A perspective of the Catalonia referendum Express.co.uk

Resistance or opportunity for the European Union

The “old continent” has centuries of history that culminated with the EU, an integrative regime (Agnew, 2009, 191), based on the diversity of its citizens: “United in diversity”. Through economic integration, the EU was able to achieve peace and stability in a continent destroyed many times by wars, and is now an example of how diversity can work together to achieve a common welfare.

However, the financial and Euro crisis showed the problems of global capitalism in medium income countries, such as Greece, Portugal and Cyprus. Those countries saw their sovereignty diminished as international organisations, such as IMF, had to interfere in their policies with economic programs in order to get the financial support that those countries needed. They were also dependent on reports and credit ratings from private companies, such as Moody’s and Fitch. The Eurozone crisis showed that states do not have total sovereignty if they are in a weak economic situation, and this was the main reason for a resistance to the current EU status quo.

The resistance

The economic crisis, as well the migrant crisis, are outcomes of globalisation that Honkyns and Rai refer as uneven and fragmentary, opening the possibility for resistance (2005, 9), where the “counter-Empire” appears (Hardt and Negri, 2000, 219). This definition of globalisation can be used to explain the current situation in the EU. The expansion of capitalism without strong regulations in a region so diverse as the 28 member-states exacerbated the inequalities between them. Europe saw the decline of the “embedded liberalism” provoking discontentment in its citizens, with many demonstrations happening against the current situation in the EU member-states.

Alter-globalisation movements such as the “indignados” in Spain, are not alone in the resistance. New political movements are also part of the forces challenging the current status quo of the EU, which seek an alternative mode of governance with less external interference. This also led to the rise of self-determination movements, that are now reviving the nation-state concept in Europe, where many nations are not represented by a state. Those movements are now challenging the countries that once defended self-determination in Africa, during the last century, but now are against them.

The self-determination movements tend to be seen as anti-globalisation forces (Hylland, 2014, 158), but the Scottish and the Catalan referendums can be understood as a local resistance against, and taking back sovereignty from, the state, and not a resistance to globalisation. People of that nations are tired of being under the rule of other states, and the economic crisis provoked more anger against central governments. Those nations are looking for independence from a state, but at the same time want to keep their ties with the EU and other international organisations. This shows that despite their local/national battle for independence, where they will gain sovereignty, they still want to have a role in the global world, being part of international organisations to which they would have to delegate some of their sovereignty.

The opportunity

The globalisation phenomenon puts the emphasis on the global, and sometimes the local/territory is forgotten, but reterritorialisation occurs in tandem with globalisation (Scholte, 2005, 75-78). As a regional entity with a global role, the EU is a great example of this.  State sovereignty has also been shaped according to this new trend (Agnew, 2009, 190). The physical territory is still more important to states than their sovereignty. For example, Spain delegates some sovereignty to regional entities, such as Catalonia, and to supranational entities, such as EU, but does not allow the division of its territory. European states need to change their perspective on territory and sovereignty, and adapt it in order to increase integration between member-states.

Globalisation, much like the EU, is a complex realm of interactions between the local, national and global politics and the juxtaposition of these policies matters (Amin, 2002, 397), as it is essential to understand the global network of people, states and supranational organisations. To understand what the EU is facing we need to take into account those perspectives. People (local) are not happy with their institutions at national and supranational level (national and global), as they were affected by austerity measures and saw some of their rights denied. It could be said that the economic crisis is one of the reasons for the rise of self-determination movements that had been dormant while there was prosperity and welfare for all in the EU.

Looking to the whole figure, we can see that the juxtaposition of varied factors in a space like the EU created political challenges to its status quo, but the “counter-Empire” resistance can be the opportunity for the EU to act against a globally uneven world, even within its borders. Perhaps the EU needs to go back to the “embedded liberalism” so as to give force to the diversity that it represents, where each nation will be the driving force of a social-economic union under a “federal umbrella”.

Nations such as Scotland or Catalonia would be represented with the same rights and duties of other nations in a European Federation of Nations. For this, states would need to delegate more sovereignty, even lose it, and reorganise their territory for “more Europe”. This will not happen easily as territorial control and sovereignty is still important for the states, but the self-determination of nations would be the opportunity that the EU was looking for to become a de facto federation: a political-economic-social earthquake that would provoke the will for a strong change in the status quo of the EU.



Agnew, J. 2009. “Globalization & Sovereignty”. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.

Amin, A. 2002. “Spatialities of globalization”. Environment and Planning A 34(3): 379‑568.

Hardt M. and Negri Antonio. 2000. “Empire”. in Ritzer, G. and Z. Atalay (eds.). Readings in Globalization. Harvard University Press 2010. pp. 217-226.

Hoskyns, C. and S. M. Rai. 2005. “Gendering International Political Economy”. University of Warwick. CSGR Working Paper No 170/05. May 2005.

Hylland Eriksen, T. 2014. “Globalization: the key concepts”. Bloomsbury.

Scholte, J. A. 2005. “Globalization: A Critical Introduction”. Palgrave Macmillan (second edition).