The effects of the euro crisis on European finances are well-documented, but now it is stirring up longstanding ethnic crises as well. In Spain, more than 600,000 Catalan protesters have taken to the streets calling for more autonomy for their region, which has long been the economic powerhouse of Spain.
Catalonian separatism has a long history, but many Catalans are flocking to the movement in response to government programs that effectively transfer funds from wealthy Catalonia to more profligate regions of Spain. Catalan President Artur Mas has called for regional elections to be held two years early, which doesn’t bode well for national unity. He had some particularly strong words for the government in Madrid. The FT reports:
Even though there are many obstacles and difficulties, even though there are few precedents of situations like ours, and even though the Spanish government will respond to the process with hostility and resistance, everything is possible if there is a will, a large majority and the capacity to resist.
The FT also identifies the dilemma faced by Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy:
the situation poses real headaches for Rajoy, even if Catalonia ends up with neither tax autonomy nor independence any time soon. He knows that the more the central government clamps down and pushes for greater austerity in the regions, the more it boosts the secessionists.
If the Catalonians think they can leverage the Euro crisis into regional independence, they are probably grossly mistaken. Not only would Spain veto their bid to join the EU, the EU is above all a club of nation states. Its institutions can be counted on to fight secession. The Scots similarly misjudged their situation. Other EU countries will join Spain in resisting regional secession, since they are dealing with their own unwelcome independence movements.
As the Telegraph notes, a Spanish colonel thought it appropriate to bring up the Spanish Civil War, vowing to crush Catalan nationalist “vultures.” Although we are unlikely to see a return to the horrible days Orwell chronicled in Homage to Catalonia, the Euro crisis is definitely stirring up long-brewing national conflicts within its member states. In Europe, it seems, things just keep getting worse.