Tuesday, 28 April 2009
The BBC has reported that the ECJ has upheld* a Cypriot court ruling (that a villa built by British citizens on land that was owned by a Greek Cypriot before the war with Turkey must be demolished) and stated that court rulings in one member state must be recognised in another. This means that the owner of the land (in the eyes of the Greek Cypriot government), Mr. Apostolides can sue for compensation in the UK courts. Of course the villa in question cannot actually be demolished until (and unless) there is Cypriot reunification.
BBC background story here.
I wonder how this will affect Greek-Turkish Cypriot relations - it will certainly damage whatever market for property investment there still is in Turkish Cyprus. And it could prove another serious block in the peace process/reunification movement: it will probably raise tensions at least, though the victory of the Nationalist Party in the recent elections in Northern Cyprus have already added more strain to Cypriot relations.
*The ECJ can only interpret Community law, which is then applied by the courts in their rulings, so this I doubt it "upheld" the original ruling - it would be more to do with court recognition and compatibility with EU regulations (I'm not sure of the regulations in this area). I would be very interested in reading the ECJ case, if anyone knows the citation for it.
Edit: The Irish Times seems to give a slightly clearer overview.
However it's sad to see that there's no comparable Europe-wide coverage of the European Elections this year, despite the fact that the UK electorate will return MEPs to the European Parliament.
Does the BBC think that the European elections simply aren't a serious public interest matter? Mark Mardell may have a well read blog on Europe, and the BBC does have the Record Europe, but there doesn't seem to be the reporting resources on this election as in the Indian one.
Public Service Broadcasters should inform citizens of the political choices they have in elections - isn't that supposed to be a very basic function of the "fourth estate"? If the BBC and others don't report on anything much except on how low the turnout will be, then of course the turn out will be low - if people don't know why and for what the candidates are running, then why should they vote? Special political programmes tucked away in special political channels, aired in the middle of the night, do not serve the public well.* If something is not discussed on the main channels, then it can hardly be surprising that there aren't that many people who are aware of what's going on, or who know that there's anything to follow up on other channels/the internet.
*Annoyingly, RTÉ seems to do a monthly report on the European Parliament aired only at an ungodly hour - and I'm not sure what day it's on! I didn't even know about it until I stumbled across it. This isn't fulfilling your public service duty, RTÉ!
“The circumstances have changed: internationally, economically, financially and domestically. We don’t have the luxury of doing anything else. I am glad that we had a referendum. We were the only member state to do so, to have a proper debate, or something like a proper debate.”
Perhaps the "something like a proper debate" is one of the most revealing parts of this quote - he must have been quite unhappy with Libertas' direction, and he stepped down from his position there in September.
The circumstances have changed, but while they may highlight the need for reforming the EU to make it more effective, there was always the need for reform there.
He was also quoted as saying:
Both sides were guilty, he said, of “scare-mongering and misinformation” during the referendum campaign.
He's right here. There are wide ranging disputes over the validity of some of the No campaign's arguments, but the Yes side is guilty of being very vague about the risks of voting No, rather than debating the merits of the Treaty. Some on the Yes side are guilty of "playing the man rather than the ball", though Libertas doesn't seem adverse to using this strategy either.
Nunn's public support for the Lisbon Treaty is a blow to Libertas, and his position within Libertas during the referendum undermines Libertas' claim to being a grass-roots organisation whose members are independent from Ganley's business operations (their manifesto will be interesting to see if Libertas is still a one-man show [or at least Irish-directed] or more pan-European in its input and structure, rather than just a temporary anti-Lisbon alliance). Nunn also seems to accept that the guarantees can serve the purpose of allaying the public's fears and concerns, rather than aiming to start from scratch - which goes against exactly what Libertas are arguing when it comes to the legitimacy of a second referendum.
Edit: some more reaction here.
Sunday, 26 April 2009
But should the Parliament just depend on the goodwill of member states for increases in its power each time there's a reforming treaty? Can it afford to? The argument for increasing the EP's powers rests on the idea that it reduces the democratic deficit, but with voter turnout falling, the EP's political influence falls when it comes to this question.
The most celebrated points in the EP's history are the ending of the Santer Commission and the influence it had over the composition of the Barroso Commission. Moments of asserting, even in a limited way, the place a parliament should hold in the system. So should the EP become more revolutionary, more combative and assertive?
Take the issue of the EP's seat. At the moment it is spread over Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg. This isn't the EP's fault; this is written into the Treaties, one of many compromises between the member states. But, as I've read suggested here, should the Parliament simply rebel against this? MEPs could just sit in Brussels, refusing to travel to Strasbourg once a month, and demand to have the right to decide for itself where it sits. The institutional paralysis would be a powerful bargaining counter, though it could be a long protest, since it would take a lot to move France. (Even if the EP passed legislation, if it didn't make the trip, the legislation could be open to challenge). The commute is not popular with the public, and it would be a great chance to boost the EP's public profile and power. It could be part of a wider push for more scrutinising power over the Council and Commission, and even the power to elect the Commission.
Of course, this strategy has many weaknesses. First, it doesn't project an image of a "responsible parliament" as parliament would be blocking up the whole process of legislation (if it needs EP assent or consultation, which is the vast majority of it). Second, the EP has over 700 members under Nice and Lisbon, and it would be a huge task to keep the majority of them together in a strong alliance. Add to that the influence of national party executives over their MEPs, it would be a big ask to try and keep a unified movement running. Third, it could damage its public image at a time when it should be demonstrating what it can do for citizens in a time of recession.
