Are Welsh nationalists falling out of love with the EU?
Ifan Morgan Jones
A week ago today I was at the European Parliament building in Brussels taking part in a discussion on the media in stateless nations.
In many ways, the event summed up all that is good about the EU. It brought experts and journalists together from the Basque Country, Catalonia, Wales and other nations to discuss how best to bolster our respective medias – such as the site you’re reading now.
In the week since then, I’ve seen the mood sour somewhat, as the Welsh national movement, as well as others across Europe, have baulked at the EU’s actions.
The obvious catalyst was the EU Commission’s failure to condemn the anti-democratic police brutality in Catalonia on Sunday.
This shouldn’t really come as a surprise. Those who expected the EU to intervene share the Brexiteer’s delusion – which is that the EU’s interests are somehow divorced from those of its constituent member states.
In fact, the EU is its member states, and its failure to condemn the attacks in Catalonia reflect the fact that every EU member state has an interest in not allowing Catalonia to become independent.
There is not one member of the EU without a national movement somewhere within its shores and the last thing they want to do is be giving Scotland, the Basque Country, Flanders, Corsica, Brittany, Wales, and others, ideas.
The Catalonia issue has revealed another, deeper problem with the EU however which Welsh nationalists have been loath to face up to.
Ever closer union
Welsh Nationalists have tended to support the EU for five main reasons:
- It allows us to contrast our internationalism with the isolationism of British nationalism
- Many of the nations of Europe declared their independence in the past few decades – they’re an inspiration we look up to and can learn from
- The EU often gets the credit for the peace in Europe following the Second World War, and there’s a long tradition of pacifism in our movement
- Life as an ‘independent nation’ within the EU is a credible alternative to life within the UK
- Bilingual Wales with its own culture feels more at ease within a multilingual, multicultural union of the EU than within the UK where one language and culture dominates.
You can still make a good case for the first four, but I think that the next few years are going to challenge our perceptions of the latter.
The history of the nation-states shows that in the long-term they always do one thing, without fail, which is to break down the cultural and linguistic differences between peoples.
In order to be able to impose one government on a people, you need to convince them that they’re fundamentally similar enough, linguistically and culturally, that such an arrangement makes sense.
Note that when the French state came into being France was far from being culturally and linguistically homogenous. It took until after the Second World War to ensure that was the case.
Look at Wales itself – brought into a modern nation-state through the Acts of Union. The process of assimilation started afterwards.
This is done through the education system, the press and also by making linguistic and cultural integration a requirement for good public sector jobs.
In the case of the EU, Brexit is only likely to hasten this process, for two reasons:
- The UK was suspicious of any attempt at further EU integration and tended to act as a brake on it.
- The EU will have learnt its lesson, which is that allowing other national movements to hold sway within the EU is a mortal danger to the EU itself.
Over the next few decades, as the EU centralises power, it will begin to integrate its people. This will be essential to its success – otherwise, it will break apart.
Union of the Regions
This tweet by Guy Verhofstadt on the subject of the Catalan Referendum is very interesting in the context of this discussion.
The future is a multilingual, multicultural Spain in a multilingual, multicultural Europe. #Catalunya #Spain
— Guy Verhofstadt (@GuyVerhofstadt) October 4, 2017
What we have here is an attempt to belittle Catalonia’s claim to nationhood by suggesting it should be happy to remain just one cultural area within a broader Spanish nation.
But there’s something else going on here. In fact, what Guy’s doing here is to belittle Spain’s claim to nationhood as well. Within the EU, Spain is just another linguistic and cultural area.
What’s being said is that it doesn’t really matter whether Catalonia is independent of Spain or not, because soon they’re both going to be regions of one nation-state called the EU.
Despite all I’ve said here, I remain pro-EU, and in fact believe that such a union is a far more attractive place to be, economically and culturally, than the ‘little Britain’ Wales will exist in post-Brexit.
However, we shouldn’t fool ourselves about the direction of travel in the EU. A lot of the problems that currently exist within the UK – the centralisation of power, cultural and linguistic integration – are just as likely to exist within the EU in the long term.
An independent Wales won’t be a choice between the EU as it currently exists and Brexit Britain.
