Microstate Madness – Europe in 2020

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.

EuropeMap_2020

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.

Conclusion

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.

About Chirol

Sir Ignatius Valentine Chirol (1852 - 1929) was a journalist, prolific author, world historian, and British diplomat. He began his career as a foreign correspondent and later became editor of the London Times. After two decades as a journalist he joined Her Majesty's Foreign Ministry as a diplomat and was subsequently knighted for his distinguished service as a foreign affairs advisor. Additionally, he wrote a dozen books on foreign affairs including The Far Eastern Question (1896), Serbia and the Serbs (1914), The End of the Ottoman Empire (1920) and The Egyptian Problem (1921). He is generally credited with popularizing "Middle East" in reference to the Arabian Peninsula with his book The Middle Eastern Question (1903). "Chirol" is a US citizen and graduate student studying Defense and Strategic Studies and government contractor. As with the historical Chirol, he has traveled to over two dozen countries and lived abroad for many years. Chirol speaks English and German fluently with basic knowledge of manyl of others.
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46 Responses to Microstate Madness – Europe in 2020

  1. dda says:

    Like you I am interested in the explosion of states. When I was a kid, I read a lot of science-fiction, and most books spoke of unified governments, one, two, or three countries left, that kid of thing. And of course, the contrary is happening…

    Regarding your map, a few comments, viz France:

    * “First, the state must be well off economically and able to hold it’s [sic] own, i.e. it must have more to gain than lose.”
    That excludes all three regions of France you mentioned as potential breakaway nations. Corsica, Bretagne and Normandie depend heavily on Paris and the central government. Just the same as our former colonies and now “overseas territories” like the French Antilles, who want autonomy, but definitely not (except maybe for the rabid extremists without an ounce of common sense) independence…

    * “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.”
    Agree on Bretagne and Corsica (plus, to a lesser degree, the Basque region, although most natives on these regions are not native speakers any more of the local language. A consequence of the very strong “Frenchification” movement that started in the 19th Century.). Normandie does not have such a dialect/language and separate cultural identity. Plus the population is not as “homogenous” as in the other regions you mentioned.

    Moreover, I don’t see the French government let go of any piece of (continental) France. I think they would happily let go of a few places, like Martinique, but they would clamp down, like they did and still do on the agitated folks in Corsica and the Basque region, with a friggin’ vengeance if local politicos would call for independence.

    Back when France had a draft, and *the* General was President, the microstate of Monaco had the idea of refusing to send their male youth to the French military. A phone call later, or so says the legend, from the General, promising a squadron of riot police and an outright invasion of this cute lill’ city, and things went back to normal.

    What I’d rather foresee for France is rather sharia-law areas, and an ensuing civil war. Hopefully I won’t be there any more to see that.

  2. Chirol says:

    Thanks for the comments. I don’t know as much about France so I appreciate your comments. I am aware Brittany, Normandy and Corsica are not economically well off, but my feeling was that their separate identity may in fact be strong enough to make them push for independence nevertheless.

    The two conditions I list don’t necessarily have to both be met. The second is obviously necessary but the first is optional.

  3. kurt9 says:

    When I was a kid, I read a lot of science-fiction, and most books spoke of unified governments, one, two, or three countries left, that kid of thing.

    Well, I read lots of cyberpunk and transhumanist SF in the 80′s and it predicted the opposite. City-states are popular in cyberpunk SF. We call it the “thousand state sovereignty” model.

  4. dda says:

    Well, I read lots of cyberpunk and transhumanist SF in the 80′s and it predicted the opposite.

    Which proves we didn’t read the same authors! :-) I should look into it.

    I am aware Brittany, Normandy and Corsica are not economically well off, but my feeling was that their separate identity may in fact be strong enough to make them push for independence nevertheless.

    Agreed regarding Breizh and Corsica. Regarding Normandie (part of my family lives there, so I kind of know this place first hand), I’ve never seen anything close to micro-state nationalism, or even regionalist activism. The Normandie of today has nothing in common with the former rulers of Great Britain…

    Some of the old folks on my father’s side didn’t speak French, or badly (unwillingly?), and I grew up listening to Occitan every summer for many years. My family name is Spanish, too, so we have roots in the south, on both sides of the border. But never was there talk of separatism in our village and region. Occitan was/is regarded as an integral part of France, and my father’s folks considered themselves French nonetheless. Maybe the government propaganda worked, after all!

    Maybe it’s just my own ideology and political leanings, but I can’t see separatism happen within “mainland France”. The hammer of the Jacobinists would really slam them hard.

  5. Gorgasal says:

    “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.”