And it's not to say that the EP isn't doing anything to assert itself: the recent demands of the EP to see the books of the Council or the EP won't sign off on them may seem quite boring, but if followed up with a strong stance, it has potential. The EP has little or no power over the Council: it is made up of member states, and it cannot scrutinise or fire them or COREPER. To demand to see the books of the Council is a step in demanding greater transparency, but it is also an assertion of superiority over the Council, and, by extension, the member states. It says that it is the EP that should have a say on the Council's books, and implies that the EP should have some power to back that up. There have been hints that Solana, head of the Council's bureaucracy and of the CFSP (two separate posts), could be in the firing line in the future (see here. Thanks to Julien Frisch for flagging up the video).
While the Council desperately needs a massive dose of transparency, how far should the EP have direct power over Council officials and over the Council's dealings? And how far should the Council be better made open just by Treaty?
Friday, 24 April 2009
Which is why it's interesting to see the emergence of a grass-roots, pro-Lisbon organization, which is seemingly willing to really make the case for the Lisbon Treaty:
"Mr Byrne, a member of the Green party, says the campaign is “all just friends of ours” who were frustrated by the failure of politicians to properly explain the treaty the last time or to campaign effectively, so they decided “we’ll do it ourselves”. He noted that they recently started a Facebook page and have more than 800 members. “I think Declan Ganley only has about 100” he says of the Libertas anti-treaty campaigner."
Generation Yes has it's own website, Bebo and Facebook pages, and is on Twitter. On it's website it provides bullet-points on the Lisbon Treaty along with references to the relevant Treaty article for those who want to check things out in detail. I especially like the committment to referencing all points that they make - it will be good to lend the Yes side some authority by campaigning on practical changes rather than just vague benefits. Of course, there is the danger that the debate could get bogged down in too much detail, but I doubt that would happen for very long on the streets (or even on TV debates if they get there).
Its director is the former president of Trinity's student union, Andrew Burn. It is not funded by the Irish Government or the EU, but is looking for donations to help with its campaign, and plans on raising money through events such as table quizzes.
I'm really happy to see a grass-roots pro-Lisbon movement like this come together, and I hope they'll be able to make a great contribution to the debate in Ireland.
Thursday, 23 April 2009
Here's my compatability for Irish parties:
Fine Gael: 65.1%
Green Party: 56%
Fianna Fáil: 52.5%
Sinn Fein: 27.9%
Socialist Party: 22.4%
Well, there wasn't really much chance of me voting for Libertas anyway.
For other European Parties:
Saskanas Centrs: 90.9%
Evropská Demokratická Strana: 81.3%
Liberal Democrats: (in England Scotland and Wales) 80.8%
Socialistische Partij Anders: 79.6%
Socialistisk Folkeparti: 79.5%
Sozialdemokratische Partei Oesterreichs: 79.3%
Sojusz Lewicy Demokratycznej - Unia Pracy: 78.8%
I'm surprised how high the percentages are for some of the Irish parties! (I've always suspected that I'd be a LibDem supporter if I lived in Britain). Still, I've always thought of myself as centre-left, so I think that it's basically got me right.
Tuesday, 21 April 2009
But now it appears that perhaps the anti-abortion groups have been focusing on the wrong European organisation - the European Court of Human Rights (which is under the Council of Europe, and not connected with the EU) is considering hearing a case concerning 3 women who claim that Ireland's abortion laws have breached their rights under the convention. Ireland's defense is mainly centred on the fact that the three women (known only as A, B and C) haven't exhaused the court system here (since the ECHR hsn't decided to hear the case yet). A, B and C contend that there is no point in going through the whole court system in Ireland since the whole thing is pretty much a foregone conclusion - one which would be very expensive for the women to go through to reach before going on to the ECHR anyway, and one which would have revealed their identities.
The Lithuanian government has sent submissions since one of the women is a Lithuanian based in Ireland. The Lithuanian government wants the ECHR to set out clearly the "minimum degree of protection" that the convention gives to women who want to have an abortion. The Lithuanian government also seems to side with the women's interpretation that they would be unlikely to be successful in the Irish court system, so they shouldn't be forced to go through the whole system before they reach the ECHR.
The Irish Times article on this has a good explaination, and it outlines the facts behind each woman.
The Irish Times has reported that this will boost Declan Ganley's chances of getting elected - he is running in the same constituency.
1. When the room was booked, there was no indication given that it would be used for the Libertas launch.
2. Because it did not agree with SIPTU's policies (I haven't read what SIPTU's policies exactly are in this area).
“This extraordinary and last-minute U-turn by the authorities at Liberty Hall raises very interesting questions. Caroline Simons spent a large portion of her career working with the trade union movement to secure equality for women. She adopted the same position on the Lisbon Treaty as an overwhelming majority of trade union members.”
For SIPTU's part, it suspects that the whole thing was a stunt, and claims that the purpose of the booking was not given to them:
"The union said the room was booked by a person who was a Siptu shop steward, but who gave no indication that it would be used by Libertas for the launch of Ms Simons’s campaign.
If it had known the purpose of the meeting, permission would never have been granted. “We suspect that this was a stunt from the beginning,” said a spokesman."
Which makes me wonder... It must be hard being populist with tax-cutting rhetoric in a country that is facing a big deficit and needs to raise taxes (indeed, the public discussion is on how to make tax hikes fairer rather than questioning the need for more taxation), so could this be an attempt to set up a situation to make Libertas seem like the underdogs? Either that or they or utterly incompetent when it comes to filling out forms or communicating their intentions to others - they've failed to get enough support to be eligible for EU funding, they've failed to get enough signatures in time to be registered for the elections in Germany, and now they've failed to properly go about booking a venue for their campaign launch...? Of course, SIPTU would have denied them access anyway, but surely they should have told SIPTU what they were planning. Unless SIPTU didn't make it clear what information it required for room bookings - though you'd think that union members would know what would be permitted.
