Catalonia in north-east Spain will issue a challenge to Brussels when its voters are asked to declare whether they want an independent state within the EU.
Regional leader Artur Mas said on Monday he planned to ask the question, including the reference to the EU, during a four-year term that starts after regional elections on 25 November – even though Spain's prime minister,Mariano Rajoy, has threatened to block a referendum.
A yes vote in the referendum would not just create a constitutional crisis for Spain, which has no mechanism for allowing the independence of one of its regions, but would also issue a clear challenge to the EU, which has no system for the breakup of a member state. A new entity could have future membership blocked by just one member country.
The Catalan referendum would take place around the time of a similar vote in Scotland in 2014 and could be followed by an independence vote in the Basque country, where nationalists and separatists are expected to win elections this weekend. Basque nationalists have long pursued the dream of joining the EU as a separate state on an equal footing with Spain.
"Do you want Catalonia to become a new state within the European Union?" is Mas's preferred wording for the referendum.
He told the newspaper La Vanguardia that a definitive question would be agreed by the Catalan parliament, where he can expect to renew his majority on 25 November. He said he would like to follow the Scottish example and negotiate a referendum with central government, but Rajoy's conservative People's party (PP) government has vowed to use Spain's constitutional court to declare any referendum illegal.
Life may be about to become complicated for our European overlords in Brussels. It is not just Scotland in the frame; Catalunya and the Basque country might be heading in a similar direction. And it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that Belgium might be inspired to take a final step towards disintegration. Nor are certain parts of Italy immune to centrifugal forces. In these circumstances, the EU may have to move away from its present policy of sticking its head in the sand and pretending that nothing will ever change.