it has solved some problems, decentralisation has created others.

The estado de las autonomías has several clear benefits. First, it spread power and impeded its concentration. Second, by bringing decisions about services closer to the people it has improved them. Third, it encouraged competition between regions. And fourth, the system has reduced regional inequalities, or at least stopped them widening. Currently, the south is still poorer than the north, but Spain no longer has anything like Italy’s mezzogiorno.

All this has come at a political price. First, it has led to a renaissance of an old Spanish political phenomenon, the cacique or provincial political boss, who enjoy considerable local power, since the regional governments are in most of the cases the biggest employers and the biggest advertisers in the local press.

Secondly, the decentralisation has not placated the politicians in Cataluña, the Basque country and Galicia who still want independence, no matter that Spain is now an extraordinarily decentralised country in which the Basques, for example, enjoy a greater degree of home rule than any other region in Europe. Their demands make it difficult to draw up a stable and permanent set of rules.

Moreover, language has become an obsession for the nationalists, even if the constitution made the provincial languages official ones alongside Spanish in their respective territories. Despite these efforts, Basque and Catalan are far from universally spoken in their respective territories: only around half of Catalans habitually use Catalan and about 25% of Basques speak Euskera.

According to most of the Spanish analysts, the claims for independence are, in fact, more or less explicit threats to gain more public money and powers. The polling evidence suggests that no more than a fifth of Catalans are remotely tempted by the idea of independence. The figure for Basques is around a quarter, despite 30 years of nationalist self-government and control of education and the media.

Buying off the Basque and Catalan nationalists with more money has become harder. The central government accounts for just 18% of public spending; the regional governments spend 38%, the ayuntamientos (municipal councils) 13% and the social-security system the rest. But under the new Catalan autonomy statute more money has to be devolved. Over the next seven years Cataluña will have to be given a share of public investment equivalent to its weight in the Spanish economy, which will amount to an extra €5 billion a year. As to the Basque countey, each Basque province and Navarre collect their own taxes and hand over less than 10% to the central government in Madrid. But they benefit from central-government defence spending, and they are net recipients from the social-security system. As a result, public spending per person in the Basque country is the highest in Spain.

According to some analysts, it would have been easier if Spain had adopted federalism in 1978. That would have set clear rules and aligned responsibilities for taxing and spending. The Senate could have become a place where the regions were formally represented and could settle their differences, akin to Germany’s Bundesrat. But the Catalan and Basque nationalists will only accept a confederation of several “nations”. In the meantime, as most agree, Spain must muddle on: “The great Spanish project is not in danger, but it’s like a plant that requires constant tending.”

2.2. In Italy, the separatism of the northern movements is still influent, even if the Lega Nord recently renounced to claim independence and separation of the poorer, agricultural south.

The League’s new objective is Italy’s federalization and a strong autonomy of the northern industrial centers from the Rome government. In the same area, another separatist movement in South Tirol (a region given to Italy at the end of the Second World War) is asking to reunite with Austria.

As a consequence of Italy’s integration in the EMU in 1998, the Lega Nord shifted from a pro-European to a Eurosceptic position. The Lega’s Eurosceptic vision combines a strong identification with Europe with a hostile attitude towards the institutions of the EU. Identification with Europe expresses in the first place the party’s geopolitical view of Padania as a European and hence modern and entrepreneurial region. Its critique of the EU incorporates numerous, sometimes contradicting influences such as the neo-liberal vision of a free-trade based Europe with minimal rules and regulations, and a protectionist defence of northern Italian economic interests. It is in particular the party’s institutional vision that attributes centrality to the right of Padania to autonomy and self-government which leads to its rejection of the centralism and dirigism of the European Union. At the beginning of the 90ies, “Padania” gave itself a government, a Constitution, a national anthem, a flag and even an armed force called “The Padanian National Guard”.

Lega Nord differs from the other regional separatist movements, since it claims rights not only for the North, but for all the regions that would result from Italy’s splitting into a federation (the Lega is represented in most of Italy’s regions and was also represented in the central governments after allying itself with the political group “Forza Italia” led by Silvio Berlusconi).

