Today, for some reason, I did something I do from time to time. In looking at the plans and ideas and speculations for EU enlargement, I came across the stories about various secession movements within Europe and how they dealt with various secession movements. There seemed to be no consistency whatsoever in how the EU as a whole dealt with different de facto regimes as well as possible new nations. To examine the differences in how the EU as a whole sees different nations with regards to their de facto control over their de jure territory, there are four cases we can examine that show a wide variety of distinct responses to the same problem of secession. As a student of secession, my own views on the subject are rather complicated. There are some secession movements I have loudly supported , and others I have mocked rather mercilessly . Of course, as a relatively patriotic American citizen, I clearly support rebellion and secession on some grounds by virtue of my own national origin. Let us at least briefly look at some European examples, though, to see if it is possible to divine some kind of logic in the opposing positions on various secession movements.
Among the various secession movements within Europe, one of them is a candidate for joining the EU: Kosovo. Kosovo was the causus belli of a short 1999 war between NATO and Serbia, the result of which has been an anomalous position where Kosovo has had a fair degree of self-government but has not yet been recognized by enough nations to have a seat at the UN, which would get really awkward since its independence is mightily opposed by Serbia and Russia, which has been busy supporting all of the secession movements it can support in its former territories (like Moldova and Ukraine). Needless to say, 23 of 28 current EU nations have supported Kosovo’s bid for independence, so it can be said that most of the EU is willing to set aside their general dislike of secession in order to support lopping territory off of Serbia (which does appear to be one of the few consistent trends of recent European history, that Germans and most Europeans in general are willing to countenance nations winning their independence from Serbia without too much fuss). Given that two former Yugoslavian republics are already EU members (Slovenia and the newest member, Croatia), one can expect this to be a somewhat enduring trend.
Not all nations are as sanguine about the possibility of other breakaway bids. Among provinces of EU nations, perhaps Scotland and Catalonia (one could make a strong case for Flanders in Belgium as well) best represent the imminent threat of breaking up existing EU nations. As there has been no secession from a nation that was in the EU or its forerunners since Algeria in 1962, the EU does not really have any sort of mechanisms in place to provide for the smooth accession of a new nation, along with new terms for its membership, questions of currency and legal and governmental norms, while preserving the membership of the remaining nation. Although many observers are skeptical that the “Yes Scotland” campaign will actually achieve a “yes” vote for independence next month (currently it has around 40% support consistently in the polls I have been reading), it is at least a metaphysical possibility, not least because the voting age in the election is 16 and because Scotland is inhabited by rather independent-minded Scots. The same can be said of Catalonia, which has its own serious bid for independence, which has made the Spanish rather hostile to any independence movements in Europe at the moment, and understandably so. At least Spain’s position is consistent.
The cases of Moldova and Cyprus offer two different attitudes toward states that have trouble maintaining their internal integrity in the face of support from larger neighbors. Cyprus is an EU member (albeit somewhat of a peripheral case as a nation of the Levant) that has de jure control over an island whose northern third is a republic that is protected by Turkey and that has been in existence for longer than I have been alive without having achieved international recognition. Cyprus was allowed into the EU about a decade ago despite not having control over its entire territory, and the situation represents one of the major issues against Turkish entrance into the European Union as well. On the other hand, the European Union considers the fact that Moldova does not have control over its entire territory a knock on its bid for EU membership, despite the fact that its breakaway republic is supported by Russia, a nation that has made it clear that it does not respect the territorial integrity of its neighbors over and over again . Why should Moldova be knocked for something that Cyprus is given a pass on? And in the case of Northern Cyprus, how long does a nation have to be a de facto state before it is taken seriously? I mean, Northern Cyprus has been around for more than 35 years, or almost twice as long as the free city of Danzig survived after WWI. Longevity has to count for something, unless Cyprus is planning on taking some steps to provide enough autonomy and respect that Northern Cyprus would feel safe as part of a larger nation.
In short, Europe has a lot of division underneath its attempts at unification on various levels. No doubt Europeans are very aware of their divisions, and probably inclined to either blame them on someone or celebrate those divisions as signs of distinctive cultures that deserve to be recognized. The role of the EU as a unifier of various nations and peoples even as their constituent parts appear to be rather prone to fission is not something that the EU has really successfully addressed yet. What are the criteria by which the EU largely supports a secession movement (like Kosovo), ignores one completely (like Northern Cyprus), that one uses to club against another nation that might want EU membership (like Moldova), or that are the subject of ferocious squabbles (like Scotland or Catalonia). No one seems to know, not even me.
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