And Caroline Simons?
She launched her campaign by (from the article) criticising the EU for:
1. generating 80% of Ireland's laws (this figure seems to get bigger every time, does anyone know where I can find information on this?).
2. Costing €130 billion each year.
3. The threat to Ireland's corporation tax - for proof of this threat, Angela Merkel's comment that Ireland's corporation tax needs to be revisited was cited (though, my impression was that this would have been part of any bail-out of Ireland by Germany. And I thought the citation for the comment was just a German official, though Simons may have been referring to something else - can anyone point me anything that backs up her point? Anyway, if Germany wants it changed, then that's Germany's policy towards Ireland, not an EU policy - and in any case, Ireland retains a veto under the Lisbon Treaty in such matters). Simons is reported to view this as: "the greatest threat to Ireland’s independence".
4. The institutions waste money - the money the EP has spent on upgrading their fitness facilities, etc. was highlighted.
Though it was repeated that Libertas is not Eurosceptic, no alternative vision of the EU was put forward (or reported), and there was no reason given why they think the EU is necessary. I'm not sure how well their rhetoric will go down - they seem to be running a very British-style anti-Brussels campaign about footing the bill and not getting anything in return ("What do we get here? The bill."). I don't think that that line of argument will be very successful when everywhere you look there are billboards saying that "This [infrastructure project] was jointly funded by the EU", and the general consensus is (and the fact is), that Ireland has been a net beneficiary of the EU.
If the money is being misspent (and I mean the overall EU budget here), then does Libertas have a budget policy? Or will it have one?
Monday, 20 April 2009
1. Have purely European constituencies. Instead of allocating seats on a national basis, distribute them on a European basis. I would be personally against this, due to my feelings on the importance of national identity (smaller states wouldn't wnat to be "divided up" while larger states would undoubtedly have several constituencies within their national borders). This could be changed to include 2 "national" seats per state.
2. Have a certain number of transborder constituencies. It would be limited to crossing the borders of 2 countries, or 3 at the most, due to language barriers. Otherwise seats remain allocated nationally.
3. Have some seats resevred for transnational lists. The seats of the EP could be "topped up" with voting for one of the EP groups, as well as "national" seats. The groups could pick the candidates for these lists themselves, rather than the national parties, so this would strengthen the party groups.
4. A mix of 2 and 3.
These options could have the effect of strengthening European-level democracy by giving the elections more of a transnational character structurally, leading to an incentive for a more "European" debate. There are probably more ways of looking at this, and I'd be interested to know people's opinions on this.
An independent Scotland within the EU would have more representation in both the Council and the EP, though I doubt that Scotland would get 14 MEPs in this scenario - most likely that the number of seats for other states would go down to fit in with the current cap of EP seats (736 is it?). Under Lisbon a similar system applies with the seat cap at 751 MEPs.
Grahnlaw responded with a post about the representation of citizens in the EP, which are based on degressive proportionality - small states are over-represented to the extent that the weight of your vote varies wildly depending on which country you are in. So if you live in Malta or Luxembourg, your vote counts more than that of a citizen in Germany.
Grahnlaw is right that this is all about representing the states rather than about finding a way of representing the citizens on the one citizen, one vote model. It is probably also true that with the system set up this way it will be almost impossible to reform it into line with this model. However, since the EU is primarily an Union of states rather than of peoples, I can't see much of an alternative to the way it started except a radical straight-to-federation Union, which still isn't politically possible.
That representation is tied up with representation in the Council makes the whole thing more complicated, but I don't think the fact that the two are linked is in itself bad or irrational. It's part of the debate in any federal or quasi-federal structure: what should be the representational balance between big and small states, and how should citizens be represented? My personal feeling is that there should be a minimum representation for states in the EP: national and state identity matter very much, and, though the Council is the proper place for national representation, there should not be the sense that small countries are being pushed out of the EP, which is one of, if not the, most legitimate institutions of the Union.
It would not be good if the people of small states became less trusting of the EP, and felt that it didn't represent them.
That said, "the one citizen one vote" argument is powerful, and needs to be addressed - here, I would say that as states become more equal in the Council (of course, veto thresholds would need to be raised), seats in the EP should be distributed more fairly, with the minimum allowance for MEPs per state cut down - e.g. to 2 per state. After all, if states' votes in the Council were less weighted according to population, then it would be more logical to make EP seat distribution more fair.
I should note that an important question here is one of identity, and of national representation versus individual representation - which is linked to ideas of national versus individual sovereignty, which I've mused about here and here. Since I come down so much on the side of individual sovereignty in my mini series so far, it might be surprising that I've stressed the need for some recognition of national identity in the EP. While I wanted to show with my first two posts that it is a mistake to nationalise notions of sovereignty and legitimacy (and that there can be adverse effects to concentrating these concepts into one identity), I still think that national identity is of great value - just that it shouldn't be of paramount value. Identities do matter in representation, and this should be allowed for in the EP and the overall EU structure (just not in the overpowering way it is now - I agree that citizens should be the most important group, rather than states).
And then, of course, representation in the Commission is another queston...
Edit: I've posted a few more follow up comments here. Sorry to divide things up like this.
Sunday, 19 April 2009
The Eastern Partnership is interesting in several aspects:
1. It is made up of countries who could join the EU in the future - unlike the Union for the Mediterranean, so the member countries have more of a stake in its operation. Even if EU membership is long delayed or even ruled out, the member countries can probably count on a degree of economic integration and benefit.
