Let’s have more countries – it’s what people want

This morning we welcome a new country to Europe. The creation of Kosovo as another state in the unstable Balkans is a reminder of how strong are the passions of people over their identity. The differences between people in Europe have been sources of tension and conflict for centuries. The shifting pattern of settlement, the divisions over religion and creed, the impact of great migrations and the long shadow cast by history lie behind so many of the persistent disputes.

Although Europe now has 45 countries, there are those who would like to see more. Passion is on the side of more smaller units. It is only the politicians and bureaucrats who are the Empire builders, wanting to create neat and larger units, drawing artificial lines across territories that are themselves crossed by the deeper marks of history and culture.

Belgium is witnessing a classic struggle between the Flemish speakers and the French speakers, as the Flemish seek to establish their own independence from the larger country. The Basques have never been happy with rule from Madrid. Scottish Nationalists would dearly love to drop their link to London, whilst English nationalism is now growing. South and North Italy are not entirely happy companions in a single country.There are still disagreements about the ideal shape of the country map in central Europe. In each case there has to be a democratic way to settle these issues that meets with the approval of a large majority to create stability. As a supporter of the Union of the UK I know the government needs to do more to engage people in seeing why it has worked in the past and making them feel it is fair today.In some of these European cases the large majority will want to keep the bigger country where it has established deep enough roots and loyalties of its own. In other cases people will want a redesign of the borders.Past attempts to unite the Scandinavian lands fell apart. Austria is once again an independent country. The two components of Czechoslovakia prefer their divorce to marriage.The three small Baltic states love their ability to go it alone.

I remember discovering just how deep these feelings can run, and how small the units are that command allegiance, when I inherited the task of remodelling Welsh local government. The 1970s reorganisation created large and unpopular units in many parts of England and Wales. The proposed 1990s scheme I inherited had been based on a bureaucratic view of how large a unit you needed to have a “viable” Council. The bureaucratic idea of viability bore no relationship to how people felt about themselves and their area. I decided instead to recreate the old counties of Wales, and to free the larger boroughs, giving to each their own unitary Council. Wherever I did this it was popular. I remember the representatives of Merthyr, overjoyed that I would give them their own Council after all, saying to me that they would have made me a Freeman of the Borough if only I hadn’t been a “Tory”! That was praise indeed.

The official machine disliked all these concessions to history and to feelings. They complained at every new extra Council I wanted to create. We ended up with the battle of Powys, which naturally split into the three old Counties of Brecknock, Radnor and Montgomery. Radnor was tiny, and I buckled over how feasible it would be for it to have its own all purpose local authority. I tried to free Montgomery from Powys, but Radnor and Brecon hated that solution even more. I set up a scheme for devolved decision taking in each County by the Councillors elected for that County in Area committees, so they could have some of the advantages of independence alongside the economies of the larger unit. It was not what they really wanted. They wanted independence. I regret not insisting that we split the three Counties, as I had done for the others, for identity does matter.

I wish Kosovo well, and hope that its independence will bring it more happiness. All those in government should remember just how local loyalties are, and how strong a sense of place and history people have. As a negotiating Minister in the EU I could still feel the fault lines from Reformation Europe. As a Minister involved in local government reorganisation in the 1990s it was obvious that the new and larger constructions of the 1970s had not settled down and had not won popular consent. There are still parts of Europe that feel they are governed from the wrong place by the wrong people. If we want a happier Europe we need more countries, not less, and more freedom for their governments,not more central control from Brussels.

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15 Comments

  1. David Hannah
    Posted February 17, 2008 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    Kosovo is part of Serbia's territory, as is recognised internationally. By offering support to Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence, the West's political leaders are setting a dangerous precedent. Would the UK's politicians greet a future declaration of independence from Luton or Bradford with similar enthusiasm? After all, as you pointed out, identity does matter. The British Government's response stinks of hypocrisy, given their previous attitude to Rhodesia's similar declaration.

    It's no wonder that the EU has been instrumental in the support of this notion (although I'm sure their support will melt away should the Russian's get agitated). After all, the Brussels regime is the sworn enemy of the nation state. The perpetual break-up of the nations of Europe can only help their cause, as a prequel to these new nations' collective subservience to the EU in the future. Sadly, the Kosovars are too blind to see that they are being played for fools when they wave their EU banners in appreciation.

    I agree with you on the identity of the historic counties. I fully support their reinstatement for the purposes of local government (the counties themselves were never abolished, as the Local Government Act 1972 makes clear). The identities of our historic counties have been ingrained in our consciousness for hundreds of years, and the Heath government had no right to obliterate these allegiances. Why shouldn't Radnorshire have its own administration? It has a population similar in size to some of the Swiss Cantons, and they all have their own Parliaments, constitutions, taxation systems, and a great deal more sovereignty than our own local councils, which are merely Branch offices of Westminster and Brussels.

