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.
— 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?