A push for more regionalism or nationalism?
On 25 May the EU-electorate has chosen a new EU-Parliament for the next 5 years. Ever since in such elections the turn-out has shrunken from poll to poll (in 2009 it reached just 43% in the whole EU), but this time this trend was stopped. Not surprisingly in some important member countries right-wing nationalist forces have won, as in Great Britain, France and Denmark. This result has been labelled as a rising anti-EU-mood among large parts of the Union, as a kind of rebellion against the increasing power of the bureaucracy in Brussels. On the other hand also several regionalist forces have scored a good result, and three quarters of the seats are still hold by the 5 major European parties. How can this result of the EU-polls of 2014 be read from a regionalist perspective?
Parties and political forces heading for self-determination have been backed in several European regions and nations without a state. Traditionally the strongest of such parties are the Catalans, Basques and Galicians from Spain: not less than 9 on a total of 54 new MEPs of Spain are advocating sovereignty for their community. In Great Britain the Scottish National Party obtains two seats, as well as the Welsh party Plaid Cymru, in favour of an extended autonomy, whereas Sinn Fein, the voice of Irish independence, got only one seat. In Italy the Lega Nord embraces separatist and regionalist forces in several Northern regions, has got 5 seats in the EU-parliament, whereas the only minority representative is the South Tyrolean MEP of the SVP. In Belgium the New Flemish Alliance, advocating a stronger federalism, has become the first party in Flandern, whereas Belgiums’s German minority is represented by one MEP.
In Eastern European countries as well ethnic minorities could gain a represention in the EU-Parliament:
- Slovakia: the Hungarian minority won two seats.
- Romania: the Hungarian minority won also two seats, struggling for territorial autonomy for Szeklerland (Transilvania).
- Finland: one MEP represents the Swedish speaking Finnish citizens.
- Latvia: one MEP has been elected for the Party for Human Rights, on behalf of the strong Russian minority
- Lithuania: the Russian minority has formed a coalition with the Polish one and sends one MEP to Brussels.
- Bulgaria: the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, mostly backed by the Turkish minority has scored three seats like in 2009. Thus, also ethnic Turks will have a voice in the EU.
Thus, Europe’s political landscape has turned out complicated as ever, even a bit contradictory. As the EU-principles in electoral systems impose a proportional electoral system, the results of this poll reflect quite exactly the political dynamics emerging in the continent as a whole. While the rise of nationalist, right-wing anti-EU populist forces is worrying (France, GB, Denmark, Austria, Hungary) in other member-countries political forces of minority nations and ethnic minorities could strengthen their position. On this background different political tensions can be distinguished: on the one hand the conflict between a push for deeper integration (fully rejected in GB and now even seen critically even in France and Italy, traditionally very EU-friendly) and for a transfer of some powers back to the member-states. On the other hand many regions and stateless nations advocating a stronger autonomy or the exercise of self-determination have their foot inside the EU, but they are fully sticking to the EU-membership of their community. It has to be pointed out, that the EU as a union of sovereign states has no powers to interfere upon the internal structure of its member-states. It is even not clear whether a seceding region automatically preserves its membership in the EU or has to apply for membership again.
Thus, very different political issues are currently represented inside the EU-Parliament, and indeed this is mirroring Europe’s political reality, made up by 28 states with different historical background and expectations, and about 90 peoples and ethnic communities living in those countries. Europe’s challenge is to host this complexity in one political union, which still is no federal State. What should be emphasized here ist that seeking more regional, internal or external self-determination is not in contrast with the project of an ever more deeper European integration. Be it Catalan, Scotch, Flemish heading for secession, be it South Tyrolean, Sardinian or Hungarians of Romania or Corsicans asking an enlarged autonomy – both is compatible with the European Union, Most of those movements stress their interest to keep their community as a part of the EU, while extending their regional degree of self-determination.
P.S. In order to have a better idea on Europe’s ethnic variety please see my publication on the issue: “Europe’s Ethnic Mosaic, on: