Brexit, Catalonia test EU resolve against nationalism

File photo. Photograph:( Others )

AFP London, United Kingdom Dec 19, 2017, 07.09 AM (IST)

From the hammer blow of Brexit to turbulence in Catalonia, new forms of nationalism are testing the relevance and unity of the European Union, analysts say.

The crisis in Spain served as a stark reminder of the fault lines that run through Europe, with a country's central government battling a region whose leaders want to break away.

In Britain, the cry for sovereignty brought 17.4 million people to the polls to vote for Brexit in June 2016.

Campaigners also played on anger about having to fund the EU -- arguing that it imposed bureaucratic rules from afar and prevented the country from engaging with the rest of the world.

In Catalonia, emotional arguments dating back to the Franco dictatorship combined with economic issues to fuel calls for independence.

"The nationalists understood that in developed and prosperous regions, you can no longer simply appeal to the idea of historic oppression", said Bruno Yammine, a Belgium-based historian.

"Economic arguments have now legitimised cultural and ethnic nationalism, especially by renouncing fiscal solidarity with poorer regions", he added.

The "Brexiteers" argued that money currently being paid by London to the EU would be better spent on the public health service, despite their financial figures being hotly disputed.

In Barcelona, "there was the idea of a Catalonia that could be an international platform within the framework of the EU, a North American style of the platform that could bring additional growth", said Andres de Blas Guerrero, a political scientist at Spain's National University of Distance Education.

Other sentiments seized on by populist nationalists include the threat of immigration to national identity and a rejection of elites.

For Renaud Thillaye, European Affairs analyst at Flint Global in London, a management consultancy, the success of nationalism is linked "on the one hand to corruption and the discrediting of traditional parties, and the thirst for more local democracy.

"On the other hand, there is a need for cultural anchoring around a common language and heritage at a time when everything is moving very fast and the artificial character of nation-states is all the more apparent".

Against this backdrop, nationalists have been able to paint supra-national bodies such as the EU as instruments of globalisation, which they blame for reinforcing the domestic wealth gap and testing national solidarity.

Thillaye said the EU wants to avoid the proliferation of states at all costs and is doing everything possible to discourage independence movements, whether it be in Scotland, Catalonia or Corsica, who may at one point have seen the EU as an ally in their fight against the central state.