    Baden-Württemberg in Germany is actually an amalgamation of two historically distinct states called, unsurprisingly, Baden and Württemberg (Swabia). Baden was mainly Catholic and agrarian, Württemberg Protestant and industrialized. They were artificially fused into B-W right after World War II, and there is still a lot of quota-thinking going on (“We need another Badener on this committee!”).

    If Baden-Württemberg secedes from Germany, which I see as a very remote possibility but not an impossibility, watch for a second Czechoslovakia. Neither of the two peoples likes the other very much, so it would not necessarily be a case of the economically stronger Württemberg seceding, but rather an amicable dissolution of a marriage.

  6. Chirol says:

    Gorgasal: I’m very familiar with Baden-Württemberg because I lived there for around 7 years. Thus, I’m of course aware of it being a combination of three states (Baden, Hohenzollern and part of Swabia (Württemberg) with the rest of Swabia being in Bavaria.

    If Bavaria seceeded, I could imagine BW following suit given that it’d have essentially the same reasons being in a very similar situation. I could also envision a kind of Süddeutscher Bund of the two.

    Lastly, I’m also well aware of the differences between the Swabians Badener (disclosure: I personally come down on the side of the Swabians) but they aren’t significant. Besides, Baden would have no chance without Württemberg.

    Interestingly, if BW did become independent, it’d be almost exactly the size and population of Belgium.

  7. CEM says:

    Two other potentials are missing from the map of Europe but both have high probabilities:

    1. Republika Srpska secedes from Bosnia. They already established a diplomatic office in Brussels to press their case, see http://www.rep-srpska.eu/

    2. Transdniestria formalizes its existing de facto independence from Moldova. They have already operated and functioned as an independent country for nearly two decades and just lack int’l recognition. See http://www.pridnestrovie.net/

    Of the two, rank an independent Transdniestria as a near certainty and an independent Srpska as a mere probability.

  8. Chirol says:

    Cem: Like I said, this isn’t an exhaustive map. I’m aware of Bosnia’s issues and have discussed them elsewhere on this blog, even drawing a future map of the Balkans which you can find here.

    As for Transdniester, it’s indeed a possibility but I rather see them as a Russian tool than a real independence movement.

  9. Michael says:

    Problem is, there’s more than one way a country can be better off on its own. Being richer than the neighbor it’s splitting from is one way. Being able to do things one’s own way is another.

    Another thing to remember; even within the EU, different regions currently united under nation-states can still have common interests. If a central government could make a good case for taking charge of those common interests while giving the sub-regions their autonomy on local matters, that MIGHT preserve things.

  10. S G says:

    “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.”

    first of all regional rankings are unstable. Bavaria used to be the poorest place in Germany while the Ruhr used to be an industrial heavyweight.

    second, if transfers stopped people would probably find a way to replace them and might actually be better of as a result. Thus, southern Italy might find solutions to the problems that it traditionally has, something like an other deeply catholic part of Europe that broke away from a larger European country and is doing quite well on its own: Ireland.

  11. lekesan says:

    Nice post as an interesting and different point of view.
    I am Basque, and I will be waiting for it to happen…we were once one of the older nations of Europe under the umbrella of the Nabarre kingdom.
    “Nabarre shall be the wonder of the world” was once quoted by Shakespeare..
    Anyway, and more into politics, In Europe there are two ways for Nation States to deal with Governments: the French and centralist way…which gives nothing but problems and after the corruption of Democracy and the lack of interest by the citizens on participating in the voting polls is eroding the politics as we know them now, and the German way which is a case of many regions forming a lower house (similar to the English parliament) and giving them more autonomy.
    If i remember well, when the European Comunity was constructing itself they decided which way to follow….and they choose the most problematic one (the French) which in the long run will derive in what you just wrote about. However, 2020 maybe to close for it to happen. However, I am convinced it will happen.
    Keep the nice work.

  12. Chirol says:

    Lekesan: Yes, I’m not a fan of the EU exactly because of its authoritarian and very undemocratic nature.

  13. feeblemind says:

    A couple of comments: 1) re wealth transfers. If these new states did emerge and remained under the EU umbrella, couldn’t the EU simply tax the wealthy states to subsidize the poorer ones? In effect preserving the status quo? 2) With regard to a credible EU security being necessary for these states to arise, I am wondering if security even enters the equation for those pushing for a smaller state? After all, the EU has hardly been serious about it’s own security. I am thinking that the lack of an overt threat may help propel these states into being. People don’t splinter like this in the face of a common threat and currently there is none.

  14. kurt9 says:

    They say the Swabians are the most industrious of the Germans.

  15. Chirol says:

    Kurt9: I’d concur with that. They and the Bavarians are my favorites anyway!

  16. Roy Berman says:

    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.

