Friday, December 9, 2011

European bugaboo

Our Eurosceptic fellow citizens love to argue against closer integration within the EU using the loss of sovereignty bugaboo. But is that something to be really afraid of? And is it really a loss as in 'I lost my wallet'?

The idea of losing sovereignty is a heavyweight weapon which is powerful enough to keep the common herd from even thinking of something greater that exceeds the current borders of the state they are living in. If some decision making is to be moved from the state-level to the European-level, it must be bad. Bad!

But what does state-level sovereignty mean to an individual citizen, how can he benefit from it? Does it make any difference if the decision is made on the state level or on the European level? In either case, the citizen does not have a direct control over the decision. In both cases, he can indirectly influence it in elections. Now the question is, which level is capable of making more competent decisions. The answer will differ depending on the subject. Decisions with potentially global impact will be better made on the global, i.e. European, level while decisions with only local effect are better to be made on local, perhaps even sub-state regional level.

As for the noun loss, I think it was carefully chosen to dress the bugaboo with duly scary rags. I think sharing or delegation of sovereignty are both more fitting words, because the member state is actively participating in the European-level decision making process and thus still has some say over the issues. On the European-level, it even has a say over the issues it previously didn't have any control of.

Now, is this something to be afraid of? Should the citizen be alarmed if the state's fiscal policy is regulated on the EU level? In theory, a whole will not cause self-inflicted wounds to its own parts, will it? Of course, this self-preservation feature needs to be achieved by a balanced power sharing.

For example, the Constitution of the United States was designed in such a way that one house of the US Congress honors the States populations, while the other gives each State the same rights. The US Congress thus follows two power sharing principles: the more populous the State, the bigger say, and all States are equal in some sense.

In Europe, we have a similar system. Member states are represented in the European Parliament proportionally to their population, while the Council of the European Union will have one minister per member state. From 2014, the voting system in the Council will change towards qualified majority voting, giving thus more power to states, while still considering their population sizes. The European system can be further improved to more resemble the US one, but it still contains the two above principles.

The US is a good example of successful integration. It has a balanced constitution which enabled nearly twice the number of EU member states to coexist together and effectively share sovereignty. Maybe the Americans succeeded because of good timing or because after Articles of Confederation, this was already their second attempt at forming USA and they were able to learn from their own mistakes. From the few Americans I know, I have never heard worries about e.g. Californians overrunning Wyomingites in decision making.

By the way, the European Union today shows most of the weaknesses of USA under the Articles of Confederation, doesn't it? For the European Union to work effectively, it is necessary to share more sovereignty and share it in a more effective way. For example, the qualified majority of US States can amend the US constitution. This way of going forward is unheard of in the Old continent. The EU Treaty can only be changed by ratification in all member states, which makes any enhancements painfully slow, if not impossible.

In closing, I wish for less ambitious and populist member state governments, greater leadership on the European-level and much greater sense of belonging to the same Europe.

1 comment:

Gedare said...

Nice analysis. The separation of powers between federal and state (10th amendment) is a primary reason for the adoption and, I believe, success of the US system. Another primary reason for its success is the division of power among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches.

By the way, in the US we hear similar arguments about "loss of sovereignty" whenever the media talk about foreign relations of any kind, especially about the UN, NATO, or any treaty.