ANTWERP, Belgium — As debt-burdened European governments struggle to overcome the disparities in their still-imperfect union, old demons of regional separatism have surged anew in recent months, raising another unwelcome challenge to the continent’s traditional nation-states.
Separatist movements have dramatically reinforced their positions here in Belgium’s prosperous Flanders region, where the independence-minded New Flemish Alliance captured Antwerp’s 16th-century City Hall on Oct. 14 and, under its populist leader Bart De Wever, is heading into national elections in 2014 with new wind in its sails.
“There is an outcry in Flanders for change,” declared Danny Pieters, vice president of the Belgian Senate and a senior Flemish alliance leader.
Independence-minded nationalists also have made recent gains in Spain’s Basque Country, returning to power in the regional government after a four-year absence, and in Catalonia, where separatists running the regional government have threatened to hold a referendum on whether to remain part of Spain. In Scotland, which has been part of the United Kingdom for 300 years, such a referendum has already been scheduled for autumn 2014 — on the anniversary of a battle in which Scotsmen defeated the British.