    One thing I’m surprised noone has mentioned is the way that membership in the EU can potentially help promote independence movements. While in the pre-EU days a breakaway region of a larger European country, say a Basque or Scotland, would pay a significant economic cost by withdrawing from the market of the larger country, as part of the EU there is a common market and customs area, alleviating much of the practical downside of independence. While there may be some downsides to the EU, I think the tone of your post seems to emphasize the potential downsides rather than the upshot.

  17. Roy Berman says:

    Actually, that’s kind of what Kurt9 suggested in a recent thread.
    http://cominganarchy.com/2009/07/01/the-nation-state-is-dying/#comment-389856

  18. ZI says:

    “What I’d rather foresee for France is rather sharia-law areas, and an ensuing civil war. Hopefully I won’t be there any more to see that.”

    Yep, exactly, the most credible scenario of disintegration starts in the Parisian suburbs. A decade ago, the angry youths threw stone at the police, now the police get shot with AK47s. If this trend continues, there’s a lot of trouble ahead. And no, it has nothing with Islam.

  19. Michael says:

    “After all, the EU has hardly been serious about it’s own security.”

    Good point: To what extent are we confusing the EU with NATO?

  20. Chirol says:

    Michael: Europe has been negligent in its own defense which translates into a weaker NATO.

  21. Wouldn’t the Basque country also comprise parts of current France? From what I recall, portions near the Spanish border are also considered Basque territory.

    I’d be very surprised if any of this came to pass. I do think it’s quite possible that the Basques will get their own homeland and that the Catalans might as well, with Scotland being a distant third possibility, but anything beyond that seems unlikely to me.

    I’m also slightly amused that no one mentioned the fact that all these “new” states listed are republics. Are there no monarchists out there? :)

  22. DirkVA says:

    I’m very surprised that Catalonia hasn’t been more discussed here, since it is the most exorbitantly likely, it seems to me, of all these — much more than the Basques, for example, who have not done nearly so much to establish their autonomy. Prosperity off the charts, vigorous language of their own, extreme distaste for the culture (songs, dances, bullfights) of the central government, and — not least important — political savvy.

  23. quetico says:

    Der Spiegel wrote a great article about how if the Soviets had divided Germany North/South, the country would still be split. http://www.spiegel.de/international/0,1518,407053,00.html

    I know you have stated that the list is not exhaustive, but clearly Ukraine has a strong Ukrainian/Russian split–and this split is far more likely to occur, or at least cause considerable international discord than most of the ones in the post.

    Latvia also is struggling with its Russian population. Daugavpils in western Latvia is 90 percent Russian and would love to split off.

    And the Sudtirolers would love to leave a disfunctional Italy and become a Freistaat or return to Austria.

    And Poland is surprisingly still split along the former German/Russian-Austrian border, although nowhere near any serious talk of secession.

  24. Cesc. says:

    I just came in linked from Josep Sort blog. It was nice to discover this site. I will add it to my preferred ones.
    As a Catalan I am completely agree with our political independence integrated in the EU and NATO as a member of full rights.
    Estate-Nation, as big as Spain, has no reason , it is to small as a market, but to big as a close to administrated Administration.
    As European I do not found any sense to have just 27 states with M500 people, when USA has 50 with just M300. The same vision I have with keeping armed and commanded 27 different armies instead of one big one.

    Best regards.
    Cesc.

  25. Sejo says:

    I’m afraid, Quetico, for my dear ethnic Tirolers that breaking up would mean the loss of their high standard of living. Without revenues from the republic, higher than the taxes they pay, there would be far less wealth up there. And I do not think that the Austrians would be interested in Southern Tirol, as well as the Rumantsch-Ladin population would not like to be a minority in a German-only country.
    Honestly, there are secessionist parties in Southern Tirol but they have a weak support from the German-speaking population. The main party, Suedtiroler Volkspartei, is an alley of the Democratic Party (centre-left) and its goals are keeping and possibly enlarging the benefits granted by the republican laws.

    I have to agree with John on the Sardinia thing: while the Sardists have my simpathy, the island alone would not survive its independence, and the same – I guess – can be said for Sicily which has not a real independentist culture anymore. And when it had, it was one of the armed hands of the local aristocracy and the Mafia.
    But, John, I think that discussing is not betting like it’s not foretelling an unbeatable truth: therefore any hypothesis can be interesting as a scenario in itself.

  26. jamie says:

    while this is an entertaining thought experiment, i must nonetheless dismiss the possibility of any german state – even bavaria – of seceding as fantasy.

    there just simply is no serious discussion or debate to be found regarding such a move, either in BW or bavaria.

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  28. Chirol says:

    Quetico: Thanks for the article, looks to be an interesting read.

