The Balkanization of Western Europe

Catalonia is a Spanish province, but the Catalans do not consider themselves Spanish, and they want Catalonia to be independent. Catalonia is autonomous and also has its own parliament. On September 27th 2015 the pro-independence coalition won the Catalonian elections, as you can read at the following Guardian article. “Catalan elections: secessionists claim victory – as it happened”, September 2015.

Catalonia is one of Spain’s richest and most industrialized regions, as you can read at the following BBC article, titled “Catalonia profile”, January 2015.

80% of the Catalans believe that Catalonia pays too many taxes to support Spain, and they also believe that the investments of the central Spanish government to Catalonia are very small when compared to Catalonia’s tax burden and contribution to the Spanish GDP.

See “Catalonia’s tax burden: If you put up with it, they keep taking your money”, November 2012,

The discussion between the Spanish and the Catalans resembles the discussion between the northern Europeans and the southern Europeans, with the Catalans accusing the rest of Spain for not trying enough, and the rest of Spain accusing the Catalans for a lack of solidarity. The Catalans are not the only ones to claim independence in the European Union. There is the issue of Scotland in Great Britain, of Flanders in Belgium, of the Basque Country in Spain and of Venice in Italy. See the following maps.

Map 1 (rough) Catalonia

Map of Catalonia

Map 2 The Basque Country

Map of the Basque Country

Map 3 Flanders

Map of Flanders

Map 4 Scotland (Great Britain)

Map of Scotland

Map 5 Venice (Italy)

Map of Venice,_2014#/media/File:Veneto_in_Italy.svg

The European Union and NATO see with great anxiety all these separatists movements, because they could destabilize and Balkanize Western Europe. For Russia on the other hand all these separatist movements are a gift from heaven. The Basque, the Catalan and the Venice independence would destabilize Northern Spain and Northern Italy and would make it harder for the Algerian and Libyan natural gas and oil to travel to Europe and compete with the Russian state owned giants Gazprom and Rosneft. The Nigerian natural gas can also travel to Europe through Algeria, Spain and Italy if the Trans-Saharan pipeline manages to pass from the Sunni Islamist terrorists organization of Boko Haram.

Map 6 Catalonia, Basque Country and Venice (rough map)

Map of Catalonia Basque Country and Venice

Actually Russia and Spain have a long rivalry that goes back to the 1930s and the Spanish civil war, when Hitler and Mussolini were supporting General Franco’s nationalist socialists and Stalin was supporting the Spanish communists. The nationalists finally won the war in 1939. After the end of the Second World War, Spain and Russia had very problematic relations. In the 1960s the Russian-Spanish relations were improved, and in 1977 Spain and Russia established full diplomatic relations. However in 1982 Spain joined NATO and relations between the two countries deteriorated again. The Spaniards were accusing the Soviets of supporting ETA, the Basque terrorist organization which stands for Basque independence, as you can read at the following New York Times article, titled “Premier says foreign states foment terror in spain”, May 1981.

4η, 5η, 6η , 7η, 8η Παράγραφος

He said others ”want deceitfully to prevent our people from reaching the objectives of a peaceful and modern life, crowned with liberties, in the place that corresponds to us as a free nation.”

A high Government official said later that the Prime Minister was referring to ”the Soviet Union and its satellites,” which the official said included Cuba, Libya and Algeria.

For some time, Spanish politicians and others have speculated that the Soviet Union might be assisting the Basque terrorist organization E.T.A., hoping to precipitate a military coup that would prevent Spain from joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. But Mr. Calvo Sotelo was the first to make the accusation, however veiled, in public. 2 Soviet Aides Expelled

Since Mr. Calvo Sotelo took office – the formal vote installing him was interrupted Feb. 23 by an aborted military coup – relations with the Soviet Union have markedly cooled. Two high-ranking Soviet officials have been expelled, and 20 other Soviet citizens have been told that their residence permits will not be renewed. The Government has also taken measures to reduce the Soviet fishing fleet near the Canary Islands.

A central feature of Mr. Calvo Sotelo’s program has been a commitment to bring Spain into NATO, a process he hopes to start this year by a vote in Parliament.

However there was something uniting Spain and the Soviets, and that was the conflict between the Spaniards and the English over Gibraltar. Gibraltar is of great strategic importance for controlling the straits connecting the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.

Map 7 Gibraltar

Map of Gibraltar

Gibraltar has been under English control since 1713, but the Spanish want to regain its control, as you can read at the following Financial Times article, titled “UK accuses Spain of ‘clear violation’ of Gibraltar’s sovereignty”, Augusts 2015.

