Sunday, October 7, 2012

Regionalism on the Rise

Steven Erlanger has a nice piece in The Times about the rise of regional separatist sentiment across Europe. The paradox, as he points out, is that the European Union, which is supposed to create greater solidarity among the nations of the continent, is weakening national solidarities among regions from Catalonia to Scotland. The problem at this level is Europe's problem writ small, as it were: the rich don't want to pay for the poor and don't acknowledge that they owe their less fortunate fellow citizens anything. Interestingly, we have the same problem in the United States at the individual level: those who are better off resent the taxes they pay to support those who are worse off. In Europe, the principle of the welfare state is more widely accepted as a norm, but the body of fellow citizens--what Tocqueville called semblables--to whom one recognizes a duty of solidarity is not fixed and can vary with ambient economic conditions, as we are now discovering.

4 comments:

David said...

"the European Union, which is supposed to create greater solidarity among the nations of the continent"

Well, I won't teach you anything in the fact that while it was "supposed to" do that, it completely failed doing so, favoring financial interests over the people, with Brussels being completely corrupted by the lobbies, and the people all being screwed one way (the Greeks, the Spaniards, more to come) or the other (the Germans).

So when you can't trust your own government and definitely not the one in Brussels, regionalism seem like the solution to many.

Kirk said...

Hold on, the EU gives plenty of money to regions to foster regional differences, support their languages and culture, and more. So why is the result of this - an increased identity among people in those regions - any surprise?

bert said...

Well, the euro is certainly an aggravating factor in Catalonia.

But the roots of these resentments go back a long way. Recommended is an excellent blogpost from BBC Newsnight's economics editor: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-19799572, looking at how Spain dealt (or failed to deal) with the Civil War.

Similarly, the situation in Scotland is a long-runnning sore. And bits of Britain breaking off is not exactly unprecedented. There are people alive today in the Republic of Ireland who were born in the UK. They may have stayed in the same place, but the politics changed around them.

If there was one factor above all promoting the spread and current strength of Scottish nationalism, it'd be the devolution of the 1990's and the introduction of a Scottish parliament. Which was introduced by the Blair government as a response to pressures for Scottish independence. Once you go looking for ironies, they're everywhere, Art.

I think Erlanger gets it right when he describes the paradox: the EU "lowers the stakes for regions to push for independence".

It's a difference of emphasis, perhaps, but the way you put it - the EU "is weakening national solidarities among regions" - is a rather stronger claim.

Obviously, the euro has set everyone at each others' throats. Equally obviously, this is less of a factor in Scotland. And the way regional nationalisms play into Europe's current crisis is complex and has deep, tangled historical roots.

bert said...

David - the Erlanger piece describes how the crisis has created a series of difficult political dilemmas for the nationalist leadership in Scotland. In the old days, pre-crisis, it was so much simpler. The regions had an active ally in the EU institutions, as Kirk points out. Today, the problems of the eurozone are making regional independence a tougher sell. In Scotland at least.