Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Politics and History

Transcending the National / Asserting the National: How Stateless Nations like Scotland, Wales and Catalonia React to European Integration (1)

Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Politics and History

Transcending the National / Asserting the National: How Stateless Nations like Scotland, Wales and Catalonia React to European Integration (1)

Article excerpt

The members of some of Europe's stateless nations belong to the more enthusiastic supporters of European integration in their respective states. What is perhaps more surprising is that even nationalists are in favour of it. Catalan nationalists have always stressed their "Europeanness". Welsh and Scottish nationalists, who initially rejected the European Community, changed their opinion, and now, at least to a degree, support the EU and "independence in Europe". How can minority nations, how can minority nationalists who assert their national identity not only accept, but in some cases even promote a process of European integration which may have started to "transcend the national"? If the EU is really undermining the nation-state, why should such nationalists be in favour of it? And if the contrary is true and the EU is defending the existing states in times of globalisation, then again: why should the minority nationalists be in favour?

In the short first section I will present my three cases. (2) In an equally short second section, I will summarise what the process of European integrations really "offers" to the minority nations. My third and much longer section will deal with strategies in response to European integration; I will analyse those of the governments as well as those of the nationalists. Finally, arguments will be presented about which manifestations of national identity might be strengthened by the European integration process. In this way, I hope to present a less simplistic vision of the relations between minority nationalism and European integration.

1. Asserting the National: The Three Nations and their Particularities

There are, of course, different conceptions of what national identity is. Some see it as a primordial asset, others stress its functional values. For many authors, "nations" are only the result of nationalism, not its cause. Here I cannot attempt to address basic questions of the theory of nationalism; for the purpose of this article, it is enough to present the main features of the three cases.

Comparison shows the considerable differences between the three nations and between their nationalist movements and parties. But the main difference lies in the role of the central state. Obviously, forty years of Francoism meant (even) more for Catalan society than the Thatcher years to Wales and Scotland. Catalonia could only resist because of the historical successes nationalism had already achieved, and because of a civil society which could rely on a relative economic overdevelopment in regard to the state as a whole, and on a language which could act as a unifying factor, because it was spoken by the middle classes and had a high prestige, and therefore was even attractive to the numerous working class immigrants from Southern Spain. Civil society, but rallied around institutions, was important for Scottish nationalism as well. Welsh and Scottish nationalists had to cope with a British state with a somehow fuzzy identity; the Spanish state was far more centralist and repressive. Catalonia is relatively well off in the Spanish context, Scotland now has an average GDP, and Wales is the poorest region on the British mainland. Important sections of the Catalan and the Welsh population are born outside the "homeland", whereas nearly everyone living in Scotland was born there. To be Scottish somehow has lower "costs" (3) than in the Catalan or Welsh case; just to live there is enough. The absence of the language factor is striking. On the other hand, historic statehood is strongest in Scotland, and the survival of its institutions in the Union (1707) is an important element of continuity. Catalan statehood was destroyed manu militari in 1714, and Wales was a politically united country only for a short period--and that was in the Middle Ages. In terms of political parties, differences are striking as well; nationalist parties are in government in Catalonia while Scotland and Wales are governed by statewide parties (Labour, in Scotland in coalition with the Liberal Democrats). …

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