Italy’s general elections two weeks ago resulted in an absolute majority for Silvio Berlusconi’s rightist alliance. Mr. Berlusconi thanks his victory to the astonishing and pivotal electoral success of the Lega Nord, a constituent of his alliance. The Northern League completely wiped away the left in the north of Italy. It doubled in size and won a stunning 8.3% of the national vote, sending 60 deputies (+37) and 26 senators (+13) to Rome. In some northern regions it had the support of up to 50% of the electorate.
Though the League campaigned on anti-immigration issues it is first of all a regionalist, indeed, separatist, party. Its opposition to unrestricted immigration results from its adherence to and love for the local entities whose identity it wants to preserve. As Roberto Mura, the League’s leader in the province of Pavia, says: “I know we’ve got to live with immigration, but the rules have to be respected. The League has been saying so for fifteen years. We’re now reaping the reward for the coherence and clarity of our project to defend the territory.”
The party’s full name “Lega Nord per l’Indipendenza della Padania” (Northern League for the Independence of Padania) refers to Padania, the collective name used to denote the various regions of northern Italy (such as Lombardy, Venice, Tuscany, and others). The League is made up of several parties (including the Lega Lombarda, the Liga Veneta, the Alleanza Toscana, and others) that want to restore to their regions the sovereignty that they enjoyed prior to the formation of the Italian State in the 19th century.
Europe remains an amalgam of multinational states. From Scotland to Wales, Catalonia to Corsica, and Flanders to Padania, strong regional identities seek greater autonomy if not outright independence, following the examples of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, the Baltics, etc.
In the United Kingdom, the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru aim for the independence of Scotland and Wales respectively. Last year the SNP won the Scottish regional elections. In Belgium the Flemish secessionist party, Vlaams Belang, is the largest party in Flanders. On the Faroe Islands secessionist parties form a majority coalition in the territorial government. In Spain, regionalist and independence parties are strong in Catalonia and the Basque country.
According to the politically correct view, closer political integration is good; disintegration and secession is bad. The bureaucrats of the European Union in Brussels claim that economic prosperity has increased dramatically with increased political unification. In reality, political centralization and market integration are different phenomena. Political integration involves the territorial expansion of a state’s powers of taxation and property regulation. Economic integration is the extension of the interpersonal and interregional division of labor and market participation.
In general, the smaller a country and its internal markets the more likely it is that it will opt for free trade. If the government of a small country taxes and regulates its own subjects visibly more than its neighbors, people will move. Certainly if they do not need to go far. This is the situation which prevailed in the most prosperous parts of mediaeval Europe, such as the Low Countries, the Rhine basin, the Hanseatic cities along the German and Baltic shores, Southern Germany and Northern Italy.
One frequently hears from politically correct political scientists and journalists that the growing success of secessionist movements in Europe is the result of the supranational integration within the EU. It is argued that the regionalists benefit from EU integration. In reality, supranational political integration is the opposite of secession. Unfortunately, the misguided view is also adhered to by many of the so-called secessionist and regionalist political parties in contemporary Western Europe. One may wonder to what extent these parties are truly secessionist. They almost seem to be useful idiots advancing the goals of the Brussels Eurocracy to undermine European nation-states. Indeed, if they did not exist, Brussels would benefit from inventing them.
Take Scotland, for example. It benefits significantly from European subsidies. Is this a coincidence? It has certainly convinced the Scottish National Party that Scotland can become a viable country if the United Kingdom is dissolved, on condition, however, that Scotland remains a member of the EU. Hence the SNP, which is currently in power in Edinburgh, aims for an independent Scotland firmly entrenched within the European Union.
In reality both SNP aims, dissolving Britain while at the same time strengthening the EU, are contradictory. Why become independent from London in order to give up one’s sovereignty to Brussels? One may wonder whether the SNP really wants an independent Scotland at all since it seems ready to exchange one Leviathan for another even bigger and more dangerous one.
Perhaps if the Scots leave the United Kingdom to become a province of Europe, England can secede from the EU and, together with Flanders and the regions of Northern Italy, join Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Iceland and Norway – the family of truly sovereign nations which are assembled in EFTA, the European Free Trade Association, and do not want to be part of the EU, the European superstate in the making.
This piece was originally published in The Washington Times on May 1, 2008 .