2.3. The main separatist movements in France concern the island of Corsica, where separatism has a historic tradition, with the Corsican National Union and the Movement for Self-Determination are the main representative forces.

France has a long-standing experience of resisting separatism and extremism on its territory, above all in the Mediterranean island of Corsica. The Corsican national groups clashed with the French army in the middle 1970s. The Corsican Nationalist Union and the Movement for Self-Determination are the biggest and most influential among these groups. Both have combat units. In the last 25 years, the island’s status was upgraded twice – in 1982 and 1990 the local authorities were given increasingly broad powers in the economy, agriculture, energy industry, transportation, education, and culture. Several years ago, French parliament recognized the existence of the Corsican nation. This decision was later cancelled as contradicting the Constitution of the French Republic.

The Breton Revolutionary Army (BRA) has operated in Bretagne, a north-western French province, since the early 1970s. The descendants of the Celts, who once came from the British Isles, do not identify themselves fully with the French, or consider themselves special among other French citizens. During censuses, many of them call themselves Bretons although put French as their native tongue. The BRA (apparently named by analogy with the Irish Republican Army – IRA) belongs to the extremist wing of the nationalist movement Emgann, which is fighting against the “French oppressors.”

French separatist movements have no significant success even among the local people, since everybody is convinced that the regions would not survive without French businesses, money and infrastructure.

2.4. In Belgium, both ethnic components (the Flemish and Walloons) are strongly pressing for splitting into two different states, such as they were during the history. According to recent polls, more than 60% of the Flemish population and 49% of the Walloons are convinced that Belgium will split in the near future.

Great Britain, while still struggling with Northern Ireland’s century-old separatism, is also facing similar centrifugal movement in Scotland and recently, even in Wales.

Greenland and the Feroe Islands are also pressing to split from Denmark, even if the government in Copenhagen is investing large sums in the areas without even asking for a return of the money.

Even in Switzerland, in the last 30 years, the “Jura Liberation Front” has been militating for the splitting of this Swiss canton.

3. Eastern Europe separatism: powered by economic and political changes

The second group is formed by the central and eastern European countries, where weak economies and lack of democratic tradition – as well as external interested forces – led to stronger separatist forces and, consequently, to the creation of new, smaller, state entities. This had not stopped, so far, the separatist forces.

The separation of the Baltic states from the former Soviet Union was soon followed by the disintegration of former Czechoslovakia and former Yugoslavia, where 2 (the Czech and Slovak republics) and 6 new states (Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro and Macedonia) were created.

3.1. The case of former Yugoslavia is an extreme example, since it is the only European entity where the splitting process resulted in wars and needed the intervention of the international organizations (UN, NATO, EU).

In this case, most analysts agree that the splitting – which began, in fact, several years before the fall of the communist regimes – had as a main cause the historic lack of tolerance and pluralism, beside the economic differences among the “republics” that formed Yugoslavia. This led to violent responses to economic difficulties and political dissent and, finally, to ethnic conflict.

As Professor Mitja Zagar, specialist at the University of Ljubljana on international law and constitutions, as well as on ethnic relations, stated[1]: “In the long term, it is impossible to preserve a state through oppression or promises alone. The mechanisms of the state must realize common interests. Unfortunately, there was a total absence of constitutional tools for the prevention, management, and resolution of ethnic conflict. What states and constitutions must do is provide the framework for common interest, the central unifying force in all states, which will in the long term ensure the existence of the state. When this disappears, even unitary states tend towards dismantling, or at least change. In the long term, repression or other methods will not keep people together”.