The conflict between Spain and England over Gibraltar was the main argument of the Spanish left which wanted Spain aligned with the Soviets outside NATO. However in 1982 Spain joined NATO under the leadership of the center-right Spanish Prime Minister Leopoldo Sotelo. One of the main arguments for joining NATO was that it would help Spain to join the European Union. And indeed in 1986 Spain joined the European Union too.

I have mentioned in the past that Spain wants to provide Europe with an alternative to the Russian natural gas. Spain has the largest LNG facilities in Europe as you can read at the following Bloomberg article, titled “Gas Carousel Making Spain Europe’s Biggest LNG Exporter”, April 2014.

Spain is also connected to Algeria with the Maghreb and Medgaz pipelines, and can be connected to Nigeria if the Trans-Saharan pipeline is constructed at some point (Nigiera-Niger-Algeria-Spain + Italy).

Map 8 Spain-Algeria-Natural Gas

Map of Spain

However Spain is not yet connected with the rest of Europe with pipeline networks, but that can change if the European Union decides to finance such pipeline networks. As you can read at the following Euractiv article, titled “Spanish MIDCAT pipeline to replace 10% of Russian gas imports”, January 2015, at the moment there is only one pipeline connecting Spain and France, the Larrau pipeline, which can only transfer 5 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year. In the same article you will read that Spain expects from the European Union to finance the MIDCAT pipeline, which will connect Spain and France and will reduce Russian imports to the EU by 10%.

“Spanish MIDCAT pipeline to replace 10% of Russian gas imports”, January 2015.

1st and 2nd Paragraphs

Spain’s sophisticated gas infrastructure could help Europe reduce its dependence on Russian supplies once projects to pump gas across the Pyrenees become a reality, the head of a Spanish gas association said yesterday (27 March).

Europe’s most highly diversified gas importer has vast untapped import capacity which it could use to route gas into France and beyond. But underdeveloped pipeline links with other countries have effectively made Spain a gas island.

5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th Paragraphs

Spain, meanwhile, does not receive any of its natural gas from Russia and was entirely shielded from the EU gas crises of 2006 and 2009 when rows over unpaid bills between Kyiv and Moscow led to the disruption of gas exports to western Europe.

Strategically positioned on the Mediterranean, about half of its gas comes from Algeria and the remainder from ten different countries around the world, mainly in the form of liquefied natural gas (LNG) which is shipped on tankers.

Spain spent billions of euros on its gas infrastructure during an economic boom. With seven LNG regasification plants, it has more capacity to turn liquefied natural gas back into gas than any other European country.

Now it is lobbying the EU to forge ahead with plans for a new pipeline, called MIDCAT, to transport gas into Europe.

MIDCAT, which is currently on the European Commission’s list of strategically important projects, would put Spain’s interconnection capacity with France at 14 billion cubic metres a year (bcm/y). The 190-km pipeline is planned to run along the Mediterranean coast.

“With this pipeline Spain could replace 10% of what Europe currently receives from Russia,” Peris of Sedigas said.

Right now there is only one gas pipeline between Spain and France, called Larrau, which can transport 5.2 billion cubic metres (bcm/y), a fraction of the 462 bcm of gas consumed by the EU last year.

A new pipeline called Biriatou, running from Spain’s Basque Country into France, could add another 2 bcm/y of interconnection capacity when it is completed in 2015, Peris said.

As you can read at the following Financial Times article, titled “France, Spain and Portugal look to unlock Algeria gas exports”, June 2015, France, Spain and Portugal are promoting a plan which will bring the Algerian gas to Europe through the Pyrenees Mountains. The Pyrenees Mountains are the natural border between France and Spain.

Map 9 Pyrenees Mountains

Map of the Pyrenees Mountains

Map 10 Algerian Pipelines to Europe

Map of Algerian Pipelines to Europe

Source: FT

“France, Spain and Portugal look to unlock Algeria gas exports”, June 2015.

I hope that it is by now obvious how useful it would be for Russia, Turkey and Iran if there were disputes in northern Italy and Spain. These disputes would make much harder the transfer of Algerian and Nigerian gas to Europe.

Map 11 The Basque Country, Catalonia and Venice

Map of Catalonia Basque Country and Venice

Spain is a NATO member, and if the Basques and the Catalonians were to gain their independence, problems would probably arise between them and the Spanish government. Maybe the Basques and the Catalans would have to turn to Russia for help since Spain is a NATO member. For the Basques of ETA that would not be a tough decision because they are communists. That’s why the Russians have so much enthusiasm over the Basque and Catalan issues, even though they try not to show it in order not to spoil their relations with Spain. Russia and Spain have descent relations even though they have somewhat antagonistic interests.