    @All Remember this is just a thought experiment/scenario. It is in no way a firm prediction. I am also not intimately knowledgeable about every tiny region of Europe. Hence, feel free to argue over some or suggest new ones. Remember, some of my favorite areas are geography, borders and scenario planning. This combines all of them.

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  33. Mark says:

    Building on Cem’s suggestion to include Republika Srpska and Transdniestria, here are a two more suggestions for Eastern Europe (this map seems heavily weighted to the West): Kaliningrad and Vojvodina. Both have active independence movements.

  34. Chirol says:

    Mark: Thanks for the suggestions, it is indeed weighted more towards the West as I’m more knowledgeable about that area. I of course know Kaliningrad but didn’t know they had an active independence movement. If anything, all the Russians should be expelled and it should be given back to its rightful owners in Germany.

  35. L A Winans says:

    One could add the following nations-in-waiting: Languedoc, located in southwest France; Frisia, northeast Netherlands & northwest Germany; Scania, parts of Denmark & Sweden; Prussia-Pomerania; Wales; Cornwall; and, Galicia, northeast Spain.

    Languedoc has its own language, has a heritage of autonomy
    Frisia also has its own language
    Scania has had an independence movement
    Prussia was the most energetic part of Germany & was illegally, under international law, dissolved first by the Nazis & 2d by the Allies
    Wales,Cornwall & Galicia are Celtic nations held by non-Celtic governments

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  37. Laurens says:

    Italy has a distinct history based on cities and not on region. Padania is just an invention of a few years ago by some extravagant politician and cannot be compared with historical regional state like Catalonia or Baviera. For example ligurian (north west) and venetian (north east) have culturally nothing to share ( except for the common italian identity and broadly the same GDP per capita). Independist parties in the region you mentioned palatable for seccession like Sardinia and Padania are pratically inexistent if you consider the number of votes gained in the last elections. In the last years the same Lega Nord (Northern league) has became more focused on cultural (anti-islamic) and safety subjects rather than on autonomist issues.

  38. olek krasinski says:

    There are plenty more potential splits in central Europe, other than the well known potentials in the Balkans, Transdniestria and Ruthenia (western Ukraine).

    Siliesia (Slask) in South-west Poland already has a well-organized, but small, independence movement.

    The Czech Republic faces a continuing division between Bohemia and Moravia.

    The Transylvania region of Romania faces Hungarian pressure for greater autonomy or independence.

    Kaliningrad Oblast has long been suggested as a potential candidate for independence from Russia.

    There is always the possibility that if (Southern) Cyprus refuses to accept proposals for a settlement with the north, then Northern Cyprus could be recognized as independent.

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  40. Diego Méndez says:

    Chirol,

    1. Why republics? Bavarian independentists vye for a return to the Kingdom of Bavaria, not a republic. There is no explicit Republicanism in Scotland, the Basque country, etc. where there is no Republican tradition.

    2. The Basque country (as coloured in your map), Padania and others have never been independent entities, nor do they have a unified language.

    3. Being richer doesn’t mean subsidizing the rest. The Basque country is fiscally independent; the only shared budget with the rest of Spain is Social Security, which adds 1% to Basque GDP. So they are, in fact, subsidized by the rest of Spain.

    A similar argument could be made about Southern Germany and other rich regions. Transfers are limited to 4% regional GDP, but the money Germany spends in infrastructure, trains, technology, etc. for the poorer Eastern regions ends up as bigger GDP in the richer regions, where that technology, etc. is mostly designed and produced.

    4. But for Flanders and Scotland, no other region is seriously proposing seccession. Nationalism or regionalism may have broad support as a way of preserving the region’s historical language(s), getting more money/infrastructure from the central state, and general “devolution” or de-centralizing power. But that doesn’t equal separatism.

    E.g. A qualifying majority of Catalans feel Catalonia is a nation, but so is Spain (“a nation made up of nations”); they feel both Catalans and Spaniards, and they speak both Catalan and Spanish fluently. And Catalonia is extremely nationalist when compared to Bavaria, Normandy and the like.

    Outright separatist parties have only a marginal support in any coloured regions, but for (maybe) Scotland and Flanders.

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  42. Robert says:

    Clay Shirky made some interesting observations about the balkanisation of nations in the Internet Age:

    This is a really crazy moment in the history of the Nation State… The pull outwards into smaller, more ethnically coherent groups is actually overcoming what was, in the 20th Century, and argument for economies of scale in Nation States. Whether that is good or bad , I don’t know, it would be such a profound shift that it would transcend good and bad, it would be a new world order.

  43. Is it just me, or has no one mentioned Northern Ireland? Surely that’s a place that would be ripe to appear on this map!

  44. douglas clark says:

    Just to add to Chris Swansons point, what about Wales? They have an active independence movement and a degree of electoral success.

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