Battlelines drawn for independence

Leaders of the Flemish nationalists in Belgium, the Catalans in Spain and Italy’s Venetians said they still have momentum on their side, despite the ‘No’ vote in Scotland.

“Whether it was a ‘no’ or a ’yes’ vote, the main thing is that the process has started,” Gerolf Annemans, leader of the Vlaams Belang, or Flemish Interest party, said in an a phone interview. “You can’t say this is a clear vote for unity. The process of autonomy and national identity can’t be stopped.”

Separatists across Europe that had been energized by the Scottish nationalists’ push for independence were drawing breath today after voters opted to remain with the U.K. by about 10 percentage points. That leaves the Catalans as the most likely candidate to test EU leaders’ insistence that newly independent states will have to reapply for membership and face a period in the wilderness before reclaiming its full rights.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier all welcomed the vote, which shores up the constitutional status quo in the 28-member bloc.

“I think this is a good decision for Scotland, Great Britain and Europe,” Steinmeier said in a statement.

Roger Albinyana, head of the foreign affairs department of the Catalan regional government, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television today that his movement is still determined to hold a referendum, despite the opposition of the national government in Madrid.

“There is a strong determination from the Catalan people,” Albinyana said. “We’ll do our best to hold that vote.”

Rajoy — who today said Scotland had avoided “grave social, economic, institutional, political consequences” of a split — has pledged to prevent Catalans voting on independence from Spain in a ballot Regional President Artur Mas has penciled in for November. The Catalan Parliament is set to approve the legal framework for the referendum today and Mas’s allies are urging him to defy the legal threats from the central government.

Mas today told reporters in Barcelona that Catalonia will push on with its independence referendum, and that a vote is the only way to resolve conflicts between Catalonia and the rest of Spain.

Gianluca Busato, who organized an unofficial referendum in March that called for independence of the Veneto region in northeast Italy, said economic arguments appeared to have won out in Scotland, the exact same reason why he said his region will eventually choose independence.

What the Catalans do regarding independence will likely have an impact on Spain’s Basques, who already have some autonomy.

The Basque region on the border between Spain and France has long sought independence. Around 150,000 Basques formed a 123km-long human chain on June 8 in a “Right to Decide” event.

The organizers of the Veneto vote said 2.36 million people voted in March, with 89 percent approving independence. Busato said Scotland’s experience shows the need for a more professionally prepared referendum next time.

“The oppressive fiscal transfers from Veneto to the rest of Italy are apparent for all to see,” Busato said in a phone interview. “For the Scottish, independence may have appeared more of a gamble.’

Source: Bloomberg