    By all accounts, Switzerland seems to have strong democratic credentials and an efficient government; one that

  2. D. Hartnett
    Posted February 17, 2008 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

    Your general points are all fair enough and well taken. But is Kosovo's transition to nationhood as simple or as straightforward as you seem to imply? There appear to be many shadows lurking in this particular landscape. Have you seen, for example, "Kosovar Endgame", an article by Joshua Trevino, at the Brussels Journal site? This raises many serious concerns.

    On another matter I look forward to your comments on the reported Nationalisation of Northern Rock.

  3. Matthew Reynolds
    Posted February 17, 2008 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

    I agree with much of what you say ! The only trouble is that freedom for Kosovo could mean a Greater Albania and possibly war . The UN will never sanction it owing to Russia’s veto . International Law was flouted with the air attack on Yugoslavia in 1999 . The Serbs needed stopping – but dismembering their country a la Hitler was surely a step too far ? We kicked out Saddam Hussein’s genocidal regime without breaking Iraq up . You can stop one evil regime from killing innocents without changing its national borders . The EU tore Czecholoslovakia apart by appealing to the Slovakian nationalists as Hitler did . The Serbs actions in Kosovo where very bad – but so is what Putin has done to the Chechens . The only difference is that the Serbs have no vast natural resources unlike the Russians – hence the fact that one nation gest torn apart while the other gets away with it . The KLA are linked to Al- Qaeda and the West helped them and has turned a blind eye to atrocities committed against the Serbs in Kosovo . Just like in the 1980’s we have armed Islamic Radicals to fight a Slavic people – then bin Laden fighting the USSR and more recently it has been the KLA attacking the Serbs . Tudjmans antics where a disgrace and yet not much was done to curb his attacks on the Serbs . Surely justice demanded that he be in the dock along with much of the old Serbian leadership ? I know the Serbs have not been blameless in all this & using the 1389 massacre to justify what when on is not right as two wrongs do not make a right . The Serbs have suffered too and after all they where with us against Hitler along with Czechsolovakia . Hitler dismembered them along the same lines that the EU has now while we abandoned them after the Iron Curtain came down accross Europe . I hope that this is of interest – history is often constructed by those with a vested interested in conveying a particular view . Objectivity is to be strived for and I hope that this text is in that spirit . The Serbs are not all bad and they have suffered and have helped the West while being let down by it . They have paid for their Leaders crimes while others who are not blameless get away with it …..

    Reply: This interpretation too is contentious, because there are strong passions on both sides. I have not gone in to the origins of these changes or the role fo the UK, EU and NATO in Balkan conflicts. Suffice it to say I argued unsuccessfully for us to stay out of these conflicts when I was in the Cabinet, and felt that EU/NATO intervention might make things worse.

  4. Posted February 17, 2008 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    The elections in Kosovo have necessitated an ethnic cleansing to which the world has been both blind and deaf. The British government and the EU may be jubilant, but this is no triumph, for there has been a systematic elimination of 230,000 mainly Serbs but also Jews and gypsies from Kosovo since the UN took over in 1999. 311 out of 427 Serb settlements in Kosovo have been completely ethnically cleansed since the war by NATO and the EU to

  5. Matthew Reynolds
    Posted February 17, 2008 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

    I agree with much of what you say ! The only trouble is that freedom for Kosovo could mean a Greater Albania and possibly war . The UN will never sanction it owing to Russia's veto . International Law was flouted with the air attack on Yugoslavia in 1999 . The Serbs needed stopping – but dismembering their country a la Hitler was surely a step too far ? We kicked out Saddam Hussein's genocidal regime without breaking Iraq up . You can stop one evil regime from killing innocents without changing its national borders . The EU tore Czecholoslovakia apart by appealing to the Slovakian nationalists as Hitler did . The Serbs actions in Kosovo where very bad – but so is what Putin has done to the Chechens . The only difference is that the Serbs have no vast natural resources unlike the Russians – hence the fact that one nation gest torn apart while the other gets away with it . The KLA are linked to Al- Qaeda and the West helped them and has turned a blind eye to atrocities committed against the Serbs in Kosovo . Just like in the 1980's we have armed Islamic Radicals to fight a Slavic people – then bin Laden fighting the USSR and more recently it has been the KLA attacking the Serbs . Tudjmans antics where a disgrace and yet not much was done to curb his attacks on the Serbs . Surely justice demanded that he be in the dock along with much of the old Serbian leadership ? I know the Serbs have not been blameless in all this & using the 1389 massacre to justify what when on is not right as two wrongs do not make a right . The Serbs have suffered too and after all they where with us against Hitler along with Czechsolovakia . Hitler dismembered them along the same lines that the EU has now while we abandoned them after the Iron Curtain came down accross Europe . I hope that this is of interest – history is often constructed by those with a vested interested in conveying a particular view . Objectivity is to be strived for and I hope that this text is in that spirit . The Serbs are not all bad and they have suffered and have helped the West while being let down by it . They have paid for their Leaders crimes while others who are not blameless get away with it …..

