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By Global Public Square
A curious thing happened in the days following Barack Obama’s re-election. A group of Texans filed a petition on a White House website – they wanted Texas to secede from the not-so-United States of America. Within a few days, there were tens of thousands of signatures. The movement spread still further, encompassing each of the fifty states in the union. It’s a ridiculous exercise, of course, that will go nowhere. But there are some real secessionist impulses across the Atlantic.
Europe might soon have a new independent state.
Look at Catalonia, a region in the northeast corner of Spain that includes the city of Barcelona.
Earlier this month, Catalans held parliamentary elections. A majority of the winners campaigned on a platform of secession. The vote follows an unprecedented demonstration in September, when about one million Catalans marched the streets of Barcelona demanding statehood. To put this in perspective, the entire population of Catalonia is only about 7.5 million. The next step could be a public referendum on breaking away.
Or consider Scotland, which has already reached that point. In October, British Prime Minister David Cameron agreed to a deal allowing Scots to vote in 2014 as to whether they want to secede.
And then there’s the strange case of Belgium. In the northern region of Flanders, the people speak Dutch. But in the Southern region of Wallonia, they speak French. The North is more prosperous than the South. So in October, the people of Flanders elected a set of local leaders who want to break away from Belgium.
Across Europe, why are breakaway parties gaining so much momentum? Well, as with all things, it is the economy at heart.
According to Catalonia's leading daily, La Vanguardia, only 57 percent of national taxes paid by Catalans is returned to Catalonia. The rest is filtered to Spain’s poorer regions.
Scots also have an eye on economics, even though Scotland is much poorer than England. The Scots believe that breaking away now would rid them of London’s austerity plans; plus they would get to drill for oil in the North Sea. But they are careful to calculate the costs and benefits. Last year, Scots were polled on how they viewed independence. When it was put to them that separation would make them richer by 500 pounds a year, 65 percent said they would vote for independence, and 24 percent against. But if independence made them worse off by the same amount, the results flipped – 66 percent against independence; only 21 percent for. Remember, 500 pounds is only about $800. Adam Smith, a Scot, would be proud.
Europe’s economic problems are straining ancient fault lines. Richer regions like Catalonia, Flanders, also northern Italy resent having to, in effect, bail out their neighbors. But there’s an irony. If you apply that argument across the continent, the Eurozone itself would fall apart (perhaps starting with the departure of Germany.) And by the way, if we applied that logic in America, states like New York, California, and Connecticut could point out that, in effect, they subsidize states like Alabama, Mississippi, and Montana – states that are ironically the most fervent advocates of states rights and small government.