STATE SOVEREIGNTY, NATIONALITY AND THE EUROPEAN UNION – SOME DEMOCRATIC PRINCIPLES
by Anthony Coughlan (*)
Nations and Nation States make up the international community. “Globalisation” and the supranationalism of the European Union affect the environment of Europe’s Nation States, but do not make them out of date. Nationhood, shared membership of a national community, is the normal basis of democratic States in the modern world. This is shown by the advent of several new European Nation States to the international community since 1989, and the likely advent of many more States, in Europe and across the world, as the 21st century continues.
The following democratic principles are proposed as fruitful ways of approaching questions of nationhood, State sovereignty and the European Union. No claim is made for their novelty, but they may be useful as setting out what may be regarded as the classical approach of democrats to these issues.
1) INTERNATIONALISM, NOT NATIONALISM, IS THE PRIMARY CATEGORY
We are internationalists on the basis of our solidarity as members of the human race. As internationalists we seek the emancipation of mankind. The human race is divided into nations. Therefore we stand for the self-determination of nations. The right of nations to self-determination inspired the 18th century American Revolution. It was formally proclaimed as a democratic principle in the Declaration of the Rights of Man in the French Revolution of 1789. The right to national self-determination is nowadays accepted as a basic principle of international law and is enshrined in the United Nations Charter.
As democrats and internationalists we assert the right of those nations that wish it to have their independence, sovereignty and a Nation State of their own, so that they may relate to one another internationally on a basis of political equality. The democratic principle of internationalism does not mean that one is called upon to urge people of other nations to assert their right to self-determination; but rather that one respects their wishes and shows solidarity with them if they should do that. It is as true of the life of nations as of individuals that separation, recognition of international boundaries and mutual respect based upon that – viz, political equality, neither dominance nor submission – are the prerequisite of free and friendly cooperation between States, of internationalism in other words. Good fences make good neighbours.
2) NATIONS AND NATIONALITY COME BEFORE NATIONALISMS AND NATION STATES
Nations exist as human communities before nationalisms and Nation States. To analyse nations and the national question in terms of “nationalisms” is philosophical idealism, looking at the mental reflection rather than the thing it reflects. Nationalism developed as an ideology legitimising the formation of Nation States in the eighteenth century, although its elements can be found centuries before in some of the world’s oldest States – Denmark, England, France, China, Japan. Nations evolve historically as stable, long-lasting communities of people, sharing a common language and territory and the common culture and history which arise from that. On this basis develop the solidarities, mutual identification and mutual interests which distinguish one people from another.
Some nations are ancient, some young, some in process of being formed. Like all human groups, for example the family, clan, tribe, neighbourhood, they are fuzzy at the edges. No neat definition will encompass all cases. The empirical test is to ask people themselves. If people have passed beyond the stage of kinship society where the political unit is the clan or tribe, they will know themselves what nation they belong to. This is the political and democratic test too. If enough people in a nation wish to establish their own independent State, they have the right to do that, for political democracy can exist normally only at the level of the national community and a Nation State which is built upon that. The reason is that it is principally within the national community that there exists sufficient solidarity and mutuality of identification and interest among people as to overcome other social divisions and induce minorities freely to consent to majority rule and to obey a common government based upon that.
Such mutual identification and solidarity characterise the demos, the collective “We”, which constitutes a people possessing the right to national self-determination. They underlie a people’s sense of shared citizenship and allegiance to a government as “their” government, possessing democratic legitimacy, and their willingness to finance that government’s tax and income-transfer system, thereby tying the richer and poorer regions and social classes of particular Nation States together.
When people speak of the “common good” which it is the duty of the State and its government to uphold, it is the community of the nation, the people, the demos, whose welfare they refer to. The solidarities that exist within nations do not exist between nations, although other solidarities may exist, international solidarity, which become more important with time, as modern communications, trade, capital movements and common environmental problems link all nations together in international interdependence as part of today’s “global village”.
3) MANKIND IS STILL AT THE RELATIVELY EARLY STAGE OF THE FORMATION OF NATION STATES
Only a dozen or so contemporary Nation States are more than a few centuries old. The number of member States of the United Nations has grown from some 60 in 1945 to nearly 200 today. The number of European States has grown from some 30 to 50 since 1989. This process is not ended even in Western Europe, where people have been at the business of Nation State formation for centuries. It is ongoing in Eastern Europe. It has scarcely begun in Africa and Asia, where the bulk of mankind lives, where huge numbers of people are still members of clan-tribal societies based on kinship and where most State boundaries were drawn by the colonial powers following World Wars 1 and 2 with little consideration for the wishes of indigenous peoples.
