As a relatively rich region with its own independence movement, Catalonia’s not alone: A small set of secession movements in historically productive areas, most visibly in Europe, say they’d be better off on their own, and more are pointing to Catalonia’s example to regain momentum. Belgium’s Flanders region, one of the birthplaces of modern commerce and the host to a separatist party that made gains after the global financial crisis, boasts a GDP per capita 120 percent higher than the EU average. If the German state of Bavaria were its own country, as the Bavarian Party wishes, its economic output would crack the top 10 of EU member states, according to its government. And last weekend, two deep-pocketed northern Italian regions that are home to each Milan and Venice, passed nonbinding referenda for greater autonomy. In Europe, resentments of paying to cover less productive countrymen are longstanding, but recently they seem to have intensified as a swirl of nationalist sentiments has swept the continent.
The common wisdom used to be that separatist movements mostly came from weak minorities that rallied around racial or ethnic injustices. “With globalization, that changed significantly,” said Andrés Rodríguez-Pose, a professor of economic geography at the London School of Economics (LSE). “Virtually everywhere in the world,” movements have swapped out the “identity card” for the “economic card.”