Most of the events during the splitting process represented logical (if violent and brutal) steps toward coherent goals. The first part of the splitting process (1990-1995) can be divided into seven periods, each of which followed its own characteristic pattern:

a) January to July, 1990: In this period, all the ethnic elements in the country began to explore new possibilities, often contradictory. In the spring of 1990, Slovenes and Croats took concrete steps toward setting up new forms of political power. In April, there were free elections in the two Northern provinces. In this first period, the ability of the nationalities to pursue their own goals in the aftermath of the 1989 revolution led to a growing distance between the factions.

b) August 1990 to May 1991: In this period the contradictions between competing goals moved the situation from tension to violence. The incompatibility between Serb and Slovene – Croatian wishes became clear, and led to violence outside of Kosovo for the first time.

c) May 1991 to February 1992: This was the period when true open warfare began, as the Serbs resisted the Slovene and Croatian independence movements. In June 1991, both Slovenia and Croatia proclaimed their independence. The Belgrade authorities adopted a different strategy for Slovenia and Croatia, probably because there fewer Serbs in Slovenia than Croatia. Under a negotiated settlement, Belgrade allowed the Slovenes to secede. In Croatia the war escalated instead. Two recurring patterns in Serbian strategy can be seen here for the first time: the use of terror to drive away local populations (“ethnic cleansing”), and a Serbian reliance on heavy weapons to attack urban areas.

During this same period, member states of the European Economic Community (led by Germany) recognized Slovene and Croat independence. The world international community became involved for the first time as well, with UN authorization for 14,000 peacekeepers and an economic embargo against the rump of Yugoslavia: Serbia and Montenegro. By the end of the third period, most of the principal organized forces in the civil war were present, including the UN, the Croats and the Serbs, while the Muslim government of Bosnia was about to make its appearance.

In September 1991, Macedonia also declared independence, after a referendum on which 95.26% voted for independence. Five hundred US soldiers were then deployed under the UN banner to monitor Macedonia’s northern borders with the Republic of Serbia, Yugoslavia. However, given that Belgrade’s authorities had neither intervened to prevent Macedonia’s departure, Macedonia became the only former republic to gain sovereignty without resistance from the Belgrade-based Yugoslav authorities and Army.

d) March 1992 to December 1992: In this period the arena of open war shifted from Croatia to Bosnia, where the province split along ethnic lines.

In early March 1992, a majority of Bosnians voted for independence in a plebiscite, but the voters split along ethnic lines with many Serbs opposing such a step. This was the period in which “ethnic cleansing” became general, including the extensive use of rape and the creation of concentration camps to hold Muslim men, where many were murdered. The persistence of these reports led to escalating commitment by the UN, culminating in pledges to use force and the enlistment of NATO forces as an instrument. By the end of the fourth period, the Serbs of Bosnia had made notable gains in territory, and the issue became whether they would keep them, in the face of Croatian, Muslim and UN opposition.

e) January 1993 to January 1994: During this year, all sides in Bosnia pursued a dual strategy, balancing fighting with negotiations on the world stage to seek maximum advantage. This fifth period of stalemate was the calm before the storm: the next two periods were unexpectedly volatile, given the apparent lack of progress at this time.

f) February 1994 to June 1995: In March 1994, the Croatian and Muslim Bosnian governments agreed on guidelines for a federated Bosnia. This freed both groups to face the Serbs: the Muslims in Bosnia, the Croatians in Bosnia and in Krajina, which remained in revolt against the Zagreb government. Later in the year, allied Muslim and Croat forces began small but significant joint operations against Bosnian Serb areas. Generally, this sixth period discredited the UN, and the result was new initiatives both by the Serbs and by their enemies in Croatia and at NATO. Out of public view, both sides prepared to take much more active measures.

g) July to November 1995: The summer of 1995 saw the climax of the civil war in Bosnia, as both sides explored their options after the UN had lost any authority to control events.

The rump of the former Communist Yugoslavia was re-named the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia by Serbia and Montenegro on 28 April 1992. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was prevented by a UN resolution on 22 September 1992 from continuing to occupy the United Nations seat as successor state to the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and not re-admitted until 1 November 2000 after an application for membership was submitted as a new country. The country was renamed a second time on 4 February 2003 as the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro.

