Beyond Catalonia, Taking Stock of Europe's Separatist Movements

Nov 6, 2017 | 10:00 GMT

Students gather in Barcelona in support of the Catalonian independence movement, Sept. 28.

Students gather in Barcelona in support of the Catalonian independence movement, Sept. 28. While the Catalan cause resonates with other European self-determination movements, they are unlikely to follow suit just yet. 

(DAN KITWOOD/Getty Images)


  • Events in Catalonia have left several EU member states concerned about autonomist and secessionist movements within their borders, some of which might be the next to rise up.
  • Self-determination movements in Europe face their own dilemma, however; many sympathize with the Catalan cause but have little interest in making the same unilateral moves. 
  • Secessionist movements will remain a moderate threat to the territorial integrity of several EU countries, but the Catalan crisis probably won't accelerate their progress.

It's no secret that the geography of Europe invites fragmentation. Its mountain chains, peninsulas and unconnected rivers led to hundreds of cultural pockets with unique languages and identities. Centuries of war, invasion and forced migration further redefined political and ethnic borders, resulting in a Continent overcrowded with sovereign states. About a quarter of all the countries in the world are in Europe, and within almost every one are smaller groups demanding greater political, economic and cultural rights. That is why Catalonia's push for secession from Spain makes the European Union nervous. In the past few decades, not many self-determination movements within Europe have reached the magnitude of Catalonia's. And other nations are closely watching the region's instability, fearing that it might ignite their own separatist forces. But while many EU members will need to confront factors similar to those that drove the Catalan secessionists, each specific movement is different, existing within...

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