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Understanding the separatist threat

29 February 2016

As the risk of Brexit dominates the headlines, it is easy to forget that across the EU an array of member states are battling to contain independence movements within their own borders. This week Policy Network takes stock of the situations in a variety of countries and considers the factors currently influencing the success of separatist groups.

Roberto Robles argues that Spain faces the most active separatist challenge in Europe in Catalonia, where many previously moderate nationalists have been converted to the cause of separatism. With nearly half of voters actively wishing to break away, Robles envisages an “increased disconnect – both social and political between Catalonia and the rest of Spain”.

Conversely, the threat has subsided in the Basque Country, the region historically plagued by separatist terror group Eta. Koldo Casla identifies “institutional, historical and strategic” factors at play, arguing that these are all linked to the economic crisis.

Wim Vermeersch identifies a paradox whereby an independent Flemish state appears increasingly unlikely, despite the strong performance of nationalists who have dominated in recent elections. He argues this is the result of the complexity of Belgium’s federal state.

In Italy, Francesco Rocchetti finds that Matteo Renzi’s electoral reforms look set to transform the impact of localised groups on the national political scene. Taking inspiration from the Spanish political system, “the majority prize will only be given to parties and not to coalitions, to the detriment of regional parties”.

Finally, Teona Surmava considers whether the solidity of the EU itself is threatened by secession plans within individual member states. There is a complex interaction here, with many groups hoping to achieve national independence but desiring to remain within the EU.

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