2. The Commission could potentially be the top institutional actor on the EU side in this case, rather than the Council, which normally deals with the grander aspects of EU foreign policy. Why? Because a lot of the policy meeting in the Partnership will be with Commissioners from the relevant policy area, whereas meetings with the Council will be much rarer.
3. Russia. The Eastern Partnership is an economic sphere of influence, and Russia fears that it stands to loose a lot of influence in the region. That Belarus did not recognise the breakaway republics in the Caucasus when Russia did suggests that Russia may already be loosing influence, as Minsk tries to balance the EU on one side and Russia on the other.
There will be an Eastern Partnership summit, and the invitations have been sent. And some of the invitees are controversial, especially Belarus, which has been described as the last dictatorship in Europe.
Given the stated values of the EU of democracy and human rights, should Belarus be invited? It's my understanding that Belarus will be involved at a lesser level than the other states, but this still gives Belarus a major boost in relations with Europe - without any real attempt at reform.
However, I am persuaded of the value of engagement - it doesn't mean that we should be soft on Belarus, but a forum where the EU can engage with Belarus can create an environment more favourable to reform. Belarus is a close ally of Russia, and it could easily slip back into being isolated from Europe. It also means that even if we do engage, any process of reform with Belarus will be painfully slow: that Belarus is balancing Russia and Europe shows that it's looking for a political constellation that gives it the most leeway to do what it likes, not that it is starting to see any value in European values. Yet this opening means that, through the Eastern Partnership, some reforms could be achieved.
The EU is all about slow institutional change: it's what it does best. The benefits of Europe can only be shared with the Eastern Partnership states through joint reform and opening up on both sides. This road isn't inevitable, and Belarus could stop at any point along it (as could any of the others), yet some reform is better than no reform, and some influence is better than raging impotently outside.
That is, if the EU plays it's cards right. (And is this more likely if the Commission has the key role? Consistency is an important factor in foreign policy; especially if one actor is playing both sides and looking to exploit any opening it can find...).
Friday, 17 April 2009
As someone from Northern Ireland, I guess I should have said something about the elections here before, but I have to admit that I haven't found the European elections in NI interesting - there hasn't really been any campaigning yet, though I think the candidates are pretty much selected, and the communal divide means that the poll won't even mean that the result can indicate and shift in political opinion in a way that matters in an EU sense or even in the traditional political sense of left v right. Elections in NI are largely still just the popular method of measuring the political weight of (1) each community in comparison to the other (2) each of the parties strength within their own community.
On the other hand, the election is interesting in that it could show developments in these areas, which I have perhaps been wrong to dismiss as not really that interesting. (Perhaps it's more interesting from the outside since it's different from "normal" politics?).
So I'll try to say something about the European elections in NI with a bit of pan-European perspective. However, I should give some background first.
Northern Ireland elects its MEPs by STV, just like constituencies in the Republic, but unlike the D'Hondt list system in the rest of the UK. NI sends 3 MEPs to the EP, and currently they are Bairbre De Brún (Sinn Fein), Jim Nicholson (UUP) and Jim Alister (TUV).
Background - the 5 main parties:
There are 5 main parties in NI (or four, depending on your perspective): the Alliance Party, the Democratic Unionist Party, Sinn Fein, the Social Democratic and Labour Party and the Ulster Unionist Party. 2 Nationalist, 2 Unionist and 1 cross-community. Then there's the Traditional Unionist Voice, which was founded by Jim Allister, a current NI MEP who was elected on the DUP ticket in the last election.
DUP: The hardline unionist party, which has some fundamentalist christian viewpoints (though perhaps I'm confusing that with a lot of the party membership and leadership having those views). Currently the largest party in the NI Assembly, and promotes itself as defending the union with Britain and being able to force nationalists in line with their policies. Generally right wing, but more in the populist and fundamentalist religious sense rather than the classical right-wing economic sense. Is non-aligned within the EP, and is putting forward Diane Dodds (wife of Nigel Dodds, an NI Executive minister for finance). European policies? None, really - rhetoric focuses on ensuring that "Ulster's voice in Europe is a Unionist one", and on keeping Sinn Fein from claiming a propaganda victory of topping the poll. What this means in a practical policy sense I have no idea. ("At all times our priority must be the defeat of Sinn Fein"). The only hint at a European tinge to the language is the need for the agricultural sector in NI to have a strong voice in Europe.
Sinn Fein: The hardline nationalist party (or republican), and the biggest nationalist party in the Assembly. Very left-wing, and has a very effective campaigning machine. It has a website for the EU elections, and probably is the party in NI with the most widely known views on the EU and the Lisbon Treaty due to its involvement in the referendum campaign in the Republic. It has many of the traditional far-left critiques of the EU, and sits with the GUE-NGL in the EP. It is against the current "neo-liberal" version of Europe but is for a "critical but constructive engagement" with Europe. It is Gaullist in the sense it wants a Europe of sovereign states (would this not conflict with their idea of a "democratized UN"?), and it is for a classical neutrality for Ireland. Pro-(Irish)unification, pro-worker's rights, anti-Lisbon. It will be interesting to see if it plays its ideological cards in the North as well as the South or if it plays the communal game (I suspect the latter). Bairbre de Brún is their candidate.