At the north of Spain, there is the issue of Flanders in Belgium. Most Belgians at the south of the country are of French origin, and most Belgians at the north of the country are of Dutch and German origin. If the Flemish people decide to go for independence problems between France and Germany could arise, and that would push Germany closer to Russia.

For Scotland the situation is almost the same. Since the 1970, when oil and natural gas was discovered at the North Sea, the Scottish people started asking for their independence.  But the prices of oil and gas exhibit significant fluctuations and the Scottish people are not sure whether an independent Scotland will be able to finance her public spending. That’s why the Scottish people vote against Scottish independence as you can read at the following BBC article titled “Scottish referendum: Scotland votes No to independence”, September 2014. However if oil and gas become scarcer, and prices rise, for example due to a new war in the Persian Gulf, the Scottish people might come back with a new referendum for independence.

See also “The Oil and Natural Gas of the North Sea : The Case for Scottish Independence”

The Arctic Ocean is very rich in oil and natural gas, and USA (Alaska), Norway, Denmark (Greenland), Canada and Russia, have conflicting claims over these oil and gas reserves. With gray you can see the oil and natural gas reserves of the Arctic region.

Map 12 Oil and Gas Reserves of the Arctic Ocean

Map of the Natural Gas and Oil Reserves of the Arctic

The United States, Canada, Denmark and Norway, are all NATO members, and even though they have some internal disagreements they are united against Russia. If Scotland becomes an independent state and has disputes with England, Scotland might have a motive to turn to Russia, since England is a NATO member. Something like that would greatly destabilize NATO in the Arctic region.

Mar 13 Arctic Ocean and North Pole

Map of the Globe

At the following Guardian article, titled “Russian ambassadors: next we’ll take Catalonia, Venice, Scotland and Alaska”, April 2014, you can read that a conversation between the Russian ambassadors of Eritrea and Zimbabwe was recorded. In this conversation the two Russian diplomats were saying that Russia must take Crimea, Catalonia, Scotland, Venice and Alaska. The conversation does not really matter because the two ambassadors were just kidding, but it shows what the Russian interests are.

“Russian ambassadors: next we’ll take Catalonia, Venice, Scotland and Alaska”, April 2014.

The European Union is worried with the possibility of a balkanization of Europe, and has clearly said to Scotland and Catalonia that if they become independent states they will have to wait in the queue in order to join the European Union. See the following Euractiv article, titled “Brussels says an independent Catalonia would need to leave EU”, September 2013.

Moreover as you can read at the following article of the Independent, titled “Catalan independence: Voters head to polls in ‘de facto referendum’ on seceding from Spain”, September 2015, Barack Obama and the United States are very devout supporters of Spanish unity. The article also mentions that the British Prime Minister David Cameron said that Catalonia will have to wait in the queue if she becomes an independent state.

3rd Paragraph

The government of Spain and a host of political leaders across Europe have said that an independent Catalonia will have no automatic right to join the European Union or other institutions. Last week, Barack Obama threw his weight behind Spanish unity.

10th Paragraph

At the heart of the issue is any future Catalan state’s membership of the European Union, which Mr Mas and his allies say is automatic. Mr Rajoy has moved to scotch this idea and has persuaded other European leaders, including David Cameron, to say that Catalonia would be forced to “take its place at the back of the queue”, of EU accession countries. Speaking to reporters last week Mr Rajoy said that Catalans would “lose the rights they have as Europeans and Spaniards” if Catalonia became an independent state.

 Therefore it seems that the Scottish, the Catalonian, the Basque and the Flemish independence could significantly destabilize Western Europe, which for the moment is Europe’s safest part. For Russia on the other hand this destabilization could be a great gift as I explained.

I must also mention that the Russians have tried to purchase a stake in the Spanish energy giant Repsol, as you can read at the following article from the Russian state owned Sputnik, titled “Gazprom looks at buying 20% in Spain’s Repsol”, November 2008.

In the past the Russians also tried to purchase Sonatrach, the Algerian state owned energy giant. See “Gazprom VS NATO : The War for Europe”.

With all the above I do not mean to say that Russia and Spain are in some kind of war as it is the case with Russia and Turkey. Russia and Spain have conflicting economic interests. Actually when the socialists were in power in Spain, the Spaniards and the Russians made some energy deals as you can read at the following Reuters article, titled “Russia, Spain sign energy deal, smoothing investments”, March 2009. Socialists do not have many concerns about national interests and they are always easy prey for the Russians.

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