There are some 6000 different languages in the world. At their present rate of disappearance there should still be 600 or so left in a century’s time. These will probably survive because in each case they are spoken by a million or more people and are likely to be seen by them as their national languages. There clearly are many embryonic nations. There are also long-established nations without their own Nation States, which have a national identity but no independence – for example the Scots, Catalans, Kurds, Palestinians, Chechyns, Tamils, Ibo etc. A nation can keep its identity in servitude as well as in freedom. Many new Nation States are likely to come into being during this century and next. In doing so they will acquire the two classical pillars of independent statehood, the sword and the currency – the monopoly of legal force over a territory embodied in an army and police force, and the monopoly of the issue of legal tender for that territory. A world of several hundred Nation States will be a world of several hundred national currencies.
4) MULTINATIONAL STATES, WHETHER FEDERAL OR UNITARY, MUST RESPECT THE RIGHT TO SELF-DETERMINATION OF THE NATIONS COMPOSING THEM IF THEY ARE TO BE STABLE AND ENDURE
The right to self-determination of nations does not require that a nation seek to establish its own State. Nations can co-exist amicably with other nations inside a multinational State, as for example the English, Welsh and Scots did for three centuries inside the British State, or the many Indian nationalities inside modern India. They can do this however only if their national rights are respected and the smaller nations do not feel oppressed by the larger ones, especially culturally and linguistically.
If that condition is not met political pressures are likely to develop to break-up the multinational State in question. Multinational States are either the legatees of colonial conquest – for example, India, Indonesia, most of the States of Africa – or they have been formed by the governments of large nationalities extending their power over smaller ones and incorporating the latter into either a unitary or a federal State – for example Britain, Spain, Russia, China. The historical tendency, though it is not inevitable, seems to be for multinational States to break up into national ones, mainly because of the breakdown in solidarity between their component nationalities and the development of a feeling among the smaller ones that they are being put upon by the larger.
Shared civic nationality is the political basis of multinational States, shared ethnic nationality the political basis of Nation States. In both cases, if the State is a democratic one, all citizens will be equal before the law and the rights of minority nationalities in multinational States and of national minorities in Nation States will be equally respected. Historically, multinational federal States are all twentieth century creations – the USSR, the Russian Federation, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Malaysia etc. Several have lacked, or lack, the stability and popular legitimacy which come from centuries of tradition. Some have already dissolved, others are likely to in time, as various peoples within them assert their right to national independence.
5) THE EUROPEAN UNION IS PROBLEMATIC FOR ITS MEMBER STATES BECAUSE THERE IS NO EU SOLIDARITY OR SUPRANATIONAL EUROPEAN “COMMON GOOD” WHICH PEOPLE REGARD AS SUPERIOR TO THAT ATTACHING TO THEIR OWN NATION STATES
It is the absence in the European Union of anything like the underlying national solidarity which binds Europe’s Nation States together that makes the EU integration project, and especially the euro-currency scheme, so problematic and therefore unlikely to endure. The EU is a creation of powerful political, economic and bureaucratic elites, without popular legitimacy and authority. It is directed from the top down rather than from the bottom up and is therefore fundamentally undemocratic. There is no European people, no European “demos”, no European “We,” bound together by solidarities comparable to those which bind nations and Nation States together. Rather the EU is made up of a plurality of Europe’s nations and peoples. The links binding its members are essentially legal, institutional and bureaucratic. They are artificial, not organic. There is therefore no EU “common good” comparable to that underlying its component member States, whose pursuit or achievement could be regarded as justifying the establishment at supranational level of State-like governmental institutions.
All independent States, being political unions, are monetary and fiscal unions also. As monetary unions they have their own currency, and with that the capacity to control either the domestic “price” of that currency, the rate of interest, or its external price, the rate of exchange. As fiscal unions States have their own taxation, public spending and social service systems. By virtue of citizens paying common taxes to a common government in order to finance common public spending programmes throughout the territory of a State, there are automatic transfers from the richer regions and social classes of each State to its poorer regions and classes. This sustains and is sustained by a shared national solidarity, a mutual commitment to the common good of the national community in question.
By contrast, the euro-currency project, European Economic and Monetary Union, is a monetary union but not a fiscal union. Never in history has there been a lasting monetary union which was not also a fiscal union and political union, in other words a fully-fledged State, deriving its legitimacy from a shared national solidarity and common good which its government existed to serve and which in turn underpinned a common fiscal transfer system amongst the citizens of that State that bolstered its acceptability and authority.
