Twenty years ago, the wall that was separating West and East Germany was opened and the Cold War came to an end. The breakdown of the Soviet Union and the collapse of Communism that accompanied it brought about the victory of market economy and democracy in Europe. It also engendered the emergence of new states in the East and the resurgence of nationalism across the continent. Czechoslovakia disappeared in 1992 with the creation of the Czech and Slovak republics, Yugoslavia has been torn apart by ethnic conflict and Kosovo is still fighting for its independence. Indeed, the map of Europe has experienced considerable transformations.
Over the last decades, the European Union has grown at a rapid pace and has accelerated its enlargement process gradually eroding frontiers and challenging its citizens with new forms of loyalty. While the integration process consistently expands and deepens, so does the need for more democracy which some perceived of suffering from a deficit in the Union. Since 1989, the revival of regional identity has strongly been felt and regionalist and micro-nationalist movements have gained in political strength, representation and size; they have achieved a certain notoriety. Across the community, those movements question the nature of the nation-state, which they often view as obsolete, and present challenges both to the larger state they are part of and to the European Union.
To answer the question of whether contemporary regionalist and micro-nationalist movements threaten democracy in Europe or present it with new opportunities, this essay is firstly going to define the main concepts in order to have a clear understanding of what they represent. It will then explore how those movements have been both challenged and favoured to see how they could enhance democracy in Europe. By tackling the issue of identity, the xenophobic and anti-immigration rhetoric of some is going to be explored with the help of two examples, the Lega Nord in Italy and the Vlaams Belang in Belgium, to understand the threatening potential it has. Finally, federalism as a desirable political arrangement is going to be assessed to show that its consequences could ultimately be dangerous for the European continent.
As a concept, regionalism is problematic when it comes to define it as it encompasses various meanings. In the context of a region based on a territorial unit, Wagstaff writes that it ‘can denote the aspirations and activism of the concerned inhabitants of a region, and can usefully be applied to the pursuit of the specific interest of such unit.’ Regionalism is therefore the desire and the will of a certain group of people to advance the prosperity and the benefits of a peculiar area. In political science, nationalism is a highly controversial and debated concept; it is a difficult term to define but it could be agreed that in its broader sense, nationalism is the belief that the nation is the central principle of political organization. In general, a nation is a group of people bound together by shared values and can be defined culturally, politically and psychologically. Micro-nationalism, the smallest incarnation of nationalism, suffers the same ambiguity. It is difficult to describe as a phenomenon as it adopts different positions and claims different demands among the groups. Nevertheless, it is often referred to as the ‘new nationalism’ and tends to be present at sub-state level and to have secessionist aspirations. Regionalist and micro-nationalist movements are thus organised group of people who define themselves along cultural, ethnic or territorial lines and seek greater regional autonomy or even sovereign control over their respective...