Can Europe Make It?

Now Scotland has had its say, who is next to vote?


The Scottish vote has shown it is possible to have an independence referendum for nations within the EU. So who are the likely candidates to go next?

Alex Sakalis
22 September 2014

Members of the European Free Alliance in Edinburgh on the day of the referendum. EFA. Some rights reserved.

The sight of representatives from some of the EU's "stateless nations" turning up in Edinburgh is a reminder that Europe is very much an unfinished continent. Many of these delegates came not just for the publicity, but also to observe the democratic process in action and take some of that knowledge back to their own nations. But of the aspiring countries present, which are the most likely to follow Scotland's lead and hold a referendum of their own?

Wikipedia. Public domain.


The most visible European independence movement outside of Scotland, Catalonia has its own culture and language and is arguably the economic powerhouse of Spain.

The raucous Catalans have seen their increasing desire for independence rewarded with a “self-determination referendum” to be held on 9 November 2014.

Catalan president Artus Mas, a recent convert to independence, is at loggerheads with the government in Madrid who say such a referendum is unconstitutional and have promised it will not go ahead. As we get closer to the vote, the tension will undoubtedly increase and it remains to be seen who will blink first in the lead up to the referendum date.

Recent polls suggest that region is fairly evenly split on the idea of becoming an independent country.


Demotix/Antonio Melita. Some rights reserved.


The wealthy, culturally distinct region of Veneto in northern Italy has already held its own “unofficial referendum” in March this year, where a majority of voters were in favour of independence. Although this referendum can hardly be considered definitive, it does give some indication to the feeling in the region.

Many Venetians resent the way they were initially incorporated into the Italian state, their lack of special autonomous status in the post-war Italian constitution, and the fact that they feel they are ‘handing over too much money to a venal and profligate Rome, which in turn hands over too much money to the impoverished and dysfunctional southern regions’.

The region has long been a stronghold of right-wing parties, especially the Lega Veneto (a chapter of the Lega Nord). The region’s president, Luca Zaia, has promised greater powers for the region, although this has been stymied somewhat by numerous allegations of corruption against him (this is still Italy after all).

Although an official referendum was approved by the Veneto regional council in June, the Italian government filed a complaint with the Constitutional Court. The outcome is almost certain to go in favour of Rome, but this still won’t put an end to the so-called “Venetian question.”


Wikipedia. Public domain.

South Tyrol

The small, mostly German-speaking province in north Italy has never been happy with its incorporation into the Italian state. Plucked from a crumbling Austro-Hungarian Empire in the dying days of the Great War, it forms an autonomous region in Italy alongside the mostly Italian-speaking province of Trentino.

Subject to a period of forced Italianisation by Mussolini, it emerged in the 1970s with a deal that gave it a high degree of self-rule and a guaranteed protection of minority rights. Today it is one of the wealthiest regions of, not just Italy, but the European Union.

Due to their distinct Austrian heritage, South Tyroleans feel uneasy about helping to prop up an Italian state they have little affinity for. Recently, Rome has asked them to contribute a significantly larger percentage of money to the central government, a request that was quickly rebuffed by the assembly in Bozen.

Governed by the pro-autonomy South Tyrolean People’s Party, secession remains a minority view, although it is growing. The pro-secession South Tyrolean Freedom Party organised an unofficial referendum in 2013, which showed a majority in favour of independence, although again this must be taken with a grain of salt.

It did however provoke a response from the Austrian prime minister, denying his country had any plans to annex the territory. With a rising support for independence parties in provincial elections, the “unofficial” referendum could soon lead to an “official” one.


Lorusso. Some rights reserved.


Despite its distinct culture and language, Sardinia differs from Veneto and South Tyrol in that it is one of the poorest regions of the European Union – something which has hindered independence movements. Numerous pro-independence parties exist – notably the Partito Sardo d’Azione – and new parties are being formed all the time, the most recent being the Canton Marittimo movement, which seeks to secede from Italy and become the 27th canton of Switzerland.

A 2012 motion to hold a referendum of independence was defeated in the regional assembly by one vote, however with the afterglow of the Scottish vote, there could well be another attempt soon to get a referendum motion passed.


Flickr/Frans Devriese. Some rights reserved.


Belgium’s continued existence has baffled people like Nigel Farage, who famously referred to it as a “non-country” during a speech to the European Parliament. He can probably find sympathy among the many voters of the New Flemish Alliance, which has recently become Flanders’ – and Belgium’s – largest party.

The party has been pushing for increased autonomy for the wealthy, Dutch speaking province, with the eventual secession of Flanders from Belgium being its end goal. The only problem is Brussels – a mostly French speaking enclave within Flanders. N-VA politicians believe it should be a part of an independent Flanders, while the people of Brussels are strongly against this happening.

The Brussels problem is arguably the reason Belgium is still with us today, and why a referendum on independence may be some way off for Flanders.


Flickr/Ari Brose. Some rights reserved.


Often dominated by images of bombings perpetrated by the National Liberation Front of Corsica, the Corsican nationalism movement has struggled to make political headway on the island. Many Corsicans see the French government as trying to suppress Corsican language and culture while ignoring the economic problems faced by the islanders.

A mealy-mouthed autonomy referendum was rejected in 2003, but as the mayor of Bastia, Corsica’s second city, said recently, “We are a people like the Scots with our traditions and our identity and we should also have the right to decide.” Any such demand for a referendum is certain to be rejected by France.


Flickr/Avi Dolgin. Some rights reserved.

The Basque region

Although the Basque region extends into France, it is in the Spanish part where nationalists have concentrated their efforts. With an ETA ceasefire and Scotland (and maybe Catalonia) setting a precedent, Inigo Urkullu Renteria, the first minister of the Basque regional government, has hinted that he will try to negotiate an agreement with the central government in Madrid. The last time a referendum on self-determination was to be held in the Basque Country was in 2008. It was blocked by Madrid.


Demotix/Graham Lawrence. Some rights reserved.


The Scottish debate has galvanised Wales into seeking a greater deal out of whatever “devolution revolution” comes out of the No vote. Although Wales has an active independence party, Plaid Cymru, with 11 out of 60 seats in the Welsh Assembly, support for independence remains a minority view, at least for now.


Wikipedia. Public domain


One of the unlikeliest delegations sent to observe the Scottish referendum came from Bavaria, where the Bavaria Party, which campaigns for independence from Germany, recently won its greatest share of the vote in the municipal elections since the 1960s.

Although that share of vote was just 2.1%, the Bavarian Party remains optimistic. “Because of the Scottish vote, the media will no longer find it easy to negate the issue or make it ridiculous,” said a party spokesman.

Angela Merkel’s spokesperson disagreed, calling the idea of Bavarian secession “absurd.” But then, as the old saying goes, all independence movements are small – until they’re not.

Or maybe they just stay small.

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