The State Union of Serbia and Montenegro was itself unstable, and finally broke up during 2006 to 2008 as the last act in the disintegration of Yugoslavia. In a referendum held in Montenegro on 21 May 2006 independence was backed by 55.5% of voters, and independence was declared on 3 June 2006.

3.1.1. The splitting process went (and, according to some analysts, is still going) on at the level of the former Serbian provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina.

After the Dayton Agreement that ended the Bosnian War in 1995, the situation in Kosovo remained largely unaddressed by the international community, and by 1996 the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), an ethnic Albanian guerilla group, had prevailed over the non-violent resistance movement and had started offering armed resistance to Serbian and Yugoslav security forces, resulting in early stages of the Kosovo War.  By 1998, as the violence had worsened and displaced scores of Albanians, Western interest had increased. The Serbian authorities were compelled to sign a ceasefire and partial retreat. However, the ceasefire did not hold and fighting resumed in December 1998. After the Račak massacre in January 1999, a multilateral international conference was convened and by March had prepared a draft agreement known as the Rambouillet Accords, calling for restoration of Kosovo’s autonomy and deployment of NATO peacekeeping forces. The Serbian party found the terms unacceptable and refused to sign the draft. Between 24 March and 10 June 1999, NATO intervened by bombing Yugoslavia, in a military action that was not authorized by the Security Council of the United Nations and was therefore contrary to the provisions of the United Nations Charter. Combined with continued skirmishes between Albanian guerrillas and Yugoslav forces the conflict resulted in a further massive displacement of population in Kosovo. Ultimately by June 1999, Serbia agreed to a foreign military presence within Kosovo and withdrawal of his troops.

Since 1999, Kosovo was administered by the UN, whose Resolution 1244 provided that Kosovo would have autonomy within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and affirmed the territorial integrity of Yugoslavia, which has been legally succeeded by the Republic of Serbia. In 2006, international negotiations began to determine the final status of Kosovo, as envisaged under UN Security Council Resolution 1244. The UN-backed talks, led by UN Special Envoy Marti Ahtisaari, began in February 2006. Whilst progress was made on technical matters, both parties remained diametrically opposed on the question of status itself.

In February 2007, Ahtisaari delivered a draft status settlement proposal to leaders in Belgrade and Pristina, the basis for a draft UN Security Council Resolution which proposed ‘supervised independence’ for the province. A draft resolution, backed by the United States, the United Kingdom and other European members of the Security Council, was presented and rewritten four times to try to accommodate Russian concerns that such a resolution would undermine the principle of state sovereignty (Russia, which holds a veto in the Security Council as one of five permanent members, had stated that it would not support any resolution which was not acceptable to both Belgrade and Kosovo Albanians). After many weeks of discussions at the UN, the United States, United Kingdom and other European members of the Security Council formally ‘discarded’ a draft resolution backing Ahtisaari’s proposal on 20 July 2007, having failed to secure Russian backing. The talks finally broke down late 2007, with the two sides remaining far apart, with the minimum demands of each side being more than the other was willing to accept.

At the turn of 2008, the media started reporting that the Kosovo Albanians were determined to proclaim independence. The declaration of independence was made by members of the Kosovo Assembly, on 17 February 2008. The terms of the declaration state that Kosovo’s independence is limited to the principles outlined by the Ahtisaari plan. It prohibits Kosovo from joining any other country, provides for only a limited military capability, states that Kosovo will be under international supervision and provides for the protection of minority ethnic communities.

On 8 October 2008, the UN General Assembly resolved to request the International Court of Justice to render an advisory opinion on the legality of Kosovo’s declaration of independence. The advisory opinion, which is legally non-binding but is considered as carrying a “moral” weight, was rendered on 22 July 2010, holding that Kosovo’s declaration of independence was not in violation of international law.

Kosovo’s declaration of independence is still controversial. A number of countries fear that it is a precedent, affecting other contested territories in Europe and non-European parts of the former Soviet Union, such as Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Kosovo’s independence also led to increased tensions in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where the Republika Srpska vetoed recognizing Kosovo, and threatened to declare independence themselves.