The euro-currency scheme deprives the poorer EU States and the weaker EU economies of the ability to maintain their competitiveness and compensate for their lower productivity, poorer resource endowment or differential economic shocks by adopting an exchange rate or interest rate which suits their special circumstances. It fails to compensate them for that loss by the automatic transfer of resources from the centre which membership of a fiscal union entails. Compensatory fiscal transfers at EU level to the extent required to give the EU monetary union long-run viability are impossible in view of the volume of resources required and the unwillingness of the richer EU countries to provide them to the poorer because of the absence of the shared solidarity which would compel that. Currently expenditure by Brussels in any one year amounts to little more than one percent of EU annual gross domestic product, a tiny relative figure. This contrasts with expenditure by the EU’s Member States of between one-third and one-half of their annual national products.
Thus the fiscal solidarity which would sustain an EU political union and an EU multinational State does not and cannot exist. Democratising the EU in the absence of a European “demos” or people is by definition impossible. The EU’s adoption of such traditional symbols of national statehood as a flag, anthem, passport, car number plates, driving license Olympic games, youth orchestra, history books, motto, annual national day, citizenship, fundamental rights charter and constitution, are so many doomed attempts to manufacture a European “demos” artificially, and with it a bogus EU supranational “quasi-nation” and “national” consciousness. They leave the ordinary people of Europe indifferent, whose allegiance remains to their own countries and Nation States. The more European integration is pushed ahead and the more the national democracy of the EU member States is undermined in the process, the more the EU loses legitimacy and authority in the eyes of ordinary citizens. Consequently the greater and more certain the eventual popular reaction against it. To align oneself with such a misguided, inevitably doomed project is to be out of tune with history. It is to side with a supranational elite against the democracy of one’s own people, to spurn genuine internationalism for the intoxicating illusion of building a superpower.
6) RESPECT FOR STATE SOVEREIGNTY IS A FUNDAMENTAL DEMOCRATIC PRINCIPLE AND THE CORNERSTONE OF INTERNATIONAL LAW
Insistence on the sovereignty of one’s own State is a natural right as well as a social duty. It is in no way an expression of misguided national egotism. Sovereignty has nothing to do with autarchy or economic self-sufficiency. The national sovereignty of a democratic State is analogous to the freedom and autonomy of the individual. It means that one’s domestic laws and policies and one’s foreign relations are exclusively decided by one’s own Parliament and government, which are elected by and responsible to one’s own people.
State sovereignty is a result of advancing political culture and is an achievement of modern democracy. It is not an end in itself but is an instrument of juridical independence, determining the possibility of a people that inhabits a particular territory deciding its own destiny and way of life in accordance with its own needs, interests, genius and traditions, and determining freely its relations with other peoples. It is the opposite of every kind of subordination to foreign rule. Without sovereignty a nations’s politics become provincial, concerned with marginal and unimportant issues. Maintaining State sovereignty alone guarantees the political independence of a nation and creates conditions for its members to maintain their right to self-determination.
The sovereignty of a democratic state means at the same time the sovereignty of its people. The end of the sovereignty of a State is at the same time the end of the sovereignty of its people. The sovereignty of a State and of its people is democratically inalienable. No government, no temporary parliamentary or referendum majority, has the right to alienate it, for they have no right to deprive future generations of the possibility of choosing their own way of life and deciding the common good of that society. The only mode of international cooperation acceptable to democrats is therefore one which will not demand of a State the sacrifice of its sovereignty, a sacrifice which the European Union requires of its members. Respect for national sovereignty makes possible the free cooperation of free peoples united in independent States on the basis of juridical equality, something which is fundamental to a stable international order.
7) “POOLING” SOVEREIGNTY MEANS THE END OF SOVEREIGNTY AND SUBMISSION BY SMALL STATES TO THE HEGEMONY OF BIG ONES
Concepts of “shared sovereignty”, “pooled sovereignty” and “joint national sovereignties” are deceptive terms for having one’s laws and policies decided by supranational EU bodies which one’s own people do not elect, which are not responsible to them and which can have significantly different interests from one’s fellow national citizens. EU membership means that countries can no longer decide their own laws over a wide range of public policy matters. Countries and peoples which surrender their sovereignty to the EU become in practice ever more subject to laws and policies that serve the interests of others, in particular the bigger EU member States.