It’s going to be between remaining a devolved part of the United Kingdom, or becoming a state within a much more closely integrated United States of Europe. Which would we rather be?
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I certainly am!
I voted remain, but now think leaving was a stroke of genius after their hypocrisy over Catalonia! Its collapse is now imminent.
I was disappointed by their failure to severely condemn the violence used by the Francoist Spanish state. The EU needs to put pressure on the Spanish govt to enter into a dialogue with the Catalan govt.
IMJ said – ” A lot of the problems that currently exist within the UK – the centralisation of power, cultural and linguistic integration – are just as likely to exist within the EU in the long term.” Ifan bach, it’s already well under way. I backed Brexit not because I wanted to cosy up to the Farage – Gove – Johnson axis but saw it as Step 1 to something different away from all these power crazy corporate state nutjobs in Brussels and London.Cameron was their main man in U.K and now we have May who does a convincing… Read more »
Many good points raised in this article. Strangely, the UK has always sought an eu that is a federation of independent nation states. It should have stayed in and argued for that. Britain = England would have allies in this idea in Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. The idea that France would countenance losing its cultural identity is hard to accept. The eu is a political project formed to prevent wars similar to the blood bath of WW2, it has far reaching ambitions. Not all those ambitions need to be realized, nor should they… Read more »
Don’t ever expect much from Y Cynulliad by way of initiative on independence or further devolution, especially while it is led by Labour with Tories in & out of 2nd place. These are Unionist parties who despise any thought of independence. Even a member contemplating that old intermediate status – Dominion – gets regarded as a bit of a hothead by the party loyalists whose ambitions are focussed on Westminster/Whitehall. And there’s dear old Plaid, heading for corpse status unless it wakes up and gets its act together, more focussed on finding ways of getting brownie points for helping Labour… Read more »
I too have been coming around to this way of thinking. I’m increasingly convinced a period away from EU state aid rules is exactly what Wales needs. Public procurement here is abysmal. So much tax money disappears out of Wales. Nominet is the perfect example. Every time a .wales or .cymru domain name is bought the money leaves Wales. Plaid likes to talk about procurement but the truth is when they were in government they signed plenty of contracts that could have gone to Welsh companies, if they’d really put the effort in. Yet they didn’t. But who’s making these… Read more »
But Corbyn is wrong on state aid. Jeremy Corbyn’s arguments on state aid require us to leave the European Single Market. Sometimes, if it smells like snake oil, it really is. You can undertake nationalisation within the EU or Single Market, be it Cardiff Airport, Deutsche Bahn or Électricité de France. You can undertake state aid (subsidies) within the EU or Single Market, as long as it complies with the rules or fulfils criteria to be an exemption. The UK currently spends 0.35% of its GDP on legal, permitted state aid within the EU rules. France spends 0.62%, Finland 1.03%… Read more »
Absolutely; I’ve been banging on since I got here about how the logical arguments for Brexit and Welsh independence are inseperable, and the pro-EU wing of the national movement has been undermining its own cause by demonising the Brexiteers among us (which to be fair, Ifan has scrupulously – and almost uniquely – refrained from doing). I must add, though, that just as Ifan’s ‘reason 5’ is falling apart, so the other 4 have never really been valid: – there is nothing intrinsically isolationist about nationalism, and the UKIPers I’ve encountered are fired up by the opportunity for the UK… Read more »
Si vis pacem, para bellum Os ych chi’n moyn heddwch, paratoi ar gyfer rhyfel! Cytuno’n llwyr. The reason that EUophiles hang on to these mythic reasons to remain in the EU is because it is a belief, not a conclusion based on fact. Beliefs are powerful, hard to dislodge, and sometimes dangerous.
