Separatism is in the air as EU leaders prepare to meet in Brussels

Football fans chant for “¡Barça!” and Catalan independence
Football fans chant for “¡Barça!” and Catalan independence
Image: AP Images / Manu Fernandez
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It should be an interesting meeting in Brussels this week. While EU leaders discuss how to keep their fragile union together at their annual summit on Thursday and Friday, calls to break free are growing from nationalist movements across Europe.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron is finalizing a deal with Scottish leader Alex Salmond to let the Scots vote in 2014 on whether they want to stay part of the UK. In Spain, separatist fever is heating up in Catalonia, where in September hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to demand independence. Tens of thousands more chanted for independence at a football match between Madrid and Barcelona a week ago. The movement is expected to gain in fervor in November as Catalans go to the polls in regional parliamentary elections that could strengthen the ruling party’s nationalist position.

Independence is also in the air in Belgium, where EU leaders will meet. Flemish nationalists, who are calling for greater autonomy in the Flanders region, saw big gains in Belgian municipal elections this weekend, with leader of the Flemish Nationalist Party (FNP) Bart De Wever winning the mayoral election in Antwerp. The FNP now appears to be the biggest political party in Flanders.

Even the Venetians want a referendum on independence, which would result in a Repubblica Veneta of about 5 million people. Several thousand protested this month in gondolas.

So while Europe’s leaders talk in Brussels about how to keep troubled countries like Greece and Spain inside the single market, action by national movements could change everything. Their perception is that Europe’s prolonged economic crisis—and a lack of progress by European leaders—proves one thing: they would be better off managing finances themselves. Can you blame them?