The claim that if a nation or State surrenders its sovereignty to the EU it merely exchanges the sovereignty of a small State for participation in decision-making in a larger supranational entity, is simply untrue. The reality is very different. The EU continually reduces the influence of smaller States in decision-making by abolishing or limiting national veto powers. Even if bigger States divest themselves similarly of veto power, their political and economic weight ensures that they can get their way in matters which are decisive for them. Treaty changes also increase the relative voting weight of the larger EU states. The provision of the Treaty of Lisbon/EU Constitution which puts EU law-making in the Council of Ministers on a straight population basis from 2014 onward underlines this fact.
Equally false is the contention that the advent of new States to the European Union and their surrender of sovereignty to the EU would increase their sovereignty in practice. The nation which gives up its sovereignty or is deprived of it, ceases to be an independent subject of international politics. It becomes more like a provincial State than a national one. It is no longer able to decide even its own domestic affairs. It literally puts its existence at the mercy of those who are not its citizens, who have taken its sovereignty into their hands and who decide the policies of the larger body. In the European Union the big States, in particular Germany and France, decide fundamental policy. Juridically EU integration is an attempt to liquidate for its member States the democratic heritage of the French Revolution, the right of nations and peoples to self-determination, which they need to maintain if they are to advance their political and economic welfare. That is why the more the EU or the Euro-currency zone moves towards closer integration and accrues to itself ever more features of a State, the more it loses legitimacy and authority in the minds of citizens across Europe.
8) THE CONSTITUTION OF THE EU IS FUNDAMENTALLY UNDEMOCRATIC IN THAT ITS INSTITUTIONS VIOLATE THE DEMOCRATIC PRINCIPLE OF THE SEPARATION OF POWERS
The doctrine of the separation of powers between legislature, executive and judiciary has been recognised as the basis of democratic States and as fundamental to the liberty of citizens since the days of Locke and Montesquieu. The European Union violates this principle fundamentally.
The Brussels Commission is the EU’s executive, but it proposes all EU laws as if it were a Parliament. Its members are nominated by governments, not individually elected. It has judicial powers and can adjudicate on competition cases and impose fines on EU members. Even though there may be an appeal to the Court of Justice, the Commission acts as if it were a lower court. It draws up and administers its own budget, with minimal democratic control. Under its aegis are some 3000 semi-secret working groups, whose members are not publicly knows, where most Commission decisions are actually made and where corporate lobbyists wield their influence. Only 2% of Commission decisions come up at meetings of the full Commission.
The Council of Ministers is called a Council, but it makes laws just like a Parliament on the basis of the Commission’s proposals. It makes those laws in secret, often on the basis of package-deals between its members, and it takes some executive decisions. Some 85% of EU directives and regulations are agreed privately in some 300 committees of civil servants from the EU member States which service the Council and they are approved without debate at Council level, Only 15% of EU laws are actually discussed or negotiated at Council level. The Council of Ministers is collectively responsible to no-one and is irremoveable as a body. It is a committee of legislators, which is the classical definition of an oligarchy.
The EU Parliament is more a council than a parliament. It cannot initiate any European law although it can amend laws which come from the Commission and Council as long as the Commission agrees and the Council members do not overrule it.
The Court of Justice is not just a court but sometimes legislates like a parliament or takes decisions like a constitution-maker. It continually interprets the treaties in such a way as to extend the legal powers of the EU to the maximum.
Executive, judicial and legislative functions are not separated in the EU institutions, but are inextricably intertwined. The constitution of the EU, the Treaty of Rome and its amending treaties, now consolidated in the Treaty of Lisbon, is the first State or quasi-State constitution in history to be drawn up entirely in the interests of transnational big business, without the slightest popular or democratic input into its making. Its foundational four freedoms – free movement of goods, services, capital and labour – enshrine the principles of classical laissez-faire as constitutional principles which no government or elected parliament may legally change or violate, regardless of the wishes of their voters.
9) THE EU TURNS MEMBERS OF THE EXECUTIVE AT NATIONAL LEVEL INTO SUPRANATIONAL LEGISLATORS, GREATLY INCREASING THEIR PERSONAL POWER WHILE REDUCING THE DEMOCRACY OF THEIR OWN PEOPLES.
Every time new EU treaties abolish further national vetoes and shift law-making for particular policy areas from the national to the supranational level, where laws are made by qualified majority voting in the EU Council of Ministers, national Parliaments and citizens lose power correspondingly, for they no longer have the final say in the areas concerned. Simultaneously individual Government Ministers, who are members of the executive arm of government at national level and must have a national parliamentary majority behind them for their policies, are turned into legislators for 500 million Europeans as members of the 28-person Council of Ministers. National politicians thereby obtain for themselves an intoxicating accretion of personal power at the expense of their national Parliaments and electorates, even though they may be open to being outvoted by a qualified majority on the Council. This is the reason Government Ministers tend to be so europhile and why they cooperate so willingly in denuding their own Parliaments and peoples of their powers.
