EU confusions on national and regional identity

From England and Scotland, through Catalonia, to Ukraine, the European Union's obsession with supranationalism has led to multiple confusions about regional and national identity

Catalonia being messed about by the EU
Sir John Redwood MP
On 13 May 2014 09:35

One of the worst features of the EU is the way it wants to suppress people’s natural senses of identity. England is the country they do not allow on a map. It is a curious paradox that the EU wants to prevent the UK government having a new relationship that works for us, yet wishes to bolster the other member states who face separatist problems.

Having encouraged senses of regional identity, the EU now backs national governments by telling Catalonia it has to stay with Spain, and  the Veneto to stay in Italy even though a strong message has been sent in a recent informal referendum. Above all, the EU wants to keep the Ukraine together when the government of the Ukraine visibly cannot govern large parts of the country because consent has broken down.

The EU’s dislike of England and our approach to supranational government is fuelling a wish for England to leave the EU, and will be sorted out when the UK or the rest of the UK minus Scotland finally has our EU referendum.

In many areas the EU backs defensive national governments who think they can ignore separatist movements. In the case of England the EU antagonises the Conservative part of the Coalition government by its often unhelpful response to UK wishes for less interference and more freedom.

The western powers are right to say that the referendum in Donetsk and Lugansk was neither legal nor properly conducted. Those wanting out may have voted more than once in some cases, and those who wished to stay in the Ukraine may have taken the advice of the Ukrainian government to stay away from the polls.

However, no-one can doubt that a large number of people in Eastern Ukraine do not accept the legitimacy of the current Kiev government, and do fear its intentions towards them.

At the very least, the Ukrainian government should talk to the rebels. Sending in the army and trying to remove them by force is not the right answer, and will intensify the civil war in the making. It will increase the bitterness on both sides.

The Ukrainian regime needs to discuss whether a much greater degree of autonomy within the Ukraine would satisfy enough easterners. Are there guarantees that the Ukrainian government can offer on Russian language and customs that would be credible?

If it is not possible to find a way of jointly governing in the Ukrainian state, then the Ukrainian government needs to offer a legal and properly organised referendum with sensible propositions on the ballot paper that could attract consent.

The UK has offered Scotland a referendum despite the absence of SNP MPs in large numbers at Westminster, and in good time whilst the UK can govern Scotland with consent. The people of Scotland will now decide whether they wish to renew their consent to Union government or whether they wish to be self governing.

If they decide Yes to the Union they will understand that that has to be for a considerable time, as unions should not be made and broken too often.  

That could be a model for any part of a European state that is unhappy about its current status.

It is not just the EU that needs to amend its ways of tackling these issues, but it is the EU that has played an important part in fomenting regional identities which may now affect not just the individual member states but also EU policy itself.

Mr. Redwood's writing is re-posted here by his kind permission. This and other articles are available at

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