Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Quebec: no need for readmission

Given that it is the only significant independence movement in the developed world outside Europe, the cause of Quebec secession is often used as an example in discussions of separatism in the European context. And so it was perhaps not surprising that at an event at the European Parliament last week about independence movements within the EU, a Quebecer was on hand to share his experiences.

The European Free Alliance (EFA), a collection of seven separatist members of the European Parliament from Scotland, Wales, Corsica, Flanders, the Russian community in Latvia and the Basque Country, hosted the event on “the right to decide” last Wednesday (13 November). The group sits in a sometimes uncomfortable common group with the Greens, who notably had little by way of promotion of the event on the group’s website.

In addition to Quebec, the event looked at the independence referendum situations in Scotland, Catalonia, the Basque Country, Wales and Galicia.

Europe has long had a strange relationship with Quebecois separatism. The situation in Belgium is often compared to that of Canada. France has been a strong supporter of Quebecois separatism, while simultaneously suppressing separatist movement sin Corsica, Brittany and Savoy. But are there really lessons for Europe from Quebec’s experience?

Daniel Turp, a former Quebec MP, spoke about referendums for independence or autonomy being a fundamental human right. The European speakers noted that the desire for greater autonomy or independence is on the rise in Europe. They also stressed that these movements would benefit the EU because they are largely pro-European, and their strategy for independence relies on EU membership.

But would Quebec independence benefit the EU? It would certainly throw a spanner in the works for the EU-Canada free trade agreement just agreed. Would an additional country in North America, which would arguably feel closer to continental Europe than to an Anglo-Saxon model, be a boon to Brussels?

Of course the elephant in the room last week was the fact that Quebec separation would actually be much easier than any of the European movements. Unlike in Spain or the UK, Canada already has a federal model of government. And Quebec would likely not have to deal with other provinces vetoing their exit for fear of encouraging their own separatist movements.

While the separatists speak of the EU as enabling their independence economically, they may forget that it is the EU which throws up the greatest roadblock. After all, Spain may very threaten to veto Scottish accession to the EU if it looks like next year’s independence referendum will succeed. EU accession requires unanimity.

Any country wary of their own domestic separatists would be reticent to give the appearance that any region can break away, join the EU and get their own commissioner, vote in the European Council, higher representation in the Parliament and dedicated funding. It may be that a member states borders were frozen in time when they joined the EU, because separation once joining would then set a precedent for other regions. Luckily for Quebec, it does not have to deal with this problem.

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