Nationalism has been riding a powerful wave of support across Europe the last few years driven by growing concerns over the massive influx of immigrants mostly from Africa and the Middle East. There have been changes in leadership and structure in the branches of government that clearly reflect the shift in voter opinion and preferences.
The wave of change sweeping over Europe has also spurred a movement for greater independence and local rule in regions such as Catalonia, Scotland, Flanders in Belgium, Corsica in France and in select parts of Northern Italy.
Catalonia which declared its independence from Spain after a parliamentary vote in October 27 has encouraged these regions to pursue their respective calls for independence and greater autonomy. Catalan President Carles Puigdemont and other officials will face serious charges of sedition from the Spanish government which found the referendum illegal and unconstitutional.
Jean Guy Talamori, President of the regional assembly in Corsica and leader of the independence movement Corsica Libera rejoiced in what he referred to as the “birth of the Catalonia Republic.”
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel took the opposite position of his fellow European leaders and condemned the violent approach undertaken by the Spanish government during the October 1 referendum:
“Violence can never be the answer. We condemn all forms of violence and reaffirm our call for political dialogue.”
Separatist movements have been gaining traction in Belgium particularly Flemish nationalism. Belgium’s immigration secretary who is a member of the leading separatist party offered Puigdemont and other Catalan officials political asylum should they be prosecuted by the Spanish government.
It was reported that Puigdemont did travel to Brussels last October 30 to possibly discuss the arrangements for receiving political asylum. Across the border from Catalonia is Perpignan in France which also extended an offer of political asylum for Puigdemont and his officials.
Bart Maddens, a Flemish nationalist professor at the Catholic University of Leuven believes Catalonia has ignited a fire in the independence movement in Belgium:
“Among Flemish nationalists, there is a lot of enthusiasm about what has happened in Catalonia because this is what they have always wanted the Flemish parliament to do: to declare Flanders a sovereign state.”
Maddens also pointed out videos of Spanish police beating supporters of Catalan independence have further given support for nationalist movements across Europe.
Scotland which voted against independence three years ago have called for a new referendum as Britain’s exit from the European Union draws closer.
In October, Lombardy and Veneto which are two of Italy’s wealthiest regions in the north and home to an estimated 15 million people voted in favour or autonomy but are not seeking independence.
Justin Frosini, law professor at Johns Hopkins University and Bologna and Bocconi University in Milan believes all that could change in five to 10 years’ time:
“Once you’ve got so much autonomy, what else do you want but independence?”
Whether the Catalan drive for independence will push other nationalists to continue along their path for greater rule may eventually depend on how the entire situation ends for Catalonia’s separatist movement.