The title of this article and a number of statements within indicate a belief that Welsh nationalists are, by and large, pro EU. I don’t think this is true although I understand why Ifan many may believe that is the case. It is hard to avoid getting trapped in an ‘echo chamber’ both online and in the real world. One gets surrounded by people that think as you do and it’s easy to think that you are part of the majority. This may explain why the Welsh Brexit referendum result was a shock to so many. A more accurate portal… Read more »
Your division of Welsh nationalism into ‘country’ and ‘cosmopolitan’ nationalists is a very interesting one, and reflects to a certain extent what I said here: http://ifanmj.blogspot.co.uk/2017/02/the-back-row-and-welsh-nationalism.html However there certainly seems to be a correlation between Welsh nationalism and support for the EU: The most politically nationalist and Welsh speaking areas in Wales voted to stay in the EU. I would argue also that the fact that country nationalists aren’t aware or don’t care about the factors that preserve Welsh nationalism doesn’t mean they don’t do so! Without institutions filled with cosmopolitan nationalists there wouldn’t be a Wales for country nationalists… Read more »
When you say ‘most politically nationalist’ I think you mean Plaid Cymru core voters. As to your statement that “country nationalists aren’t aware or don’t care about the factors that preserve Welsh nationalism” – I would respond that country nationalists ARE the factors that preserve Welsh identity. Institutions are but pale reflections of the living and breathing Welsh culture and life. The front row and back row distinction you make in your blog is interesting, even if, as you concede, too simplistic. A better distinction is made in David Goodhart’s The Road To Somewhere – a compelling critique of elite-based… Read more »
Spot on; a fundamental mistake of the ‘progressive’ wing of the nationalist movement in Wales is that national consciousness can be created top-down, and language and culture preserved by governmental fiat. It’s certainly true that governments can do a lot to destroy culture, but they’re pretty bad at promoting it: the efforts of the Irish Republic to foster the Irish language is a good object lesson is how successful that tends to be. Generally speaking, people feel good about their culture when they feel good about themselves and their circumstances in life, and the main levers that the government has… Read more »
Do you really think that Wales could be prosperous as an independent country outside the EU?
Absolutely I do. Why on earth wouldn’t I?
Outside the single market, outside the customs union? Or with some bespoke deal, perhaps like Norway?
Angharad, Wales would be better off if it aimed for economic autarky instead of being part of a trading block designed by and for big finance engaged in economic warfare and a global race to the bottom. The EU (and UK) represent an up-side-down world of increasing economic injustice as the filthy wealthy become more filthy and wealthy while the rest of us struggle on in crushing deb-slavery and poverty. Forget global markets and fake free trade deals. It the road to destitution, not prosperity. Have we learnt nothing in the last 20 odd years of neo-liberal lies and false… Read more »
Unicorns. We live in a globalised world. Even the UK as a whole cannot hope to be an economic island. The UK has indeed been a country of increasing economic injustice. Were it not for the EU, and regulations protecting workers from exploitation, I have no doubt that the governments of the last 7 years would have made this even worse. It’s a right wing wet dream. The EU is a strong force against large corporations. It has huge economic power. It has the ability to fine companies who use unfair trading practices, and it does. In the event of… Read more »
Though Glasiad has been on top form here for the past couple of days I’m not with him on the autarky thing: I remain in favour of free trade, but it works a lot better for companies which have their independence – and I do mean full independence, including their own currency. Take Brexit as an example: suppose there is no trade deal (which is beginning to look like the most likely outcome unless the government starts visibly planning for it – si vis pacem para bellum, once again). On leaving the EU we’d revert to WTO trade rules and… Read more »
I just re-read what I wrote and realised I put ‘companies’ where of course I meant ‘countries’. Bah! Too early in the morning. We really need an edit facility on this site.
And maybe a fact-checking facility! Wales is not getting poorer. Disposable income and GVA are growing, but only slowly. I am concerned that misunderstandings of the actual structure of the Welsh economy lead people to quite startling conclusions. Don’t for a second think I am suggesting things are going well in the Welsh economy. Devolution has effectively made no difference. It hasn’t made things worse, but it’s completely failed to give Wales a relative advantage, and that is a policy and imagination failure. I completely disagree with you on WTO rules. They would create tariffs between the UK/Wales and the… Read more »
Well said, Glasiad!
I have to say that reading this makes me very uncomfortable. I am vehemently and absolutely pro EU (you’d have never guessed …). I joined Plaid because I was asked by local party activists if I would be prepared to stand up to am independent (but known UKIP supporter) Brexiteer, the incumbent, in my ward. I’d always been a Plaid supporter, but preferred to keep myself free of direct ties. Everyone I talked to in Plaid encouraged me to stand, and wanted me to stand on a pro-EU ticket to get him out. I didn’t succeed – not because of… Read more »
I on the other hand would re-join immediately.
