One of the consequences of the European Union is the way it has, in some senses, increased support for nationalist parties in nations now confined within the borders of another state (Flanders, Catalonia, and Scotland, to name but three). The fact that, say, Catalonia could remain (probably; it’s not quite as straightforward as you might think) within the EU has made independence seem like a safer option than would otherwise be the case.
This is undeniably the case in Belgium, an artificial, unhappy construction that has been drifting apart for years.
Flemish nationalists made sweeping gains across northern Belgium in local elections on Sunday, a success that will bolster separatists’ hopes for a break-up of the country. Bart De Wever, leader of the New Flemish Alliance (NVA), is set to become mayor of the northern city of Antwerp, Belgium’s economic heartland, after his party emerged as the largest one, ending about 90 years of socialist rule. Soon after the ballot results were made public, Mr De Wever, who had turned the tough mayoral race into a referendum on Flander’s independence for Belgium, demanded that the country’s prime minister give greater independence to the Dutch-speaking north.
But note this too:
The strong result recorded by the Flemish nationalist is likely to have an impact across Europe, where the sovereign debt crisis, which has seen rich countries bail out poor ones, has revived separatist sentiment throughout the continent. Flanders, which is the most economically prosperous region of Belgium, has long resented financing the ailing economy of French-speaking Wallonia, and Sunday’s victory will strengthen its demand for self-rule.
Despite sharing the same country for close to two centuries, the Flemings resent “bailing out” those — the Walloons — who they feel to be foreign. That’s a precedent — and there are quite a few others that deliver the same message — that ought to be studied carefully in Berlin. The idea that looting German, Dutch, Finnish, or Estonian taxpayers to support southern Europe for, in all certainty, a very long time indeed, in some sort of euro-zone “transfer union” is not a recipe for harmony, whatever the dimwits and fanatics of Brussels or the Nobel Peace Prize Committee may feel. If anything, it will ensure the opposite.
And on that topic, keep an eye on the latest developments in Catalonia.