- Gibraltar aerial view (source: http://www.flickr.com/people/14944226@N07, through Wikipedia)
Recently, Gibraltar has become the newest European country by passing the most rigid of all tests – acquisition of the UEFA membership. I didn’t see it coming, did you? Gibraltar is in fact, the smallest European country, smaller than San Marino in terms of both area and population (of course, Vatican and Monaco are even smaller, but they’re not members of UEFA, are they?). In the last decades, Europe has been the world’s primary supplier of new countries. Even though Europe is called the “old” continent, of the 34 new countries formed since 1990 26 have been formed in Europe. Or is it 25? Read on to find out…
As the statistics clearly show, the odds are that the newest country in the world will be a European one. That it will be a small one, is even more likely. So what will be the newest small European country? There’s no shortage of candidates – the list of active separatist movements in Europe contains dozens of movements from some 30 countries. Some, like the ETA, are well-known, but who has ever heard of the Northern Epirus Liberation Front? In addition, there are 6 states with limited recognition in Europe, 5 of which have national football teams. Which one will become the newest UEFA member, thereby earning to be called a “country”? Here’s my shortlist of the most probable candidates.
The Catalonia national football team has already played over 200 matches. That in addition to the unofficial Catalonian national team – FC Barcelona. The football basis of Catalonia is obviously as solid as they get. But do they have the guts to say “adios” to Spain? Talk of Catalonia’s independence has been going on for years, decades and centuries, gaining much autonomy for the region, but my guess is that Catalonia just doesn’t have what it takes to make the jump and will remain part of Spain for the time being.
Next year, Scotland will hold a referendum on the issue of independence from the United Kingdom. The announcement has fuelled speculations of Scotland becoming the newest European country. These speculations are, of course, nonsense. Scotland is already a member of UEFA and therefore is a country on its own, regardless the outcome of the referendum.
Two for the price of one? Ever since Belgium was created, its French-speaking and Dutch-speaking parts are not on speaking terms (good one, right? I came up with it myself). The country holds the curious – whether sad or happy is for you to judge – world record of spending 19 months without government. Belgium seems to split at every election campaign, but like an unhappily married couple, the Wallonians and the Flemish seem content with making each other miserable. I wouldn’t bet on the Belgian split just yet.
- The Vatican, Monaco and the United Kingdom
This unlikely trio are the only fully recognised sovereign European states that are not a member of UEFA. They should have little problems joining should they wish so, but the chances of any of the three making the step are rather slim. The Vatican doesn’t see the point, AS Monaco is satisfied with being part of the French league and the UK national football team is a mirage, forever showing all the Britons what could have been if they’d have the will to unite.
While Kosovo is called a “country” by many, and is counted as the 26th new European country in the list mentioned above, its not a member of UEFA yet. Therefore, it doesn’t count as a country as far as this weblog is concerned. Kosovo is the most widely recognized non-UN member state in Europe, and its football federation has already applied for FIFA membership. However, approving de-jure the de-facto independence of Kosovo is a too bold step for the FIFA (and presumably, the UEFA as well). The formal approval of Kosovo’s independence might open Pandora’s box of breakaway-breakaway republics, such as Abkhazia, South and perhaps North Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh, Transnisria, Northern Cyprus, Republika Srpska and so on, some of which already possess the ultimate symbol of independence – a national football team. FIFA and UEFA do not want that responsibility.
- The unexpected candidate
As mentioned, there’s no shortage of candidates to become the newest small European country. Who knows, perhaps it will be Gagauzia, Samogitia, Chuvashia or Krakozhia that will surprise the world by becoming the newest small European country.