Financial Times


Ian Bremmer
10 gener 2013

January 10, 2013

European separatism is a red herring

As the redesign of Europe churns along in 2013, some still fear that one or more eurozone states will take its leave. Others warn that individual European states will soon crack from within, as less familiar flags appear in places such as Catalonia, Scotland and Flanders. There are separatist pressures building within Spain and the UK, and Belgium’s unity remains fragile as well. But, at least for 2013, there is less to these warning signs than meets the eye. In fact, European separatism is one of 2013’s most important red herrings. There is virtually no chance that any of these independence movements becomes a full-blown phenomenon – at least this year.

Catalonia will move toward referendum, but any vote will probably be a 2014 event. Between now and then, a new fiscal deal with Madrid could even mitigate the push for autonomy. In November last year, a new centre-left coalition came out of regional elections as the incumbent Convergence and Union (CiU) and the Republican Left (ERC) found common ground: they both want a referendum for Catalan self-determination. But the two parties don’t see eye to eye on much else. The centrist CiU wants austerity; the ERC is staunchly opposed. This friction leaves the coalition weak and potentially unstable – and this friction will shape the contours of any deal with Madrid.

The Catalan president Artur Mas needs to champion the referendum to keep his coalition intact. But Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has the capacity to offer economic concessions to Mr Mas in separate negotiations concerning funding for the autonomous communities. In the process, he could set a wedge between the Catalan coalition partners. If Mr Mas can save face with a better fiscal deal for Catalonia, it could even put off a referendum altogether.

In Belgium in October, the New Flemish Alliance (NVA) won big in local elections. The party president Bart De Wever declared: “We not only do as well as our monster score of 2010 [in the national elections]. We do even better.” The rise of the separatist NVA puts pressure on the federal government and complicates negotiations regarding finances and further devolutions. But even if talks go south and ultimately break down, it is still unlikely to result in partition of the country. The other two Flemish parties in the six-party federal government can deliver an alternative to the separatist agenda, provided it meets popular Flemish demands. Clearly these talks – and the need to maintain budgetary control to meet deficit targets – are challenges to the Belgian government. However, short of an early election stemming from government collapse, the next real threat to the country’s territorial integrity will probably be federal elections in 2014.

Debate surrounding Scottish independence from the UK will intensify in 2013. But even if it drives headlines and sells newspapers, the issue is a 2014 story: Scotland’s referendum on independence will not happen this year. Furthermore, any eventual verdict is by no means clear-cut. In fact, polls show that a majority of Scots are actually opposed to voting “Yes” because, among other concerns, they would face tough negotiations over defence and oil revenues with the UK. The post-independence path could prove even more of a deterrent, as a newly independent Scotland could be forced to reapply for EU membership and move towards euro adoption. That’s an integrative step fundamentally at odds with the original separatist push and it wouldn’t sit well with the public.

Across Spain, the UK and Belgium, separatist storm warnings are real, but don’t expect a downpour in 2013.

The writer is the president of Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy, and author of ‘Every Nation for Itself: Winners and Losers in a G-Zero World’