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Residents and tourists enjoy a sunny day in East Beach in Salou, Catalonia, northeastern Spain. / Jaume Sellart, European Pressphoto Agency

This autumn is looking like national divorce season in Europe, beginning with Scotland's Sept. 18 referendum on breaking up with the United Kingdom.

"There is no question that in Spain and elsewhere, they are looking very closely at this vote," says Richard Whitman, an expert on European politics at the University of Kent in England. "If, for example, an independent Scotland is allowed entry into the European Union in a fairly uncomplicated manner, then that will create an important precedent for Catalonia."

Catalonia, the semi-autonomous Spanish region whose capital is Barcelona, is likely to push ahead with a Nov. 9 vote to separate from Spain, despite attempts by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to block it.

Madrid has already rejected a similar request for an independence referendum by Spain's Basque region. The Basques have lobbied for an independence referendum for more than a decade. Eta, a radical Basque separatist group, has not disarmed after years of hostilities.

"It's an interesting moment for Europe," Whitman says. "Scotland is creating what you might call a 'possibility' for others."

Scotland's and Catalonia's secession movements are not entirely analogous. Catalonia's case for political self-determination rests partly on the idea of cultural and linguistic suppression. Scotland's top complaint is economic and social discrimination by Parliament in London, which is seen as too far away and otherwise engaged to serve Scottish interests.

Albert Royo-Mariné, secretary general of the Public Diplomacy Council of Catalonia, a government-supported group that seeks to raise awareness about Catalonia, says that regardless of its outcome, the Scottish referendum is a "victory for democracy and common sense, and thus, it is a great example to Catalans."

Elsewhere across Europe, there are other fledgling breakaway states.

In Flanders, a Dutch-speaking part of northern Belgium, pro-independence Flemish activists have been agitating, albeit at a relatively subdued level, for more autonomy from Wallonia, the southern French-speaking part.

Online polling in Venice earlier this year found widespread support for Veneto, a northern region of Italy, to ditch Rome and go it alone, although the poll's accuracy has been questioned.

And the world has watched this year as Russian-speaking militants in eastern Ukraine have been fighting for greater autonomy from the central government in Kiev, if not outright independence.

Whitman says relatively small states are becoming the norm in Europe, and big nations, such as Germany and France, the exception. He notes that the three Baltic republics, Luxembourg, Malta, Cyprus and the Czech and Slovak republics are all recent examples of successful new nations that have thrived in spite of their small sizes.

"These places seem to exercise their sovereignty even within a global context," Whitman says, "and that's a powerful message for secession movements looking to emulate their success."



Copyright 2014USAToday

Read the original story: Scotland's independence fever is contagious

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