Don’t use the old “ever closer union” argument, a UKIP debating point, for in reality they’ve rowed back from it; expansion to new states took priority. It was not inevitable that the EuroCommission refused to make a statement against the violence by the Spanish state, for they intervened in eastern European (Poland, Hungary?) anti-democratic trends. Let the Euro-parliament determine such responses, to better reflect democratic/rights issues. Brexit – or just the prospect of it – is changing the EU. They appear to be ready to embrace and independent Scotland and defend the semi-unity of Ireland. Let’s place our vision for… Read more »
Great points from Glasiad about the divide between country nationalists and cosmopolitan nationalists here in Wales. Very insightful. One can see why the emergence of the EU seemed a godsend for nationalists here, since it provided another locus of power away from Westminster, and its largesse towards less developed areas such as Wales also appeared to further cement its reputation as a fount of European benevolence and goodwill. Unfortunately, this has blinded many nationalists in Wales to the essentially anti-democratic, technocratic and empire-building nature of the EU. Barnier, Juncker, and Verhofstad- what are these three in essence but power-crazed individuals… Read more »
Whatever happens I think Wales would be better served as part of a bloc or union of some description. I don’t like the way the UK is constructed and I’m pretty ambivalent about the EU. Both bring undeniable advantages to us in terms of economics, trade and security, but neither serve us as agents for forging our national identity and both have many negative aspects in that regard. Also we are all undeniably European and British in the sense that we are part of those geographically defined entities and we can’t up sticks and move to the Pacific. Without the… Read more »
“Both bring undeniable advantages to us in terms of economics, trade and security”…the UK….are you kidding….seen no evidence of real investment in my life mate 😀
The EU response to Spain’s brutal crackdown has been a genuine shock to me. A sickening shock. I have always and will always believe Wales should be independence within the EU like Ireland or Denmark. I handed out leaflets in town for Wales in Europe during EUref. But this has shown the other side of the EU, a side I never thought I’d see. Of turning a blind eye to police brutality, of sitting on their hands while people’s right to vote is labelled “illegal”, their support for Big State nationalism. Spain, if you have to force “unity” with rubber… Read more »
There’s comment here and elsewhere explaining why the EU’s response shouldn’t be surprising. Spain not Catalunya is the EU member and the EU exists for its members and it’s the members that form the dog that wags the EU tail.
Not the other way around as Leavers and it appears many Remainers thought.
As I recall, it was Gareth Miles (‘Wales’ leading Marxist’) who, in the early 70’s, was the main intellectual proponent of EU (or EEC as it was then) membership, as he argued that ‘Europe’ would look more sympathetically and favourably on Wales’ claims to nationhood than would the UK government. I don’t think that’s been borne out in fact.
“5.Bilingual Wales with its own culture feels more at ease within a multilingual, multicultural union of the EU than within the UK where one language and culture dominates. You can still make a good case for the first four, but I think that the next few years are going to challenge our perceptions of the latter[5.].” Why? Is it because the EU will deliberately erode the languages and customs of EU member states. That is above and beyond what would be eroded anyway by global and intra European cultural influences. Is it because UK governments will ensure that the English… Read more »
I found Ifan’s article a bit depressing, in that it failed to see beyond a simple binary choice between Cymru remaining within the UK or EU, both becoming increasingly centralised and intolerant of difference. A choice therefore of either being part of a super-state or a mega super-state. Can we not imagine an alternative future? For example, how about an independent Catalunya, finding itself in a hostile world (not recognised by either Spain or the EU) seeking brand new trade agreements with other friendlier nations? And could not such new alliances, based on non-exploitative relationships (and which could stretch far… Read more »
Just two words:
Just two word:
Y Swistir, 4 iaith. 4 pobl, pob un â ei diwylliant ei hun. Yn byw mewn heddwch ers dros 500 mlynedd.
A dim yn rhan o’r Undeb Ewropeaidd.