UUP: the moderate unionist party, who have linked up with the Conservatives to portray itself as a pan-UK party (opposed to the DUP, its stronger rival, and Sinn Fein, which is pan-Ireland). They have a European Election selection on their website. The tone has changed to a more Tory-friendly line (which has upset the UUP's more left-wing supporters) - it did once use its alignment with the EPP as a selling point (influence in the EP while the DUP sit to the side without support, etc, etc.), but now points to its conservative links (MEP Jim Nicholson is the Conservative's UK Regional Affairs spokesperson in the EP, their website says). The tone of the UUP seems to be centre-right, pro-business, anti-red tape, anti-euro, anti-Lisbon - so the basic conservative line, really. However, the UUP also speak of the need for NI's agricultural sector to have a voice in Europe - I wonder what their policies are in this area, and if they conflict with the Tories anti-CAP stance? Also, by aligning themselves with the Conservatives, they are open to the same charges of being weak in the EP since they won't be part of the biggest (or second biggest) group anymore. It shouldn't affect them much electorally, though, in the sense that the DUP is in an even weaker group position. However, it could still have an effect, as I'll speculate later. Jim Nicholson is their candidate.
SDLP: Centre-left and very pro-European, they sit with the PES. But no separate page or tab for the European Elections on their website. There is only a policy summery rather than a proper policy document. They have traditional centre-left stances on issues such as workers rights, the importance of social aspects being incorporated into the single market, etc. Their policies seem quite thin except for support for introducing the Euro into NI. This could be a policy brought over from the last election, and it could be quite unpopular as NI has got a big boost from the drop in sterling's value - lots of shoppers crossing the border from the south to shop - especially in Enniskillen and Newry which are, or are in, traditionally nationalist areas. I've no idea who their candidate is.
The Alliance Party is cross community and aligned with the liberals in the EP. They have no chance of winning a seat in the EP, but they are the main opposition party in the Assembly and could attract transfers. They are also pro-Euro.
Euro Elections 2009:
Jim Allister, who has broken away from the DUP to form the even harder hardline Traditional Unionist Voice (he believes that Sinn Fein should be excluded from power sharing). So this election is important for the DUP - they have to show that they still retain the support of the unionist community, and that there aren't enough anti-DUP hardliners to make the TUV viable. I doubt that Allister will retain his seat; I think the question is how much potential he has to split the Unionist vote.
This could also make the the preferences of voters more important - the tendency for voters to express cross block preferences. E.g. the tendency for SDLP voters to list UUP candidates in preference (after SDLP candidates) before Sinn Fein candidates or Alliance candidates - with the thinking being that, since there will be a unionist MEP anyway, it is in the interests of SDLP/UUP supporters to ensure that their moderate block wins out over the more extreme/hardline parties. So how will the UUP's Tory alliance so down with SDLP voters? Will they list the Alliance (or SF) in higher preference to the UUP because of it? SDLP voters tend to be more pro-European - how will the strengthened Eurosceptic line of the UUP go down? Will this affect communal block voting considerations?
So on one level it is interesting to see how the mainstream parties fair and if the hardline parties will do better in the more settled post-St. Andrews Agreement environment. It will also be interesting to see if cross-block strategic voting will be strengthened and will coalition-style thinking begin to enter onto the NI political scene?
You may have noticed that as far as normal politics go, nationalists and unionists are restricted to a certain side of the right-left divide. For those who look forward to more normal politics, NI has a long way to go, and, really, can never fully get there until the constitutional/national question is resolved, or deemed unimportant.
Interesting in one sense, frustrating and restrictive (and predictable) in another.
Nosemonkey has said that he might not vote in the European elections because of the list system in the UK. I prefer the candidate-centred STV approach, yet in some ways the political culture of NI means that my political choices are more restricted.
When we think of states, we mainly think of nation states, and the question is: how far does identity have to be connected to the exercise of sovereignty (and vice versa), and how does the answer to this potentially impact on the idea of the freedom, or even the sovereignty, of the individual?
Nations and states:
Nationality is a shared identity between a usually large group of people. It is a modern, politically constructed identity; though this is not to take away from its value, as all identities are constructed in one way or another. But how far should the ideas of nationhood and statehood be combined?
There is a bit of the chicken and the egg about nations and states: which comes first? The first nations arose as identities in pre-existing states and helped bind the population to it though a shared identity. Identities already existed at a local level - to local leaders or a sense of shared community - and in all of today's modern nations there would have been (and still are) many smaller local identities of varying strengths. There is a level of natural/popular selection and elite selection in what identities and political preferences when it comes to what identity becomes the "national" one: what is popular transmits well, but the elite sanction and promote an identity or aspects of several identities. So if we say that nations should ideally be sovereign, then which identities are deserving of the status of nation - and sovereignty? How should they be judged?
Do nations develop and then claim statehood - as we seem to see in our modern world? Or do pre-existing forms of state or semi-state pre-date national identities? Different legal/economic/etc treatment of groups of people based on local identity(ies) can raise some identities to the level of nationhood and lead them to stake a claim on statehood - so it can be argued that the exercise of power on a group of people due to the identity (or perceived identity) they have can provoke a political response where the identity takes on a more political tone in the popular imagination and demands a level of sovereignty. (E.g. in Ireland, even during 1801-1922, there was a separate administrative branch than in the rest of the UK - and despite a common parliament, Ireland was legislated for differently to the other parts of the UK - indeed, reforming acts in England and Wales were usually only introduced into Ireland after a time delay, and sometimes only after political pressure from Irish political parties).
National identities are political identities, but the state itself has important consequences for identity - which can sometimes be at odds with the idea of the nation.
