Building on one of my favorite subjects, devolution, the decline of the state and the proliferation of microstates, I’ve put together a map of the future of Europe in 2020. It is purely speculative and in no way a firm prediction, but rather a sketch of the possibilities and list of the most likely cases. It is by no means exhaustive and you’ll notice seemingly obvious states such as Wales, Sicily, Crete and others are not listed. This is in part because I will argue that two local conditions are necessary for a viable movement and successful independence.
First, the state must be well off economically and able to hold it’s own, i.e. it must have more to gain than lose. Hence, states like Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria are the two richest in Germany, essentially subsidizing the rest would have more motivation than the poor underdeveloped east German states which feed off the rest. The second condition is that the region must have a well developed and unique identity which comes in the form of a strong dialect or different language, history of independence or autonomy and other characteristics that go into defining a culture. Thus, Bavaria (which is actually what most people think about when they think of Germany) is both rich and has a long cultural past and different identity. It has its own dialect, a history of independence and a host of other unique traits including traditional song, dance, clothes etc that other regions lack.
Given that Europe already has a number of microstates – Andorra, Liechtenstein, Malta, Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City – and growing list of independence movements (Scotland, Flanders, Catalonia, North Italy, Bavaria), I find the map a reasonably accurate picture of what Europe would look like should this trend continue. Click on the picture below for a full size version of the map.
Effects in Europe
Even if only a few of these microstates were to be born, it could have serious consequences regionally, transatlantically and globally. In Europe, it would suddenly create a host of rich and poor states, which their previous host states balanced out. Northern Germany will get poorer and the two southern states stay very rich for example. Over time, the lack of wealth transfer from southern to northern Germany, or from northern to southern Italy will likely create less developed and poorer states within Europe no longer able to stay afloat. As an Italian friend once joked, without the north, southern Italy would turn into a Catholic Pakistan. As reader DJ noted, now more than ever, regions of today’s states are trying to maximize the economic benefits of globalization while minimizing the social costs, leading to richer regions breaking from poorer ones.
So what will independence look like? It won’t have the same meaning that we think of today. At the local level, these newly minted states will enjoy previously unparalleled independence, flexibility and likely prosperity. However, at the same time, they will be subservient to the European Union on international matters such as defense, some foreign policy, trade agreements, transportation and environmental issues. Also and perhaps most importantly, a credible Europe wide defense would have to exist to make the creation of new states viable.
Naturally, this is an exercise in conjecture and the implications of such events would be far reaching indeed. For example, what would become of US bases in Germany and Italy? And to take the trend even further, could we one day see old school “Greek” leagues of states, perhaps a constellation of conservative states and more liberal ones (or rather rich vs poor), or Germanic vs Romance? Only time will tell.