Cywir. Ond dim y pwynt. Pwynt oedd, mae’r 4 iaith a chymuned wedi cyd-fyw o dan yr un llywodraeth heb unrhyw amhariad ar un neu’r llall. Gwell ‘na hynny, maen nhw’n gwerthfawrogi bob un o’u diwylliannau ac yn hybu nhw.
“The history of the nation-states shows that in the long-term they always do one thing, without fail, which is to break down the cultural and linguistic differences between peoples.”
– dim yn wir (o gwbl) yn achos y Swistir.
A dw i’n siarad fel rhywun sydd wedi byw yno, am flwyddyn, blynyddoedd yn ôl.
The Swiss have the right to have arms – that helps too.
Y gwahaniaeth yn achos y Swistir yw bod yr ieithoedd sy’n cyd-fyw a bodolaeth y tu hwnt i ffiniau’r wlad. Petaent yn ieithoedd brodorol, ac un yn llawer cryfach na’r llall, fe fyddai y sefyllfa’n bur wahanol. Werth nodi bod nifer siaradwyr Romansh fel canran o’r boblogaeth wedi plymio yn yr un modd a’r Gymraeg.
Yn achos yr EU mae yna un iaith yn gryfach na’r lleill, oherwydd awch pobl yr UE am deledu Americanaidd gymaint ag unrehyw beth arall, sef Saesneg.
Hesch niit schwiizerduutch g’hoert? Na, dyw hyd yn oed Google Translate ddim yn gallu cyfieithu hynny, ond i ryw 68% o boblogaeth y Swistir, mae hynny yn iaith. Cyfrinach iddyn nhw, ond am ychydig fel fi sydd wedi byw yn eu plith a’i dysgu.
The principles of the EU and the European single market are conducive to a Europe of small independent nations in the main. Things like open borders, free trade and, yes, free movement of workers are now possible within the single market framework whilst retaining ultimate sovereignty, where previously these only really existed within the boundaries of a larger state. The problem as I see it comes when a minority of people at the top of the EU hierarchy (Guy Verhofstadt and Jean-Claude Juncker included) want to see the EU more or less become that larger state. Rather than embracing a… Read more »
“There is not one member of the EU without a national movement somewhere within its shores and the last thing they want to do is be giving Scotland, the Basque Country, Flanders, Corsica, Brittany, Wales, and others, ideas.” Really? Not one? Does Portugal have a national movement within it? Austria? It has a minority language I think, but that’s not the same thing. Germany? Very strong regions and a strong identity in Bavaria, but is there a part where a significant minority want to break away? Ireland? (not including those who want to unite northern and Republic?). Obviously, I agree… Read more »
The old adage that all empires eventually fall has seemed very prescient this week with the events in Catalunya. Morally, the EU stands ruthlessly exposed this week. Does anyone really believe that Spain acted like this without clearing it with the upper echelons of the EU?? Catalunya’s push for Independence was a threat to the EU empire- so it had to be undermined and attacked by any means possible. Let’s remember that these actions of deliberate sabotage were going on for two weeks and more before the actual violence used on Sunday itself. Unfortunately for the EU- we are now… Read more »
A Celtic bloc might be too small to be effective – one idea could be an Atlantic region, including West Africa and leading down to South Africa. With a growing African economy this could be a formidable trading bloc, but there could be huge political and social issues, which could raise quite justifiable fears in many perhaps. Economically I think it might have great potential and it wouldn’t have to be constructed along the same lines as the EU?
This is why I am putting forward an Atlantic region or Free Trade Area as an idea. Look at Nigeria – a country with big issues, but huge potential – the most populous country in Africa, with huge problems of political instability and corruption, but still the country that is likely to be the engine of economic growth in the continent. It’s emerging from a recession and like most of Africa is hampered by access to finance for investment. Basically the whole of the former colonial areas of west Africa have been exploited for centuries – they have been asset… Read more »
The EU’s grew out of what to do about Germany after two devastating world wars. An opportunity existed in the 1990s to reincorporate Russia into the European mainstream. A similar opportunity in regards Turkey seems to be slipping away and with it a possible pathway of achieving some accommodation between the West and Islam. Once upon a time, the UK’s membership of the EU allowed the possibility as more powers were gained by the Welsh Assembly and the EU downgrading the relevance of Westminster that a point would be reached where the idea of Wales leaving the UK to join… Read more »
“Does anyone really believe that Spain acted like this without clearing it with the upper echelons of the EU??”
