The current difficulties in the EU to pass a new budget highlight the very different perspectives of the givers and takers among EU members in the flow of EU funds. There’s a sense of injustice on the part of the countries who are net contributors: why is our hard-earned money going to folks who aren’t as responsible or hard-working? In northern countries such as Germany one can easily hear this point of view in reference to Greece. In southern countries there is resentment over criticism of their way of life and cultural practices; they are proud of the more balanced approach to work and life they have achieved. The 27 countries that make up the EU do not only speak different languages, they have in many cases dramatically different cultures.
It doesn’t seem likely that the EU will be splitting anytime in the near future or that some Euro countries will leave the currency – there is too much at stake for all the countries in the EU for them to allow that to happen. However, within several EU members there is an internal struggle going on that is some ways parallels what’s happening in the EU, culturally distinct and prosperous regions who are dissatisfied with their relationship with the rest of the country. Today elections in Spain appear to be heading for victory by pro-independence parties for Catalonia, the area in northern Spain with Barcelona as its capital. Catalonia is overall better-off than the rest of Spain and has a distinctive language (Catalan) and culture. In fact, the Catalan culture overflows into parts of southern France and Catalan is the official language of the small independent country of Andorra, between Spain and France. In addition to the Catalans, the Basques, also a group represented on both sides of the Pyrenees, have been agitating for independence, sometimes violently.
Spain is not alone. There is also an active movement for independence in Scotland, with a referendum vote scheduled for 2014. Welsh nationalists have not been as active lately; Wales also lacks the economic strength that North Sea oil brings to Scotland. Separatist sentiments are strong among many in Belgian Flanders as well as in South Tyrol in Italy. With the economic problems today across Europe, it will be interesting to see how the separatist movements progress.
It’s not just a north-south divide – sometimes its culture, language, and politics that can lead to separatist sentiments. Quebec’s French-speaking population continues to agitate for more ability to guide their own affairs. With the re-election of Obama several U.S. states such as Texas are making noises about secession. Those efforts are not likely to succeed and they are mostly not all that serious, more of a way to let off steam.