    Reply: This interpretation too is contentious, because there are strong passions on both sides. I have not gone in to the origins of these changes or the role fo the UK, EU and NATO in Balkan conflicts. Suffice it to say I argued unsuccessfully for us to stay out of these conflicts when I was in the Cabinet, and felt that EU/NATO intervention might make things worse.

  6. david skinner
    Posted February 17, 2008 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

    I have next to no knowledge of Kosovo or even where it is; but the establishment of an islamic state in Europe sounds like a (words implying a bad idea-ed). http://www.savekosovo.org/default.asp?p=9

  7. rob
    Posted February 18, 2008 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    Dear Mr Redwood,

    I too am in favour of independent nations in Europe. How about our very own free from the EU?

  8. Bazman
    Posted February 18, 2008 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

    Every mouse wants to be the farmer or at least boss of the field.
    Britain and many European countries are already very small without dividing them up further. What next? London? How about Yorkshire, the largest county? How about all the counties? Why stop there? Anyone remember the comedy sketch show Naked Video and the sketches about Stoneybridge?
    Stoneybridge was intended as a satire of the isolation and insularism of Scottish villages and how things that are taken for granted are seen as wonders to small communities. The portrayal was also a parody of local politics and the petty Bonapartism of local council leaders. Their bid for the 1996 Olympics was very good.

  9. Rose
    Posted February 18, 2008 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

    I agree with all you did in Wales, and what you say about counties, Flemings, etc. I am relieved too to hear you tried to keep us out of Bosnia, which misguided intervention taught the KLA how to manipulate the USA and NATO, and whose "success" led ultimately to the further "ethical intervention" in Iraq. But I feel a terrible injustice has been done to the the Serbs, from which we may yet reap the whirlwind. We SHOULD bear in mind all that is past, as that is what they feel so keenly now – all those bodies floating down the river in our parents' day, and which did not enter into the collective memory of war crimes.

  10. Peter Drew
    Posted February 18, 2008 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    More countries mean more politicians. No wonder you're in favour!

    Reply: I am one of the few politicians who campaigns for fewer politicians – that is a very unfair jibe. Try reading my comments on too many politicians in other blog articles.

  11. Freeborn John
    Posted February 19, 2008 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    There is a very clear trend towards more and more nation-states in the world, up from ~60 in 1945 to 193 today. There are around 600 languages in the world each spoken by several million people each such that one would expect each of these to represent a people with an aspiration for self-government. With a global economy emerging in which all nations large and small can prosper equally the economic costs of national independence has never been lower for those nations prepared to open up to this global market. And although military force is still used to hold some peoples (such as Tibetans) in states against their will, there are fewer nations held in captivity than at any time in history. All these factors point to more nation-states emerging in the future.

    This does not mean that there is no scope for supranational organisations, so long as they represent an international social contract to which each nation voluntarily consents. As with a social contract binding citizens and the nation-state, an international social contract should exist for specific purposes; namely (i) to provide for a common defence if necessary, (ii) to enable nations to pursue shared projects that neither private enterprise nor an individual nation can realise on their own and (iii) to prevent the people of one state from harming the interests of people in another state. The existence of NATO for example is justified in that it provides for (i) in Europe. The chief fault of the European Union is in grossly exceeding these limits (particularly iii) such as to remove decisions that should only ever be made within the arena of democratic politics that only exist within the nation-state by virtue of the strong solidarities, shared language, dialogues and political culture made possible by the national

  12. Dave Ashworth
    Posted February 20, 2008 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    Quite amazing that Kosovo can become an independent state in such a short time span, whereas Palestine still lacks real support.
    By helping Palestine to become an independent State, the West would remove some of the problems which have plagued that region for some 50 years.
    By helping Kosovo to become an independent Sate, the West is potentially adding problems to that region.
    As someone here has already mentioned, let Britain become free and independent from the EU. Let us have a return to the path we once followed, the path of democracy here at home.
    Let us lead by example and not tell others how they should live.

  13. John I
    Posted February 20, 2008 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    I have always felt that a larger state of Europe will ultimately lead to more internal conflict and the increased risk of major conflict.
    This flies in the face of the EU being originally set up to prevent another European and possibly World conflict.
    I always felt that braking down National borders would lead to ethnic and historical independence pressures.
    This is now proving the case. Let us hope it does not lead to full conflict.

  14. David Johnson
    Posted February 24, 2008 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    You say Europe needs more countries, but that you are a unionst. Contradiction, no? Scotland has it's own government (not quite sure why they do have this actually – paid largely by English taxpayers and they haven't really earned it), whilst all the political parties refuse to create an English parliment – which is the ONLY satisfactory solution to the current problems.

  15. Andrew
    Posted March 5, 2008 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

    Kosovo is a free country for a free people! We should all congratulate then on their independence and freedom.

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  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, He graduated from Magdalen College Oxford, has a DPhil and is a fellow of All Souls College. A businessman by background, he has been a director of NM Rothschild merchant bank and chairman of a quoted industrial PLC.

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