Posted on 11-02-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Many observers have noted that one of the unintended side effects of weakening European nation states in the cause of European integration has been to give the long suppressed sub nationalities their opportunity to claim greater autonomy.  For example the Catalans and the Basques in Spain, some Scots (and increasingly many English) in the United Kingdom do not see the advantage of being a constituent part of the national unit when they could instead get the protection of the super-national European Union.

This has been most evident in Belgium.  Created in 1830 after a Catholic and often French speaking region revolted  against the Dutch dominated United Kingdom of the Netherlands, the country has always been divided among the French speaking Wallonia in the south and the Dutch speaking Flanders in the north.  Last year there were serious concerns that the country that houses the headquarters of the EU would dissolve. (For analysis of possible scenarios of dissolution see here, for the experiences of a bemused American tourist making sense of the situation in Brussels see here).  An artificial country that some joke is united only by its soccer team and monarchy in a region that has almost never been united, Belgium may have outlived its purpose.

The secessionist trend started by Woodrow Wilson’s famous calls for self determination 90 years ago is not one I look on with much favor.  I can understand it in national units that suppress regional languages and cultures (like France) or where the majority community oppresses the minority and exploits the resources in the minority region (Pakistan in Baluchistan; Sudan with its southern half), but in many of these European countries such a situation does not exist.

What often exists is rank selfishness.  In Belgium a once dominant community is now the economic underclass taking more than its fair share of state resources.  In Italy some in the more prosperous North would rather get rid of the far poorer South (if that was where Italy would end up, they might as well have left poor Francis II on his throne).  It is a sentiment sometimes expressed in the United States where residents of certain states are convinced they are subsidizing everybody else (some with more justification than others).   It is also evident in India as noted by the recent brouhaha in Maharashtra.  See link.

It is a short sighted approach that ignores the inevitable swings of history.  Belgium where poorer Flanders is now economically dominant is a fine example of this.  A cacophony of small states will eventually bring with it far more intransigent battles over national resources (notably water and in the case of England and Scotland oil reserves), inherited debt and other conflicts and a much harder job to divide aid at the European level.  They would be better off working towards a common national purpose while retaining their regional culture (that includes you too Quebec).

But then I do not speak from the perspective of a paranoid or threatened minority.

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