Flemish leader says Belgium is doomed

Bart De Wever in EP.jpg

The stronger Europe becomes, the less important nation states become, Flemish separatist leader Bart de Wever said at the European Parliament yesterday (9 November). He said his own country, Belgium, is doomed.

De Wever, leader of the New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) party that became the biggest political force after the June 2010 elections, pleaded for further transfer of power to "nations" such as Flanders from the "old states" like Belgium. However, he indicated that the declining power of traditional states was "a gradual process, not a revolution".

The statements were made at a conference of independence movements from across the EU. It was organised in the European Parliament by the Green/European Free Alliance group (see background).

No to the 'old states', yes to EU

Like the other speakers, De Wever spoke positively about the EU. He said that thanks to the Union, the traditional states had lost the monopoly of sovereignty, were headed for a common foreign policy, and in many cases ditched their national currency for the euro.

"N-VA is a pro-European Party, we believe in subsidiarity," De Wever said.

On the same line of other speakers, he argued that smaller countries are more efficient in decision-making and economic reform.

De Wever, however, represented the only separatist movement which, if successful in pursuing its goals, would probably lead to the end of a EU member country in its current form. The other speakers represented the Scottish National Party (SNP), the Catalan Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) and the Basque Amaiur (Eusko Alkartasuna) separatist coalition. The flags of the Wales Plaid Cymru party, advocating for an independent Welsh state, and that of the Corsican Partitu Di A Nazione Corsa, flew at the podium.

The gathering was hosted by László Tökés, vice-president of the EP (EPP, Romania), who advocated the rights of Székely Land, the territories in Romania populated mainly by a Hungarian-speaking ethnic group in eastern Transilvania. Tökés, a former anti-communist leader, blasted the Romanian authorities for "refusing dialogue" on the region's language disputes.

Some of the speakers argued that the current economic crisis provided additional arguments for pushing towards independence.

The euro crisis seen as catalyst

Rafael Larreina, representative of the Basque Amaiur (Eusko Alkartasuna) separatist coalition, said there was a danger that Spain would become a failed state because of its serious economic straits. He said the best solution for the Basque country would be independence.

Marta Rovira, secretary-general of the Catalan ERC, said her nation wanted to become a new EU member and gain in prosperity by collecting its own taxes.

Regarding the independence prospects of Catalonia, Rovira basically said that the Spanish constitutional court was blocking any attempt to hold a referendum. She hinted that a unilateral secession could be an option.

"Without violence everything is possible. We don't believe borders are intangible," she said.

Scotland leads the way?

Scotland, the European region arguably the closest to independence, was represented at the event by MEP Ian Hudghton. He wowed the audience with a long video from the recent Scottish National Party (SNP) annual conference held in Inverness featuring a speech of his leader Alex Salmond.

The SNP is the largest party in the Scottish Parliament with 68 of 129 seats.

"One thing we know with certainty is that there will be a referendum on the future of Scotland, and that the people of Scotland will be given the opportunity of choosing independence," Hudghton said, adding that it would be held in the latter part of the five-year tenure of the Scottish Parliament.

Lieven Tack, visiting professor at the College of Europe in Warsaw, said that what Europe needed was "a Control+Alt+Delete institutional reboot". He explained that this would go in the direction of institutional dissolution of the nation state and to the profit of regionalisation.

Dr Alan Sandry, lecturer in Social and Political Theory at the University of Wales, argued that the EU would be stronger if its economic priorities would be based on regional projects. He pleaded that if the European Free Alliance group of the European parliament would not take up the issues further, extremists would act.

Alfonso González of the Universitat Rovira I Virgili, Tarragona, said that "internal enlargement" of the EU would take place when some nations would acquire independence. No norms exist for such enlargement, he said, but was categorical that the EU would need to accept the membership of those new members.

The European Free Alliance (EFA) Group in the European Parliament has seven representatives, from Scotland, Wales, Flanders, Catalonia, Corsica and Latvia. EFA MEPs advance the cause of Europe's stateless nations, regions and disadvantaged minorities.

EFA members of the European Parliament are part of the Greens/European Free Alliance group in the Parliament, forming a common parliamentary group since the European elections of 1999.

According to its website, EFA also has member parties in the Basque Country, Galicia, Sardinia, Aosta Valley and elsewhere that have been represented in the European Parliament. Across Europe, EFA member parties are in government in several different countries, regions or stateless nations.

A booklet published by EFA contains the coordinates of the separatist Bayern Partei in Germany; Chunta Aragonista in Spain; Partitu di a Nazione Corsa; Ligue Savoisienne; Partit Occitan and Unser Land (Le Parti Alsacien) in France; Lista za Rjeku in Croatia; Liga Veneta in Italy; OMO Olinden Pirin in Bulgaria; Ruch Autonomii ?l?ska in Poland; Strana Regionov Slovenska in Slovakia, among others.

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