Winds of separation hits Europe
EDINBURGH / BRUSSELS
The First Minister of Scotland Salmond (L) and Britain’s PM Cameron sign the referendum agreement in St Andrew’s House, Edinburgh, Scotland. REUTERS PhotoBritain’s prime minister and Scotland’s first minister approved plans yesterday for a referendum on Scottish independence, in a move that could lead to the breakup of the United Kingdom after 300 years.
Prime Minister David Cameron, who opposes a Scottish breakaway, signed the deal in Edinburgh with Scotland’s pro-independence First Minister Alex Salmond, firing the starting gun on two years of campaigning. London gave Scotland’s administration the power to conduct the referendum in the autumn of 2014, offering Scots a straight yes-no question on leaving the U.K.
“Scotland’s two governments have come together to deliver a referendum that will be legal, fair and decisive,” Cameron said, according to a draft of his remarks released ahead of the meeting. “It is now up to the people of Scotland to make that historic decision.” Cameron’s Conservatives, their Liberal Democrat coalition partners and the opposition Labour party are urging voters to keep Britain together.
The marathon campaign will pit them against Salmond’s Scottish National Party (SNP), the majority party in the devolved Edinburgh parliament. The support among Scots for independence appears to be slipping, with a survey by pollsters TNS-BMRB released last week showing 28 percent in favor and 53 percent opposed.
Belgium urged change to federal state
Another recent development that may lead to the split of an EU member came from Belgium where the Flemish nationalist leader scored a breakthrough election win Oct. 14 and urged for a radical re-shape the federal state. Hailing a “historic” victory for himself in Antwerp with big gains right across the wealthy Dutch-speaking region of Flanders in local polls, Bart De Wever said Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo and his coalition partners should “assume responsibility.”
De Wever’s New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) had bagged 37.7 percent and Socialist incumbent mayor Patrick Janssens 28.6 percent, and the win was underpinned by scores of 20-30 percent across the Fleming-populated territory. De Wever has been at odds with Belgium’s economically ailing French-speaking Wallonia for years, saying he is fighting over the fate of the 6 million Flemings in the kingdom of 11 million.
In the run-up to tense 2014 general elections, he wants to turn Belgium into a “confederation,” effectively seeking fiscal independence for the Dutch-speaking north and French-speaking south although sharing areas like defense.
PM downplays vote
Di Rupo rejected the significance of what he said were “local” elections. “This was not a federal vote,” Di Rupo said.
De Wever, 41, consistently presented these polls in advance as a calculated “stepping stone” aimed at pressuring what he considers an “illegitimate” central government. French-speaking Socialists came out on top in many areas across francophone Wallonia and the Brussels region, although centrists also made gains.
In Spain, troubled by the Eurozone crisis, wealthy Catalans are insistent on their call for sovereignty from Spain. Hundreds of thousands of Catalans took to the streets of Barcelona on last month in show of mass support for autonomy from Madrid, blaming Spain’s economic crisis for dragging them down. The region’s president, Artur Mas, has suggested he could seek independence if he is not given more control over taxes.
Compiled from AFP, AP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.