Current Affairs

From Flanders To Catalonia To Scotland

Poor Belgium. Proof, if ever proof was needed, of the long-term instability of artificial nation-states. Ok, admittedly all nation-states are artificial to some extent but many have certain natural advantages in terms of history, language, culture and geography that overcome otherwise destabilising forces undermining their continued existence. That couldn’t really be said of the Kingdom of Belgium. Crammed between bigger neighbouring blocks, its less than two hundred year old history stems from a tangled mess of 19th century political struggles in middle Europe that at times take on Ruritanian proportions. Since the 1970s it has frequently teetered on the edge of a constitutional precipice, the periods of crisis increasing in regularity like a slow death beat but in reverse. These days the two main communities in their distinct regions, French-speaking Wallons and Dutch-speaking Flemish, exist in almost perfect isolation (there is a tiny German-speaking community too but few think of it). The Belgians make the Swiss look positively uniform such is their level of internal separation. To outsiders it is hard to gauge just how deep the divisions go. For many the capital city of Brussels, with its mixed communes and grotesque, multi-national European Union bureaucracy, is Belgium. But it is not. And even Brussels has its own local communal struggles between Wallons and Flemish that rarely make the headlines outside of the kingdom.

All that however may change as Flemish nationalists have scored a series of victories in municipal elections in Flanders and the autonomous Flemish communes. From Euronews:

“What future for Belgium?’ is the country’s burning question after the Flemish nationalists’ success in Sunday’s local elections.

Bart de Wever’s N-VA party [New Flemish Alliance] made huge gains and some papers believe the prospect of Belgium splitting in two has come a step closer.

The man of the moment will be the new mayor of Flanders’ biggest city Antwerp, ending 60 years of socialist rule.

The New Flemish Alliance won more than 37 percent of the vote in Antwerp and 30 percent in several other towns.

Its success came at the expense of the far-right Vlaams Belang.”

Meanwhile the Guardian examines news from that other nascent European nation-state, Catalonia:

“Catalonia in north-east Spain will issue a challenge to Brussels when its voters are asked to declare whether they want an independent state within the EU.

Regional leader Artur Mas said on Monday he planned to ask the question, including the reference to the EU, during a four-year term that starts after regional elections on 25 November – even though Spain’s prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, has threatened to block a referendum.

A yes vote in the referendum would not just create a constitutional crisis for Spain, which has no mechanism for allowing the independence of one of its regions, but would also issue a clear challenge to the EU, which has no system for the breakup of a member state. A new entity could have future membership blocked by just one member country.

The Catalan referendum would take place around the time of a similar vote in Scotland in 2014 and could be followed by an independence vote in the Basque country, where nationalists and separatists are expected to win elections this weekend. Basque nationalists have long pursued the dream of joining the EU as a separate state on an equal footing with Spain.

“Do you want Catalonia to become a new state within the European Union?” is Mas’s preferred wording for the referendum.

Mas said David Cameron’s decision to allow Scotland to hold a referendum – though the Scottish question will not mention the EU – should be an example to Rajoy. “While the British negotiate, the Spanish state simply threatens,” he told La Vanguardia.

His Convergence and Union coalition is close to obtaining an absolute majority in the Catalan parliament, according to the latest polls. The separatist Catalan Republic Left party (ERC), which would be a natural ally in the push for independence, is also set to increase its vote.

Spain’s two biggest parties – the PP and the PSOE socialists – are expected to lose seats in next month’s election, reducing their representation in the Catalan parliament to less than 40%.

Polls show support for independence in Catalonia has climbed to more than 50%.”

Talking of Scotland.

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