On Friday, October 13, 2017 Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, stated the following: “But if you allow Catalonia – and it is not up to us of course – to become independent, other people will do the same. I don’t like that. I don’t like to have a euro in 15 years that will be 100 different states. It is difficult enough with 17 states. With many more states it will be impossible,” The Guardian, 10/14/2017.

There are some important points to this:Is the independence of a region currently inside a EU state “not up to us of course?”. Of course, it is not, but this does not entail that the EU has no influence or responsibility. An independent Catalonia (or Scotland, for that matter) would, on current rules, have to apply for EU membership or to belong in the single market.

Is it conceivable that as many as “100 different states” might adopt the euro? Leaving aside the difference between joining the EU and adopting the euro as a currency (central as it is to a long-standing division within the Alternative für Deutschland), the idea of “100 different states” is not far-fetched. There seems to be potential secessionism or division all over the place. There are Russians in the Balkan states, and Germans in Bavaria and even in Denmark, and there is a patchwork in eastern Europe. It is not only in Spain (the Catalonian and Basque regions) or Belgium, which is well-known (see, for example, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_active_separatist_movements_in_Europe). Even in Sweden, where I live, there are secessionist movements in Jämtland (neighbouring Norway) and Skåne (neighbouring Denmark). Åland, a Swedish-speaking island in the Baltic, is a potential secessionist from Finland.

Naturally, the degree of active secessionism varies. Sometimes, it is just a matter of a desire for an independent or semi-independent region within a country (e.g., as Åland within Finland). Sometimes, it involves a desire to set up a wholly new country (e.g., as Scotland or Catalonia). An important aspect is whether the desired new country spreads across countries, which is the case for Catalonia but not for Scotland. It is not the same as for the Kurds, which are scattered around Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. What area would an independent Kurdistan cover, and how would these other countries repond to having Kurdistan enclaves as part of a greater Kurdistan.

What do these points entail for Brexit? The main aspect concerns which geographical unit is going to exit the EU. Clearly, the current position is that all of the UK (covering England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) is to leave.

A point that has been made is that, so far, the borders of nation states in western (albeit not in eastern) Europe have been stable to a historically unprecedented extent. However, the underlying potential for far more of a patchwork is already there, in relation to membership of the EU, the single market and the euro. Is Jean-Claude Juncker’s fear of “100 different states” inconceivable? Is he “mad”  not to seriously consider this? Or is it really such a bad idea?

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