Yes, of course. It’s one thing to accuse the EU of not intervening once something has happened, quite another to say that the EU knew how violent the police were going to be.
Come off it, anyone with half a brain knows that the police will use huge amounts of violence if the state is under threat – it’s why they exist in the first place, especially outfits like the Guardia Civil.
I guess that’s how , Antifa, feels its justified in its own violence. Guardia Civile is Antifa writ large…Vermin is their collective name.
““Does anyone really believe that Spain acted like this without clearing it with the upper echelons of the EU??”” Yes. The EU’s stance is that it is an internal matter for Spain, and its attitude is to suppport Spain. The EU is not the ultra-involved Brussels super-state of Brexiteer imagination. It is an aloof, cold and sometimes disappointing entity. My support for the existence of a European Union is not conditional on who runs the Commission. It’s the same argument that anti-devolutionists use; “devolution isn’t doing well, so get rid of it”, rather than reform or change it. The fact… Read more »
If it has been mentioned then I missed it, and for that I apologise, but . . . Plaid Cymru leapt upon the European Union because it offered a defence from the damaging allegation that Plaid wanted to ‘cut Wales off’, the implication being that an independent Wales would somehow float off into the Atlantic. Being in ‘Europe’ gave Plaid Cymru the chance to promote ‘Independence in Europe’ which it hoped would be interpreted as not being independence at all, really, and would definitely not result in Wales floating off into the sunset. For all sorts of reasons Plaid Cymru’s… Read more »
A party is its members. So allow me to completely disassociate myself with the above.
“Come off it, anyone with half a brain knows that the police will use huge amounts of violence if the state is under threat – it’s why they exist in the first place, especially outfits like the Guardia Civil.” You must be the only one who wasn’t shocked and saddened at what happened in Catalonia recently then. I knew the police were being sent in to stop the vote, but I didn’t expect the viciousness against ordinary civilians, not because I think those people are angels, but because I didn’t think the Spanish state would want such bad publicity. I… Read more »
The EU is more than just one thing. You don’t suddenly stop supporting because they’ve done on thing you disagree with. We haven’t all stopped being devolutionists because the Welsh government’s refusal to condemn Spain, have we?
If you still support the EU, please come to the rally in Cardiff on 14 October. From 12.30 at the Nye Bevan statue.
If you’re in north Wales, please try to make it to the Wales rally, but if that’s not possible there will be rallies in the north west of England too.
I was hoping to come to a rally. There was the suggestion that there will be one in all remain areas, but I couldn’t find info about one in Ceredigion. Are there others around? If not, see you in Cardiff, hopefully.
From project-syndicate.org Spain’s Crisis is Europe’s Opportunity Oct 6, 2017 YANIS VAROUFAKIS The Catalonia crisis is a strong hint from history that Europe needs to develop a new type of sovereignty, one that strengthens cities and regions, dissolves national particularism, and upholds democratic norms. Imagining a pan-European democracy is the prerequisite for imagining a Europe worth saving. ATHENS – To revive the ailing European project, the ugly conflict between Catalonia’s regional government and the Spanish state may be just what the doctor ordered. A constitutional crisis in a major European Union member state creates a golden opportunity to reconfigure the… Read more »
Varoufakis is the second person I will call wrong in this thread, after Corbyn!
Heart in the right place, good principles, wrong/ignorant analysis of the Catalan question.
I would say that reasons 3-5 for Welsh nationalists to like the EU are all very dubious actually. Peace in Europe might be a stated aim of the EU, but Nobel Prize notwithstanding there’s a case to be made that the EU’s impact on Peace is marginal or non-existent. Contrary to the impression created by the news, the world as a whole has been on a general trend towards becoming more peaceful: you can’t credit the EU with the fact that South American states haven’t gone to war with each other in decades, ditto East Asia – see Steven Pinker’s… Read more »
Angharad – sorry about the delay in replying. There is a rally on Saturday in every European Parliament constituency so only one in Wales, which is the Cardiff one.
I’ll be there. Thanks ?