Now before any unionists start throwing fists at me, and separatists cheering, this article is meant to criticize an article I read today, entitled “Separatists marching under the EU banner” by Mayer Magierowski (wonder if his name means ‘Hungarian’ in Polish) and express my own view on a matter that now is a hypothesis but might become real and certainly interesting from a politico-legal view.
Magierowski argues that separatist regions hide behind the Europeanization argument and the erosion of the nation state, “since the federalization of the EU will in any case whittle away the powers of the nation states”. Furthermore, he states that all three separatist entities would have a hard time defending their interests in the EU as influence wise “they would find themselves somewhere between Luxembourg and Slovakia”. In conclusion it would be more beneficial for them to represent their interests as part of bigger states, with more votes in the Council. Is that really true?
First some facts:
Scotland – Ah, the clans, the bagpipes, the Highlands and the Lowlands, haggis and Nessy and “We don’t like the Eeenglish!”. It has a population of 5.2 million and an area of 78,387 km2. It has a devolved government (mainly in the last decade) within the United Kingdom, a First Minister and an own Parliament. Scotland was invaded by England in the 13th century (you know William Wallace, Mel Gibson and Braveheart) and gained its freedom at the battle of Bannockburn in 1314, when Robert de Bruce defeated the English. In 1707 however they entered into a union with the UK, quite simply because they went bankrupt after the failed colonization of the Panama isthmus.
The situation has been slightly tense lately, as the Scots decided to hold a referendum on complete independence in 2014, 700 years after the battle of Bannockburn (let’s not forget however that they won their freedom but then willingly joined the UK when the pockets went empty).
Catalonia – Oh yes! Paella, FC Barcelona, Gaudi and so on and 1 million people on the streets of Barcelona asking for independence. It has a population of 7.5 million and a land area of 32,114 km2 (almost like Belgium). It started out as the County of Barcelona during the Reconquista, became Catalonia, merged with Aragon and had a fairly decent sized empire stretching from Eastern Iberia to Sicily, Sardinia, Naples and parts of Greece. Then the Crown of Aragon went into a personal union with Castile and later on under Franko everything has been done to destroy their language and culture. Catalonia is an autonomous region within the Kingdom of Spain and has its own parliament, bi-lingual administration etc.
Padania – Who are these guys, huh? Ah, Northern Italy! It is a sort off self-proclaimed entity, comprising mostly all the Italian provinces north of Rome. It has an area of 164,076 km2 (Greece + Denmark) and a population of 33.3 million (oh my, I thought Luxembourg had half a million)… Turin, Milan, Genoa, Padua, Venice… Balsamic vinegar, food from Tuscany, the Dome of Milan, the independent republics until unification, the renaissance etc. The North was where the Italian unification began and then they incorporated the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (technically, everything south of Rome). Interestingly enough at that point Southern Italy had way more money than the north but in 30 years after the unification the economy went to pieces in the South, which lead to the proliferation of the mafia and the exodus of the Sicilians to the US (you know Frank Sinatra, Lucky Luciano, Al Capone etc.).
Now, turning to the matter of a possible or not independence of these regions (most likely that of Scotland, and most unlikely, that of Padania) people will ask the question, “So what would they do in the EU?” My answer is, “They would do just fine”.
Becoming EU Members
Quite a sensitive subject as it never happened that EU/EC Member States split while being members of the Communities, or Union. It happened that East Germany joined West Germany, but the latter was already an EC member. So…What to do? Well you could turn to international law and see what happens with international agreements, once a state is split. Technically the one keeping the name of the previous state will be bound by the agreements, while the separating parts not really. However, they can notify that they wish to be bound by the international agreements signed by the state they used to be part of (you can read the Vienna Convention on the Succession of States in respect of Treaties, which however was not ratified by either Italy, UK or Spain).
In practice most probably there will be a notification that the TFEU and the TEU bind them. There are no technical difficulties as they have been part of the EU/EC so their laws are in compliance, and secondary EU legislation is present in their national systems.
