The Economy of Secession (II)

BERLIN/BARCELONA/MILAN/ANTWERP (Own report) - As can be seen in an analysis of the separatist movements in Catalonia, Lombardy and Flanders, the deliberate promotion of exclusive cooperation between German companies and prosperous areas in countries with impoverished regions has systematically facilitated the autonomist-secessionist movements in Western Europe. According to this study, Flanders, as well as Lombardy - two already economically prosperous regions - have been able to widen the gap between themselves and the impoverished regions of Belgium and Italy, also because they have played an important role in the expansion of the German economy, the strongest in the EU. Through an exclusive cooperation with the state Baden Württemberg, Catalonia and Lombardy have been able to expand their economic lead over more impoverished regions of Spain and Italy, which has spurred their respective regional elites to seek to halt their financial contributions for federal reallocations through greater autonomy or even secession. The consequences of deliberate cooperation - not with foreign nations - but only with prosperous regions, can be seen with Yugoslavia.

"Strong Germany, Strong Antwerp"

Flanders, the Dutch-speaking region of Belgium, whose separatism has long been one of the strongest secessionist movements in the EU, is particularly benefiting from its close cooperation with Germany. The Federal Republic of Germany is the most important market for Flemish exports. €50 billion of Flanders' €302.4 billion in total exports, last year, were to customers in Germany.[1] German investors are among the most important in the region. The port of Antwerp, Europe's second largest, after Rotterdam, is the centerpiece of German-Flemish economic relations. Its significance to Germany's export economy is demonstrated by the fact that, in 2015, nearly one third of the 214 million tons - 68 million tons - transshipped from the port had originated in or was shipped to Germany. Numerous German companies, for example, BASF and Bayer have invested billions in the Antwerp Port. Years ago, a representative of the Antwerp Port in the Federal Republic of Germany proclaimed that "without a strong Germany, there can be no strong Antwerp."[2] Because the German economy is benefiting from the EU and the euro zone and is flourishing uninterruptedly, Flanders' economy is also growing more strongly than its southern Belgium counterpart, Wallonia, oriented more on France. This is why the prosperity gap in Belgium is growing, fueling a secessionist drive.

"Focused on Germany"

Lombardy, Italy's most prosperous region also derives special benefit from its relations with Germany. With its nearly €40 billion trade volume, Germany is Lombardy's most important trade partner. Lombard companies are traditionally "focused on cooperation with southern Germany," considered "their gateway to northern and eastern Europe," according to experts.[3] Conversely, this region is German companies' main point of departure for Italy. It absorbs approximately one third of the German exports entering the country. Of the approximately 3,000 German companies with subsidiaries in Italy, nearly half are settled in Lombardy. Top-ranking German companies, such as BASF, Bayer, Bosch, BMW, Deutsche Bank, SAP and Siemens, among others, have their Italian headquarters in or near Milan.[4] Unicredit, Italy's largest bank, which had absorbed Munich's Hypovereinsbank in 2005, is also based in Milan. The strength of Germany's economy is significantly contributing to Lombardy's growth, particularly in comparison to Italy's more impoverished south.

Main Base of Operations

Business with Germany is of great importance to Catalonia, as well. In 2015, Germany supplied 18.3 percent of Catalonia's imports, more than any other country. Germany, on the other hand, is Catalonia's second largest export customer. More than ten percent of Catalonia's investments come from Germany. This region is also the main base of operations for German companies doing business in Spain. Half of the nearly 1,000 companies with German shares doing business in Spain have their headquarters in Catalonia, including BASF, Bayer, Boehringer, Henkel, Merck and Siemens.[5] SEAT, the Volkswagen subsidiary, has its headquarters in Martorell in the vicinity of Barcelona. Catalonia, like Flanders and Lombardy, is also benefiting, when its most important trading partner - the German economy - flourishes. This has proven to be the case over the past few years, even in spite of the crisis, because of Germany's predominating position within the EU.

Those Who Have Shall Get

The fact that German companies are primarily cooperating with economically prosperous regions, thereby further widening the gap in prosperity in the targeted countries, is not accidental, but political calculation. One example is the working group "Four Motors for Europe," founded in 1988, which, alongside the German federal state of Baden Wurttemberg, also includes the regions of Catalonia, Lombardy and Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes in France. Its is aiming at the expansion of cooperation between the member regions and focusing, for example, on the improvement of transportation and telecommunications infrastructures, as well as closer cooperation in research and technology. This is explicitly intended to increase the "competitiveness" of the "Four Motors'."[6] The organizers accept the risk - at least implicitly - that these discrepancies will significantly grow in countries, such as Spain and Italy, with already existing wide internal prosperity discrepancies between the prosperous "Four Motors" member regions and the impoverished areas of these countries. These discrepancies provide fertile soil for long-term regional elites to avoid their contributions to the federal reallocation with calls for greater autonomy or even attempts to secede.

Like Yugoslavia

The phenomenon that economic cooperation with selected, comparatively prosperous regions will exacerbate the already existing domestic prosperity gaps in these countries is hardly unknown. One example is the West German, Italian and Austrian cooperation with regions of Yugoslavia in the "Alps-Adriatic Working Community," which the Bavarian CSU state government helped found in 1978. The working community linked several Austrian federal regions, northern Italian regions and Bavaria together with the Yugoslav autonomous republics of Croatia and Slovenia. The declared goal was the intensification of inter-regional cooperation, including the improvement of transportation infrastructure and cooperation in research. Belgrade criticized a "new separatism under a European fig-leaf" being executed through exclusive ties to the two more prosperous northern republics, according to an observer.[7] In fact, Bavaria's former prime minister, Max Streibl, wrote in retrospect that "the working community has successfully bound Slovenia and Croatia to Central and Western Europe." "Their 1990/91 road to independence" was then "sustainably accompanied by the solidarity of the members of the working community."[8] Far from being the main trigger for the Slovenian and Croat secession, the Alps-Adriatic Working Community had reinforced existing discrepancies within Yugoslavia and thereby, substantially contributed to the disintegration of the country.

[1] Trotz Brexit: Flanderns Export boomt weiter. 03.04.2017. Abweichungen von der deutschen Außenhandelsstatistik sind durch Unterschiede in der Nennung von Ursprungsländern bedingt.
[2] Thorsten Karbach: Antwerpens Hafen ist auf Erfolg angelegt. 29.03.2014.
[3] Ausländische Direktinvestitionen in Italien brechen ein. 12.02.2010.
[4] Lombardei - Wirtschaftsmotor Italiens. 24.04.2015.
[5] Catalonia Connects Deutschland. Generalitat de Catalunya.
[6] Présentation.
[7] Bernd Posselt: Europa der Regionen. 26.06.2012.
[8] Hans Peter LInss, Roland Schönfeld (Hg.): Deutschland und die Völker Südosteuropas. Festschrift für Walter Althammer zum 65. Geburtstag. München 1993.