As expected, the case of Kosovo is seen by most of the separatism’s adepts as establishing a valuable precedent for other people who wish to secede. Among others, László Tőkés, an ethnic Hungarian who is a member of the European Parliament for Romania, said Kosovo is a “model for the Romanian region of Transylvania” and Igor Smirnov, the leader of Transnistria, a predominantly Russian separatist republic in what is internationally recognized to be eastern Moldova, said “For us, the Kosovo precedent is an important … factor.

For Russia and other governments, the international recognition of Kosovo’s independence is seen as a dangerous precedent that will encourage separatism by violent means not only in Europe but also in the Middle East and other areas.

As to the Vojvodina province, situated only 22 km far from Belgrade, the Magyar Alliance is controlling over 70% of its territory and asked for a referendum to secede and form a confederation with Hungary, even if the ethnic Hungarian population does not exceed 40% of the total. In March 2009, the same party asked the European Union to send in experts to examine the local situation.

There are various attempts to develop patterns/explanations for the splitting process in former Yugoslavia, but, in spite of the separatists’ position regarding the precedent, most analysts agree that it is a unique case and extrapolating the conclusions to other areas might be counterproductive.

4. The Lisbon Treaty and the Europe of Regions

In the case of the European Union’s member states, the Lisbon Treaty (December 2009) is apparently offering a solution to the various separatist claims, since it contains several innovations regarding the role of Europe’s regions and cities, as well as the competences of the Committee of the Regions (CoR), such as:

  • The recognition of the EU’s territorial dimension

For the first time in its history, the European Union explicitly recognizes “territorial cohesion” as a fundamental objective in addition to economic and social cohesion. For instance, Article 3 of the modified Treaty on European Union states that the EU “shall promote economic, social and territorial cohesion, and solidarity among Member States.” This explicit recognition of the Union’s territorial dimension is a huge step forward for the Committee’s efforts to mainstream this concept in all EU policies.

  • Important references to regional and local self-government

Another important change is that, for the first time ever, the local and regional right of self-government is enshrined in an EU treaty, as Article 4(2) of the Treaty on European Union states: “The Union shall respect the equality of Member States before the Treaties as well as their national identities, inherent in their fundamental structures, political and constitutional, inclusive of regional and local self-government.”

  • Regional parliaments with legislative powers

In the same sense, the Lisbon Treaty identifies regional parliaments with legislative powers as new actors in the EU decision making process: they will be involved in the so called “subsidiarity monitoring procedure”.

* * *

In spite of the above-mentioned aspects, most of the analysts agree that the Lisbon Treaty, which is, in fact, a constitution of the European Union, seeks to increase the power of the supra-national authorities over both the national and the regional ones.

The Treaty is fundamentally changing the nature of the Union, since it will have its own government, its own legislative, executive and judicial branches, its own president and the European citizenship will prevail over the national one. The Union already has its own currency, flag, hymn and celebrating day and is going to have its own human rights and criminal legislation (with a prosecutor general), foreign and security policy (with foreign minister and ambassadors, even intelligence services).

However, analysts point out several differences that make them skeptical about the future “European Federation” (if any):

–          Most of the known federal states (USA, Germany, Canada, Australia) were created in time, by transferring the power from small states to a higher federal authority, but the European Union got its powers much quicker;

–          In the “classic” federations, people spoke the same language and had the same history, culture and national solidarity, with a democratic base that gave legitimacy to the higher authorities. On the contrary, there is no “European people”, and the Lisbon Treaty is regarded as an attempt to create, from top to bottom, a highly centralized federation without informing and obtaining the consent of the governed ones. The minimal constitutional request for a democratic European federation would be that its laws be generated and approved by the elected representatives of the people, in the Union and/or national parliaments, but neither the Lisbon Treaty nor the Union’s constitution mention such a request.

5. The impact of the economic crisis

The world economic crisis makes it more difficult for the EU to tackle many of these challenges. European governments will find it harder to address the structural weaknesses of their economies in a period of recession. They also risk devoting less attention to noneconomic challenges. The single market could even come under threat – support for greater state intervention is growing. If member-states start to support their economies at the expense of others, the benefits of the single market could be rolled back.