Now this is a more delicate issue. Firstly, in the case of Catalonia and Padania, the currency of the big state is the euro while in the UK it is the pound. In order to have the euro as currency you have to meet certain criteria: the inflation has to be below 1.5 %, the ratio between the annual government deficit and GDP has to be below 3%, the government debt cannot be over 60% of the GDP and other conditions. Now, we can clearly see that due to the current economic situation neither of the new countries would meet these criteria. And they would have to apply to become Euro-zone members as if not, I could see some angry Eastern European countries pointing fingers, how they don’t meet the criteria either, but don’t have the Euro as currency. Furthermore, what about the pound? I am not sure London would agree with that. So they could come to some arrangements with the EU, to use the Euro, such as Kosovo, Montenegro or Monaco does or maybe like how Iceland might potentially adopt the Canadian dollar.
Well now, who will recognize them? Spain (what would be left of it) definitely not, Southern Italy likewise. Also countries where there are minority issues or separationist movements (Szeklerland in Romania, Flanders in Belgium) would be hesitant to recognize these countries. And then how could you have a union if certain countries don’t recognize the others?
Now if I’ve learnt something from history, it’s that besides national feelings, resentments and so on, in many cases countries join or separate because of economic reasons. And let’s see the situation of the possible new entities. Scotland has a GDP above the EU average but a third lower than the UK average. But then again, we are forgetting something. Most of the United Kingdom’s oil fields in the North Sea lie in Scottish waters. Aham… So if Scotland becomes independent, then there goes the British oil money. And well now, it is easier to split the oil revenue among 5 million people than 60 million. So if the Scots were smart like the Norwegians, who knows what might happen there. There are rumours how they would like to join the Nordic Council. And, well, we all know that countries in the Nordic Council are the richest in Europe.
With Catalonia, it is self-evident that they are above the Spanish average. A population amounting to 15% of Spain’s population produces 25% of its GDP. Barcelona is a metropolis, financial centre, tourist centre and most economically viable Mediterranean city. So I don’t fear for them. Padania is Italy’s industrial engine (many northerners say that there tax money goes to the South. Is it true? Ask them, but I told you, that before the unification the South was richer, so who knows who messed up what) and produces almost 60% of Italy’s GDP.
So economically no fears, they are viable and have plenty of industry, resources, tourism, financial centres.
Defending their interests in the EU
Now, Magierowski argues that the newly created states would have the political power of Slovakia or Luxembourg. Really now? Firstly, I don’t understand why the author groups all three of them in the same lot. Northern Italy has a population of over 33 million so according to the current system of votes in the Council of the EU, which favours smaller states, Padania would get 23-25 votes (while Germany has 29 and Italy as a whole 29 as well). Scotland would get 7 like Slovakia, but England would lose 2. Catalonia would get 10 like Bulgaria but Spain might lose 4 votes. So I see these three possible new entities as gaining quite a hefty number of votes (25+7+10=42) which is definitely a bigger number than what any State has. So, as long as they would play their cards right, they would have quite sufficient political power. I wonder who has more influence: a Catalonian politician in the Spanish government pushing for Catalan interests, or an independent country with 10 votes.
Ask any Belgian lawyer what is their nightmare, and the answer is Belgian law as there is the EU level, the federal level, the regional level etc. So in my opinion Scotland and Catalonia could get rid of the ‘federal’ level (let’s call it like that) and simplify the legal system while Northern Italy would not depend from the central administration in Rome.
There are bigger problem with new entities within the EU, such as mutual recognition and currency and of course protection of minorities within the new entity. But political power would definitely improve for these regions as it is harder to convince a country you don’t like to push for your interests than having your own votes in the Council. This article is not meant to create any discontent and it serves as a hypothesis and an answer to the previously cited article.
Aarhus, Denmark, 26 March 2012