As EU basks in peace prize, separatists on rise

Associated Press Published: October 13, 2012
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Separatism is also rife in Spain — a country at the center of Europe's crisis with a youth unemployment rate of more than 50 percent.

While De Wever was making reasoned arguments in a political debate last Sunday, the 98,000-capacity Camp Nou of FC Barcelona was already a scene of seething Catalan foment for the famed encounter against Real Madrid.

Real Madrid is still identified with the unified Spanish state and was met with a mosaic of color cards forming the red-and-yellow stripes of Catalonia's "la senyera" flag. At one stage during the match, incessant collective shouts of "Independence!" cascaded down the stands as fans waved the pro-independence "estelada" flag.

Last month, 1.5 million Catalans took to the streets in Barcelona to call for a separate state in the biggest march since the 1970s. Catalonia's regional government voted on Sept. 27 to hold a referendum on Catalonia's self-determination at a date still yet to be set. The Spanish government says this would be unconstitutional.

Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy said on Tuesday that those seeking independence for Spain are making "a mistake of colossal proportions."

But Rajoy, like many of his fellow European leaders, is in a bind: National governments have had both to cede power to the supranational EU and to regions demanding greater autonomy and local accountability.

"People are anxious because the European Union seems far away," said Prof. Hendrik Vos, head of Ghent University's Center for EU Studies. "That is why there is this yearning to keep things close."

And local control has become ever more important for rich pockets of Europe.

"Those regions say how hard they had to work for their wealth," Vos said, "and they don't want to throw it away or share with the rest of the EU."

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Associated Press Writer Joseph Wilson contributed from Barcelona.