The concept of Europe advanced in such a context assumes that nation-states will continue to play a major part in the economic and social life of Europe. The nation-state is still seen as the most effective guarantee of the civil rights, welfare and social cohesion. Europe shows no signs of effectively replacing the nation-state in that role, especially in the case of economically powerful states.

In the case of the states that do not have the economic force to cope with their crisis, their impossibility to pay the sovereign debt will constrain them to give up their sovereignty to the supra-national entities that may help them financially (the IMF-World Bank, but mainly the EU government).

The recent evolutions in Greece are seen by some analysts as a pattern of what may happen to other EU member states if they come to be in the same situation.

The European Union regulations already give to the European government (the EU Commission) over-state attributions in the fiscal and budget areas. The member states have to report their budgets to the EU before voting in their own parliaments, some of the taxes will have to be paid directly to the EU authorities etc.

Recently, Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, member of the European Parliament (he is a German of Greek origin) announced that the EU Commission is considering a proposal to manage directly the regional funds allocated for Greece, Bulgaria and Romania, since these countries’ governments are incapable to do that (“because of the incapability of the ministries to come with projects, to work on programs and to solve the problems locally”). “We need to use the technical assistance to cope with the problems in these three states. Hahn (n.n Johannes Hahn, the European commissioner for regional policy) has hundreds of millions of Euros in his portfolio for technical assistance. This means he can send experts from the European Bank of Investments, from the EC, from other countries, to these countries, to help the administration to implement programs and absorb the money”.

Jorgo Chatzimarkakis also said that, in his opinion, the fears of loosing sovereignty in such a situation would have to be controlled, especially if the assistance is linked to the creation of EU anti-corruption committees. “The politicians in Greece, Bulgaria and Romania should admit that they have a problem…” he said.

However, he was skeptical about the chances that such assistance might be approved, because it would create a precedent. In his opinion, in the case of Greece a majority might be obtained, and that would make things easier in the case of Bulgaria and Romania.

Some scenarios take also into account the possibility that the EU might favor more authoritarian national regimes that might be able to enforce the anti-social policies by invoking EU budget constraints that result in fewer services provided by the state.

Such a scenario – stronger EU control and national-state enforcement – would lead to an increased trend towards secession and smaller political entities, considered by some as the only means left in order to trigger economic integration (with free exchange of goods and services, as well as cultural, economic and political competition) and prosperity, in the context of the globalization.

The recent decision of the European Parliament regarding the new Constitution of Hungary is a very clear indication of the real intentions of the European Union with regard to the separatist phenomenon and the actor-states or other powers that might see useful to encourage separatism in order to develop other “greater” nation-states or other entities.

The EP document, adopted on July 5, clearly asks the Hungarian authorities to “explicitly guarantee in the Constitution, including its preamble, that Hungary will respect the territorial integrity of other countries when seeking the support of ethnic Hungarians living abroad”.

6. Specifics of Romania and regional splitting scenarios

Romania’s situation does not differ significantly from the other countries in the area. It has to deal with an ethnic Hungarian secessionist movement, but most of all with the economic difficulties and the very poor performance in absorbing the European funds that may represent the solution for its development issues.

The main secessionist movement is the Hungarian Citizens’ Union, which formed in 2004, pushing for closer relations with Hungary and autonomy for Székely Land, a region in eastern Transylvania home to about 700,000 Hungarians. The territory is the cultural heartland for Romania’s Magyars; in some towns, more than 90 percent of residents speak Hungarian. Székely Land was once an autonomous region, between 1952 and 1968, and parts of Transylvania belonged to Hungary until 1920.

However, it is worth mentioning that the secessionist phenomenon (not only Romania’s but also that of the Eastern Europe region) is used by EU and NATO adversaries (mainly Russia) to stress their point of view that the enlargement of NATO and the EU failed to deliver on the promises of European stability and did not prevent the rise of ethnic separatism across Europe.