Nationalism sees sovereignty as the ultimate goal for the expression of itself as an identity. In nationalism, the nation - as an abstract, politicised, notion of the people - is sovereign through the state, which should coincide with the boundaries of the nation. As a political identity, political ideas separate from most identities can be inserted into it, sometimes with the effect of a cultural deterrence of some political policies - e.g. socialism/welfarism is "anti-American". All identities by their nature exclude some ideas, and this goes for communal identities as well, but if we are to assign one the power that goes with sovereignty, then we should ask what that means for the individual. After all, nationalism implies that it's the group that matters, rather than the individual. It's one thing to say that there needs to be some form of shared identity to make shared decisions; it's another to say that all governing decisions should be made through the medium of one shared identity.
The state imports, by its nature, ideas of individuality (the book, Democracy in Europe is very good on this). If the law applies to all equally, then at some level, everyone must be equal - this idea is expressed in terms of citizenship. Individuals have their own quality apart from their social status or function. Nationality can give a similar form of identity, but it is more geared towards communalism rather than individualism. The communalism and individualism of nationalism and the apparatus of the state can conflict, and is usually kept separate at some level - cultural norms don't have to be given the force of law, so that we can say that, for example, generally people of nation X have a ritual festival in May; but it doesn't have to follow that laws enforce participation in the ceremonies.
Well, going back to the idea of sovereignty, we need to ask whether we value a certain identity so much that it should be naturally vested with (or be the source of) sovereignty and that our governing decisions should (only) take place though that medium, or if we take the model that individuals are the source of sovereignty, and that power is delegated up only as far as is required to ensure effective decision-making, seeing identity as one factor among many, as important as it is.
Clearly I've a very liberal view on these matters - that the individual should form the basic building block of society and that the individual should be protected. There is a communalist approach, which I have no doubt neglected in explaining as fully (well, I'm writing blog posts, not essays, so a lot is left out), so you can follow that up if you wish. I just thought I should flag that up.
Hopefully next time I'll get around to more directly EU-related issues.
Wednesday, 15 April 2009
What is sovereignty?
Or what do we mean by sovereignty? If we take sovereignty to mean the ability to decide matters within a territory without the input of other extra-territorial actors, then we immediately face questions about who exercises sovereignty, and what are the limits of sovereignty in practise? And where does sovereignty come from?
Who exercises sovereignty?
This is usually a question that is settled within the territory by a constitution - the most popularly held theory in the west is that sovereignty, or the decision-making power, needs to be spread or divided between several state institutions. The idea behind this is that if sovereignty is concentrated in a single person or institution, there would be no effective check on the possibility of tyranny. Therefore the executive, legislative and judicial functions of the state are usually divided between different institutions, though in practise it's never achieved exactly as is may be conceived in pure theory.
(Questions of effectiveness also impact on how far sovereign power should be divided: if the legislature cannot influence the executive, and the executive cannot introduce/initiate legislation, then how far is effective (and democratically responsive) governance affected?)
In some cases sovereignty may not be as divided or constrained as this: the UK's unwritten constitution is a good example of this, with sovereignty vested solely in parliament. Such constitutions are more political (they give the most power to (hopefully elected) politicians) than the codified constitutions that are more familiar nowadays - codified constitutions usually allow the judicial branch to trump the legislative and executive branches since the courts can decide whether or not they have acted/are acting constitutionally.
Who is sovereign?
Or where does sovereignty come from? The two commonly referred to models are those of popular sovereignty and parliamentary sovereignty. Parliamentary sovereignty is where the parliament is sovereign, perhaps in the style of the UK constitution, though in theory this could derive from the idea that the people are sovereign and the parliament, as the representative of the people, should thus be sovereign constitutionally. In the UK, parliamentary sovereignty derives from an older form of sovereignty: the monarch was previously sovereign (somewhat in the style of absolute monarchs) and over time and through conflict this sovereignty was "stolen" by the parliament. Under UK constitutional theory, and in some other similar constitutional systems, the people are not sovereign.
Popular sovereignty is where the people are considered sovereign: e.g. the Irish constitutional system. In practise, of course, this doesn't usually translate into much more than a more direct say on constitutional issues, but it is perhaps a more modern way of looking at the issue. However, it does raise an interesting theoretical issue: whereas in structures where sovereignty is vested and sourced from the top, the state is defined by itself - its own power - and is self legitimising ("It controls, therefore it is"), states based on popular sovereignty could be said to conditional - power is (in theory) delegated to the organs of the state because they can effectively enforce, through good governance, the will of the people.
When the question turns from the fixed idea of sovereignty as solely a fixed territorial notion to the effective translation of the individual or the community into practical governance (for how else in our modern world can we justify the imposition of political power by the state on the individual?), then the question becomes: does the current state, in its current form, have the ability to deal effectively with the issues affecting the area it governs (or, more importantly, the individuals its governs)?
By fixing sovereignty at the individual level, the resulting thinking could take some very overtly federalist tones: which powers, and at what level, should be pooled by each of us to ensure the best environment for the expression of both individual and collective wills in an effective manner, and in a manner which minimises the conflict between them?
Constitutional questions thus remain forever open, and assertions of traditional fixed forms of states loose their value as arguments in themselves. At the same time, this thinking contains by its very nature the individualism of strands of western political thought: by viewing sovereignty as an individual quality, protection of the individual should remain central to the states resulting from it.
This does have the effect of changing and blurring the original definition: sovereignty becomes less an absolute concept, and one of relativity and power-balancing and effectiveness. It also becomes blurred on the territorial front: the state doesn't become more mobile - it still needs to be fixed to a defined territory - but its sovereignty/power derives less from the land it controls, but from the individuals who happen to live there (it's not because the state controls the area that it can control the individuals to an extent; it's because the individuals in a certain area require a way of effectively administering to the shared needs across a certain area).
