Blog AnalysisEuropean policy

Independence, self-determination, Europe returns to a traditional position

(credit: Estonian EU Presidency)

(B2) By not endorsing or supporting Catalan autonomy in one way or another, Europe is in the process of changing its ideological position on both self-determination and regional autonomy. No more express or covert support for independence splitting states, putting the idea of ​​a Europe of regions under wraps. Europe aligns itself with a very traditional position in terms of sovereignty and respect for borders, quite close to the traditional position of… Beijing. Explanations…

A pro-independence position?

In the 1990s-2000s, and even in the 2010s, at the international level, Europe often supported secessionist movements: in Slovenia or Croatia (with respect to Yugoslavia), in Kosovo (with respect to -vis Serbia), in Éritrea (against Ethiopia) or even in South Sudan (against the power of Khartoum). When Czechoslovakia separated in 1991, Brussels did nothing to counter the movement, even though it had already begun a rapprochement with the EEC. On Somaliland (facing Somalia), she was much more cautious when announcing a change.

The Libyan turnaround

The European turnaround can be clearly observed on the Libyan question. During the civil conflict of 2011, Europeans were rather hostile to any separation between East and West. A position which held despite very different preferences between Europeans – especially Italians –, some rather supporting Tripoli, others rather Benghazi.

The Russian interventionist

In the meantime, several events have changed the situation. First of all, Russian interventionism, in 2008 first in South Ossetia and Abkhazia (Georgian provinces) then in 2014 in Crimea and in the eastern provinces of Ukraine, shows all the danger or versatility of the right to self-determination.

A weak result of independence supported by Europe

Then, the first results of the new regimes or new states supported by Europe (Kosovo and South Sudan in particular) were not really striking. Kosovo is consumed by ambient corruption and endless political quarrels, despite notable human and financial support. South Sudan has descended into war and anarchy, not to mention Eritrea which has fallen into a real dictatorship.

All these elements have only reinforced this European return to the dogma of respect for international borders. A point dedicated by the President of the European Council Donald Tusk who affirmed in a tweet in reaction to the self-proclamation of the independence of Catalonia that “ this changes nothing for the EU. Spain remains our only interlocutor (1).

The end of a regionalist idea

The Catalan affair is also about to silence European claims to a Europe of regions. This idea, developed in the 1990s and 2000s, imagined a European executive certainly in dialogue with the States but also not refraining from discussing with the regions, even advocating a direct dialogue, in particular with the management of structural funds.

This trend had already lost ground since the economic crisis of 2008-2010 when we saw the benefit of having more solid state structures. But also in the face of the very real risk of European fragmentation with centrifugal tendencies in several countries (in the north of Italy, in Spain, in Belgium, in the United Kingdom, even in Germany with Bavaria, etc.). A resurgence of this “Girondine” (regionalist) tendency nevertheless remains perceptible, as shown by the reception with great fanfare of the Scottish leader in the aftermath of Brexit.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, did not say anything else during a trip to Guyana, according to AFP. “ Cracks must be avoided because there are enough cracks and fractures. We don't need more cracks and more fractures. […] I would not like the European Union to consist of 95 states tomorrow ».

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

(1) He added as an echo of the underlying European concern in the face of a hardening of Madrid's position: “ I hope that the Spanish government will favor the strength of arguments and not the arguments of force ».

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).