Since the European structural funding for development projects is destined for “NUTS 2” administrative units (Nomenclature of Units for Territorial Statistics level 2, with 800.000 – 3 million population), the economic conditions – most of all the need to co-finance the development projects – would require the gathering of a bigger number of taxpayers, who will benefit sooner of the finished projects. The European Union favors the concentration of the investment efforts, and the prioritization of the infrastructure networks would lead to local disputes. To spread the money in smaller areas would seem more equitable, but it increases the costs and delays the terms of completion of the projects. This is the main argument for the current government in pushing with a territorial reform. In the government’s view and according to the “NUTS” classification, Romania would have 8 NUTS 2 regions, with 2 of them that may qualify for NUTS 1 (over 3 million people) – “North-East” and “South”, which, incidentally, do not cover the territories, claimed by the secessionist Hungarian movements.

In fact, the European Union was quite clear in stating, through regional commissioner Johannes Hahn, that Romania should implement the regional programs approved for 2007 – 2013 in the framework of the territorial and administrative structures in which the programs have been developed and agreed with the European Commission. Only after 2013, the European Commission will be ready to support the Romanian authorities’ efforts for a better administrative and territorial structure.

The resurrection of the separatist movements in Europe, especially in the central and eastern part, as well as the steps taken, through the Lisbon Treaty and other European Union regulations, towards Europe’s federalization fuelled the “splitting scenarios” that stress the idea that Central and Eastern Europe states are subject of a “federalization experiment”.

According to one such scenario, the nation-states’ Europe is already gone, and the final goal is to have a European federation of land-type units, since it is easier to control smaller territorial and people units that to harmonize the positions of several big strong states. The experiment has already begun in Eastern Europe, being opposed only by Poland.

In the case of Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, Serbia, Slovakia and the other countries, the following regions would be created:

  • The so-called Biharia will cover a territory from the river Somes and the Western Carpathians (Romania) to the Tisza (Hungary), with Oradea (Nagyvarad) as a capital.
  • The Banat would include the Romanian region and parts of Serbia and Hungary – the capital would be Timisoara.
  • Vojvodina will become an autonomous region, to include also a part of the Hungarian territory.
  • Dobrudja wouls also include part of Bulgaria, to the South, and part of Ukraine (to the north, the area between the Danube and Reni, after a supposed disintegration of Ukraine and its inclusion in the European Union). Its capital will be Constanta.
  • Bucovina (the current Suceava county of Romania) would have a trans-border cooperation with the area of former Galitzia and, after Ukraine’s disintegration, will join Galitzia and a part of Poland in a province with Lwow (Lviv, Lemberg) as capital.
  • Maramures will extend, by a similar procedure, to include the northern Carpathian territories currently in Ukraine and Hungary, and its capital will become again Sziget.
  • Bessarabia (Republic of Moldova) would also become a European Federation province.

7. Foreseeable trends

Such scenarios – as, on the other hand, the separatist movements – are received with a relatively low interest by the local population, mainly interested in the economic situation and the benefits for everybody’s life that might come from a stronger Europe, with or without nation-states.

In fact, most of the analysts agree that the global economic crisis will create some difficult times for the EU over the years ahead. It will put strains on the internal market and the euro zone. It also risks diverting attention away from Europe’s pressing noneconomic long-term challenges. The single market will be the area most affected by the economic crisis. The pace of reforms is likely to slow down in certain areas, in particular progress towards liberalizing services. Instead of deepening the single market, for the next few years the EU is likely to have to focus its attention on preserving the gains made so far. And once the worst of the economic crisis is past, the EU should redeploy its efforts to deepen the single market.

Europe in 2020 can be a prosperous and secure area. It also has the potential to serve as a model for others in how to develop sustainable economic growth. But the EU will only be able to ensure its long-term wellbeing if it finds the political will to introduce the necessary reforms, including those that might be inspired by the experience of managing the secessionist and separatist movements.


[1] www.peacemagazine.org / Why did Yugoslavia break up?

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