Sovereignty becomes less of a value in and of itself, but a question posed of how we balance the values we hold and how we handle the power distribution which affects those values in practise.
In my next post in this series, I'll look at the nation-state, sovereignty, and the EU.
Tuesday, 14 April 2009
Vague provisional outline:
(2) Nations, States and Sovereignty
(3) the EU and Sovereignty
- Democracy and Union
Sunday, 12 April 2009
Which is a pity, because I've said that I'll read the Open Europe report, and see what they have to say, and Nosemoneky's latest article on European identity/models of super-states has me itching to write something on the whole polity question. I might write about something if I can rattle it off quickly.
Thursday, 9 April 2009
There's a website, if you want to take a look.
I'm not sure if this will have a massive impact on turnout: after all, people still need to get around to registering to vote, and manage to get to the voting stations - MTV will no doubt get a big turnout - it is MTV (the operative part being "TV"). But it's the best campaign strategy yet for the EP elections in terms of raising awareness.
I've complained about the tendency to depend on internet campaigns in targeting voters when used in isolation (how many uninterested Europeans will look up Europe on the internet?), but this could work well in increasing interest and awareness in the elections: it uses traditional media to stir up interest, offers ways to express opinions and get involved through the internet, and offers a way of physically getting involved and meeting others.
Open Europe is not impressed at this development, though I can't see it making any other argument other than the "guess who's paying for it!" one, which is always strikes me as simplistic and populist, but when it's used in isolation it's particularly unconvincing. Perhaps I'm old fashioned, but I like arguments when they advance an alternative vision, or at least provided a moderately detailed explanation of why something is flawed and won't work. It may describe itself as a think tank, yet I fail to see the analytical and critical thought behind its blog posts. (Or should a think tank be free of expectations of such intellectual effort in its blogging activities?)
My general opinions on engaging voters and debates can be found here and here.
So how much money can be justly spent in engaging voters simply to get them to vote, and in what manner should it be done?
Edit: Open Europe have given me a link to their report on information, which will take a while to read.
Monday, 6 April 2009
Verdict? Europe was being to stubborn and unreasonable - and there seemed to be an almost complete ignorance of what the EU actually is.
The question was [paraphrasing from memory] "now that Obama has pushed for Turkey to be admitted, or at least called for Turkey to be admitted, into the European Union, will that increase Turkey's chances of joining?". There was no reference made to the French or German reactions to Obama's - well, I'd like to call it a gaffe, but has there been any recognition to this outside of Europe?
Turkish membership was discussed purely as a way of "reaching out" to the Islamic world. I'm a big supporter of Turkish entry, but I wouldn't support it if it was just a gesture of "reaching out". It was never said, but the discussion and the questions gave me the sense that Europe was being obstructionist; Turkey was co-operating; would Europe risk endangering the success of Obama's reaching out?; can't Europe see how good it would be to reach out to Turkey and the Islamic world?
First of all, why is EU membership being spoken of as a US foreign policy tool? It seems so obvious that to point it out is almost idiotic, but it seems that it has to be done - the US is not an EU member. Though it would make more difference if I told them...
Second, membership is not a token gesture awarded to countries to make them feel better (in fact, how could an empty gesture make much difference in international diplomacy?): EU membership means a high degree of economic integration, along with elements of political and cultural integration (Turkey would probably make the "big 3" a "big 4"). Membership is a huge step, and it should only be granted when the candidate country is able and willing to take on the obligations as well as the rights - it's not something dreamt up to be used purely for some touchy-feely exercise of "reaching out".
And I'm surprised at this. I don't hold American journalism in particularly high esteem (why watch CNN when you can watch the news?), but America has been the source of a lot of literature on the EU/Europe, both academic and popular, and the American public generally reads more books on China, Europe, geopolitics, etc. than European publics. And you would think that a financial news programme would be aware of the workings of the EU, and how political decisions can impact on economic ones.
They did have a French political analyst, who just kept insisting that it was a "sensitive issue" in Europe, without explaining the significance of membership. Still, a casual knowledge of the EU would help if you're going to report on it. Must do better.
Under Lisbon, the European Council Presidency would be electable by the European Council for up to two 2 1/2 year terms, an institutional change intended to promote coherence and a higher degree of continuity in the Council's direction, and to reduce the likelihood of stuff like this happening.
Now Gordon Brown is reported to be backing Blair for the post, the rationale being that there needs to be more British representation in key world roles. So does this revive the debate of whether or not Blair would be a good appointment, with the good of high profile & experience versus the bad of - well, no need to detail this side...?
I have to admit that my emotional response to seeing Blair speaking as President of the European Council would be queeziness (it's a valid emotional response), but he does have some leadership qualities. It would depend on the other candidates (of whom I assume Junker would be one...?).
The US has certainly given its blessing to the Union, though this has upset those who see parental blessing as outmoded and interfering.
Apart from the issues concerning Turkey itself (of which there are many [see further down]), the EU's "Turkish Question" is mostly about the EU itself, and how it sees itself (though everything seems to boil down to that in Europe nowadays). So here are 2 incomplete models (they overlap a lot, and they're also unsatisfactory in themselves anyway): Europe the geographical and Europe the cultural.
1. Europe the geographical:
Despite the fact that Europe is not really a continent in the geographic sense (it is a continent largely through a historical-cultural consciousness/tradition), there are geographically themed arguments for the limitation of Europe.
The EU should be limited to the European continent (and a limited version of that), since most of its benefits only make sense in that context: peace between European nations, strong and strengthening trade links with neighbours, plus cultural factors are heavily influenced by geography: history and common values can only spread so far and bind so many. By expanding the EU beyond Europe's "natural frontiers" (an idea heavily layered in political and cultural thought in itself), these common ties weaken - not just between older members and the newer, far-flung members, but between all members.
