The Rise of Globalization and Internationalism
We are at a moment that would best be termed the twilight of globalization, and this is because of the sharp rise in the far-right’s popularity in the West and their favoritism shown to economic protectionism.
If they continue to achieve the kind of success that they have been having in the past few years, then the internationalism that has come to define world politics in the past two decades will soon become a thing of the past. The open borders of the European Union made multiple national independence movements obsolete, however, with the idea of closed border systems on the rise, these movements may once again play a role in inter European politics.
A Case For Ireland
The first example of this comes with the reunification of Ireland, as long as the UK and the Republic of Ireland were members of the EU, the long-standing struggle to reunite the island as a single country was obsolete because there was no real border. But with Brexit going ahead, there will soon be a hard border with checkpoints and restrictions that divide the lower 26 counties from the upper 6.
Ireland is not the only place where the open border system of the EU is holding the peace in regional disputes, the Basque Country and the region of Catalonia are two more examples of regions that have been able to act autonomously through the EU system, but would stand in jeopardy of losing this luxury if the Union continues to fall apart.
But Ireland is where this is already beginning. In the not-too-distant past, Northern Ireland went through what is now collectively referred to as the “troubles”. The sectarian violence peaked during the 1970s and 80s between the Republicans and the unionists, so much so that the British army was brought in to reestablish peace and stability.
It is true that there are multiple factors that brought the troubles to an end, but a major factor in the lasting calm that has existed is that the freedom of movement means that the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic is almost non-existent.
Despite being two different countries on a single island, the entire unit has learned to function as one in terms of self-rule and economic policy. Brexit will change all of this because it will reinstate the hard border and put an end to all of the progress towards integration that has been made. The danger here lies in the possibility of reigniting the nationalist drive to reunite the country by way of the gun or way of the bomb. Brexit could set off a massive destabilization in Northern Ireland.
The fight for Basque
The Basque Country is a region of Europe that falls partly in France and partly in Spain. Very much in the way that Brexit is causing the walled split of Ireland, harder borders would split the Basque country right in half. This is quite problematic as the Basques have been struggling for status as an independent state throughout its history.
What’s more is that there is a Basque identity that doesn’t fit in with either France or Spain. This identity includes a language and a tradition all of its own. The Spanish state has a history of persecuting and criminalizing the Basque community, especially during the reign of dictator Francisco Franco. It is hard to believe that the Basque community would passively accept a hard border through their land because of the strained history with the Spanish state.
Uncertainty Amongst Catalonia
Catalonia is another region of Spain that has a desire to become an independent state and is actively waging a democratic struggle for self-rule. Catalonia’s independence, however, is not in the interest of the Spanish state due in large part to the debt crisis in Europe.
Next to Greece, Spain is in the worst economic condition in Europe. Catalonia’s contribution to the Spanish economy is massive, bringing in 20% of the nation’s yearly revenue. Catalonia has already passed a referendum for independence, however the Spanish government has refused to enact the result. Another referendum is planned, but the Spanish government has already called this illegal and said it wouldn’t respect the result.
What is bubbling under the surface in Europe is a series of conflicts and struggles that have the ability to completely alter the mechanisms and make up of Europe. Very much in the same way that the USSR kept regional and ethnic conflicts in check, and when it broke apart we saw conflicts exploding throughout the region, the EU has held these conflicts in check.
If the momentum against the EU continues, the region could see a massive destabilization.
Spain is already preparing for this as they have said they will refuse Scotland entry in the EU if they gain independence. This is a preemptive measure to stop Catalonia and the Basques from further seeking independence. The reasoning they are refusing Scotland membership is to prove a point that newly independent nations will not have an easy time and just be quickly accepted into the EU.
The European Union was seen as the way in which the world was headed, the new order, and the future of economics. The problem with this is that there has been no permanent settlement for many of these regional conflicts in the event the EU was not successful.