In much of the EU the regions that wish to be independent are the richer parts of their present countries. In Spain Catalonia is the most enterprising and highest income part of Spain along with the Basque country which is also keen on having more self government and control of its own tax revenues. In Italy the main force for independence comes from the Northern League where average incomes are much higher than in the south and where economic performance has been much better than in the rest of the country. Venice is a particularly successful city state with a strong wish to be independent. In Belgium the richer north is keenest to split away. In Germany there is less force for self government thanks to the relative success of federal economic policy despite the lander system of devolved government, but even there it is rich Bavaria which seems the most semi detached. In the UK it is different. The richest part of the country is London but there is no serious move to create a City state independent of the UK, whereas some parts of the Union that require substantial transfer payments with lower average incomes have a strong sense of individual identity. Scotland’s wealth and income is a matter of dispute depending on how you account for and project oil revenues.
Language is often a force for separation. The Catalan and Walloon speakers of Spain and Belgium see their language as part of their difference from the rest of their current country. The EU has fostered the development and revival of local languages which has reinforced these feelings. The EU seemed to want to use local and regional identity as a force to weaken the power of unitary states like Spain and Italy. It appealed over the heads of the member states to these regions. It had in mind not a host of smaller new countries claiming independence, but a subsidy or dependency union for the regions. It looked forward to regional allies and gratitude for the money sent to the regions, money it only had thanks to the contributions of the member states.
Now the EU is so much more powerful it has new problems to resolve. Will it seek to play down the demands for independence generally, as it is clearly doing in Catalonia? And now it has ambitions for a common foreign policy, how will it respond to similar tensions in non EU countries? Is it pleased with its work in Ukraine, where it wants the Russian minority to accept the pro EU policy of the western majority? In the Middle East is it feasible to ally with the Kurds against ISIL but to deny them their aim of a Kurdish state? Does the EU seek a federal solution to the governance problems of Iraq and Syria?
Outside the EU the politics of identity can become violent and extreme. It is most important the EU treads carefully if at all over these intricate and deep seated issues within Europe as we wish to keep the peace.