The common ties linked so heavily with geography cannot be so easily exported, especially since the EU model of integration leaves national identity and cultures largely intact: without a higher degree of assimilation, which would in itself detract from the European model, how could such an ever widening membership retain a common identity? Addition of new member states beyond a certain frontier is also of dubious value in pure materialistic terms: the greatest beneficiaries of integration are the core geographical countries: goods and services flow thickest between the original 6 and their neighbours due to geographical factors (though all countries benefit greatly from the single market). The further the member state is from the "core", the less the materialistic benefit to the older members. The opening of markets is a great benefit, but would geographical factors mitigate against the realisation of this potential, and render it a paper gain, whereas the costs remain real.
2. Europe the cultural:
This includes some of the ideas in the "geographical" model: a shared history and geography form the basis of common cultural ties. However, it moves beyond that to hold up some of the rationales underlying the EU (as opposed to the current form of the EU itself) as containing universalist ideals which are ripe for export to other countries, and that there can be a process of societal and value change which may result in a country sharing the same "top-level" of values: the welfare state, similar views on the relationship between the state and the individual, on the relationship between individuals and between states and peoples. This "top-level" of values and cultural modes of thinking would leave most local and national traditions and identities intact, but it would set them in a context suitable for membership of the EU without weakening the common values of the Union.
The cultural model places less store in the limiting factors of geography, and this applies to the material sphere: before the "big bang" expansion of 2004, there was no group of member states that could provide a counter-weight to the core. As the eastern European states grow more wealthy, they could form a "core" of their own - or more likely, give rise to a series of interlinking cores across the continent. Such a set-up would be more stable than the geographical model suggests, and all member states would benefit from a strong single market economy both economically, and politically in trade talks, etc. The "costs" to older member states would decline as the newer member states become more wealthy and develop equally strong trading links, and the benefits of their membership for the other members would remain and grow. The increasing power of technology as a communication tool and a trading tool also unlocks the potential of sustaining strong trade and economic links, as well as cultural links, across greater distances.
While the cultural model underplays the restrictions of geography, the restrictions of time are more acutely felt: values take longer to transmit than the acquis of the EU.
These are both terrible models - I'm leaving a lot out, and throwing in a lot of my own speculation, as well as implying a level of coherence and awareness about the models that doesn't translate into real life. But I've tried it to shed some light on what I think are a few of the arguments that underlie enlargement.
My own feelings for the moment lie somewhere in the middle, as a mix of both. Both are to some extent arguable with the models of ASEAN, Union for South American Nations, and the Africian Union. These organisations show that the universalist aspects of the EU model can be exportable - but perhaps that the limits imposed by geography, as well as political factors, mean that this will result in regional variants rather than EU expansion. (Granted, this is a crude comparison).
So where does Turkey fit in in all of this? It has some territory in what is classically considered Europe, and it has many of the same values that are considered shared European values. There are also big differences on both counts: the "European territory" is small, and Turkey faces legal reform challenges, especially on Human Rights.
Of course, there are also a lot of political reasons too: letting in a big, comparitively poor country raises issues of the balance of political power within the EU institutions and the strain on the EU budget, quite apart from any politically sensitive cultural differences. My personal preference is that Turkey should become a fully-fledged EU member - apart from all of the practical arguments, I feel that we have already made a committment to Turkey's eventual membership by opening negotiations, and it would be wrong to turn our backs on Turkey now - if anything else, it will reduce the EU's leverage in the region.
As for the big question of "Kleineuropa oder Grosseuropa?", I'm a Grosseuropa-ist at the moment, though I would put off accepting any more candidates for membership until the EU is institutionally ready for them.
Friday, 3 April 2009
I had previously largely dismissed concerns that the fall of Topolánek's government would make that much difference to the Czech Presidency of the European Council (mainly based on the assumption that Topolánek's government would remain in place until Parliament could elect another one), but this article has made me think again. Though it should be noted that the Parliament may have trouble forming a government without any suggestion of interference from Klaus (the CSSD have acted irresponsibly as an opposition, so I wouldn't be surprised). In any case, if a government can't be formed, it certainly leaves a lot of power in Klaus' hands.
Whatever you're view on the EU and Klaus' Eurosceptic stance, the scenario painted is a disturbing one: that a government may be forced on an unwilling Parliament by what should be a ceremonial head of state. Perhaps I'm influenced too much by the role of the head of state in the UK and Ireland...
Thursday, 2 April 2009
However, doubts have been raised about the legal possibility of this route: MEP Andrew Duff has suggested that general revisions of the main treaties cannot be achieved through accession treaties. He cites the Danish opt outs being included in the Amsterdam Treaty as an example.
If this is true, then it's a big blow to the strategy of the Irish Government in obtaining the legal guarantees politically (though not necessarily legally) vital to getting a Yes vote in the second Lisbon Treaty campaign.
Meanwhile, the government has re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-affirmed (again), that it will not be complacent in the next referendum. Why are these statements still treated like news? It was issued during a EU debate in the Dáil, where it was shockingly revealed that more work needed to be done on the guarantees.
Wednesday, 1 April 2009
However, as long as they're independent and fair, this would be a good development; both for Europe, in that it will scrutinise the fairness of the elections, and for the authority and legitimacy of election monitors. A mutual exchange of election monitors could weaken claims of bias and political motivation aimed at weakening the legitimacy of European election monitors when they deliver an unflattering verdict on a country's election.