President Wilson, in his “Fourteen Points” after World War One, had endorsed the right to self-determination which brought into being a host of new nation states such as the Baltic republics and, confusingly, Czechoslovakia. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 there was a rush to exchange the closed borders of the Warsaw Pact for the open boundaries of the EU as well as a return of sovereignty to the Baltic states. At the same time the collapses of the USSR and Yugoslavia placed a number of new states on the map. These are the principal causes of the sovereignty issues across Europe, though not entirely within the EU. Plus, we have the question “Where does Europe end?”
Within the EU a more ancient map is reasserting itself. The best example of this is in the United Kingdom. The name derives from the Union of the Kingdoms of Scotland and England in 1707, though the English had already conquered Ireland and added it to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The UK consists of an Anglo-Saxon/French core surrounded by much older Celtic societies (Scots, Welsh and Irish). The first to go was Ireland, which de facto became self-governing in 1922 and a Republic in 1937. On September 18th of last year, Scotland held a referendum on a simple yes/no vote about independence. This was rejected 55%-45%, but the issue remains very much alive, and the pro-Independence Scots-Nationalist Party dominates politics in Scotland. The Welsh, curiously, seem little interested in the issue of independence having achieved autonomy, and have voted decisively against statehood when they had the opportunity. So there is still a question hanging over how “United” the UK will remain.
Probably the main contenders for statehood are Catalonia and the Basque Country — both within the Kingdom of Spain. The Basque country has maintained a force for independence that maintained, until recently, an armed struggle against the central government in Madrid. Both territories secured autonomy under the Left-Wing government that held power in Spain in the 1930's, but were put down by Franco’s forces when the Communists were defeated. Though Spain was returned to democracy the constitution forbids any referendum of the sort that the British held in Scotland and so there is no definitive way for the Catalans to decide on secession. More and more “autonomy” is handed over to these regions — but this leaves them as regions, not the states the nationalists want to see.
While potential states are lurking, there is also the curious case of Belgium — which in many ways does not seem to exist any longer. De facto the two parts — a Flemish (Dutch) north and a Walloon (French) south have functioned as though independent for some time and Belgium went for eighteen months without a government. The state is kept alive by the presence of Brussels — right in the middle, and maybe to some extent, the Monarchy. Of course, Belgium never was a nation like France or Scotland, but a curious amalgam of bits of two other culture. Were it not for Brussels, I am sure, Belgium would have left us some time ago.
Within the EU exists another curiosity: Cyprus. How Cyprus was admitted to the EU is one of life’s great mysteries, since the government that signed the accession does not control one-third of the country and this very complete division has been the case since the UN intervened in 1974. The Turkish army of occupation/liberation recognizes this as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. No other country in the world recognises it. The rest of Europe recognises the Nicosia government which cannot even go there. A new federation eventually? It has been forty-one years.
Both Sardinia and Corsica have independence movements. That in Sardinia sports 12 independence parties, which is one reason they don’t win elections, though they garner, collectively, about 24% of the vote. One of the nationalist parties advocates becoming a canton of Switzerland (Cantonmarittimo).
The Western Balkans provides two mysteries of sovereignty — neither of which are close to EU accession. Bosnia and Hercegovina really functions as three entities, two of them not even using the BiH currency, flying different flags etc. There is a real question about where the sovereignty is in this soup; though Cyprus demonstrates that this level of total confusion does not inhibit membership. Then there is Kosovo. Whether that exists or not depends on where you come from. In 2014 108 out of 193 (56%) United Nations (UN) member states, 23 out of 28 (82%) European Union (EU) member states, 24 out of 28 (86%) NATO member states, and 34 out of 57 (60%) Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) member states have recognised Kosovo. But, it seems to be a fixture on the map-unless, that is, it becomes part of that “Greater Albania” that is such a feature on YouTube.
In conclusion we still have Moldova, surely part of Europe, still outside the EU, just like (most of) Ukraine next door. But, east of Moldova and still de jure part of it, is Transnistria. Like North Cyprus, it is unrecognised but carries on anyway—for a quarter of a century to date. They want to unite with Russia. The problem here is that the whole of Ukraine lies between Russia and Transnistria.
So there is plenty to keep the cartographers happy. Europe is not done yet.
The article was published in “Life” magazine (17 april 2015)