The more policy areas shift from the national level to Brussels, the more power shifts simultaneously from national legislatures to national executives, and the more the power of individual Ministers and bureaucrats increases. Keeping on good terms with their fellow members of the exclusive Council of Ministers “club” of EU legislators becomes more personally important for national Ministers at EU level than being awkward in defence of their own peoples’ interests. Increasingly they come to see their function vis-a-vis one another as delivering their national electorates in support of further EU integration.
A Member State on its own cannot decide a single European law. Its people, Parliament and government may be opposed to an EU law, its government representative on the Council of Ministers may vote against it, but they are bound to obey it nonetheless once it is adopted by qualified majority Council vote. This devalues the vote of every individual citizen. Each policy area that is transferred from the national level to the supranational EU level devalues it further.
This reduces the political ability of citizens to decide what is the common good and deprives them of the most fundamental right of membership of a democracy, the right to make their own laws, to elect their representatives to make them, and to change those representatives if they dislike the laws they make. European integration is therefore not just a process of depriving Europe’s nation states and peoples of their national democracy and independence. Within each member state it represents a gradual coup by government executives against legislatures and by politicians against the citizens who elect them.
The EU thus hollows out the Nation State, leaving its traditional institutions formally in place but with their most important functions transferred to the supranational level. It turns the State itself into an enemy of its own people, while clamping a form of financial feudalism on Europe.
10) THE DOMINANCE OR ATTEMPTED DOMINANCE OF A PEOPLE BY THE GOVERNMENT AND POWERFUL ELITES OF ANOTHER STATE IS IMPERIALISM AND A DENIAL OF DEMOCRACY
Imperialism can take the classical form of direct rule, in which a dominated people is openly treated as a colony, or the more modern form in which a people may have formal political independence, but their resources and external political and economic relations are in reality under foreign control and directed at continuing their subordination or dependence. Neo-colonial relations of this kind are common in the modern world between metropolitan powers and former colonies, and are against the interests of the peoples of both.
11) THE HISTORICAL TENDENCY IS FOR DEMOCRACY AS A FORM OF GOVERNMENT TO SUPERSEDE SUCH FORMS AS MONARCHY, DICTATORSHIP, OLIGARCHY AND PLUTOCRACY as people get better educated, become more aware of their rights and are no longer willing to obey a political authority they have no say in deciding.
DEMOCRACY MEANS RIGHTS OF EQUALITY, WHICH PEOPLE AGREE TO ACCORD ONE ANOTHER AND WHICH THE STATE RECOGNISES
Democrats acknowledge the possession of equal rights by all citizens of a State, as well as equality of human rights between people of different sex, race, religion, age and nationality, based on recognition of a shared common humanity. Ethnic minorities are entitled to have their rights protected within a democratic state. Majority rights and minority rights are different from one another, but are not in principle incompatible. The struggle against racism, sexism, ageism and national oppression are all democratic questions, concerned with equality. Recognition of equal human rights and the equal rights of citizens legitimises in turn public policies which seek to maximize as much as practicable equal opportunity amongst them, taking into account the constraints of any particular society’s resource endowment.
Such policies in turn legitimize the degree of inequality of outcomes and rewards which is socially acceptable. How much inequality of rewards should be acceptable? The classical answer is as much as maximizes the overall economic output which finances those rewards and which brings most benefit to the largest number of citizens.
12) PEOPLE ON THE POLITICAL LEFT AND RIGHT HAVE A COMMON INTEREST IN ESTABLISHING AND MAINTAINING STATE SOVEREIGNTY AND IN UPHOLDING NATIONAL DEMOCRACY
While democracy is concerned with equality, the traditional values which divide political Right and Left in modern industrial societies, proponents of capitalism and socialism, are concerned with inequality – in ownership and control of society’s productive forces, in power, possessions, income and social function. The mass democracy which historically was first achieved under capitalism serves to legitimise and make more tolerable the inequalities of power, wealth and income that characterise modern society. Traditional Left-wing thought holds that capitalism in turn creates the material conditions for the application of the principle of democracy to the economic sphere, in the form of socialism, social democracy or a “social market” economy.
Traditional Rightwing thought extols the rights of the individual against the collective as embodied in the State and upholds market provision of goods and services as more efficient. Traditional Leftwing thought extols collective as against individual rights and champions public provision of essential goods and services.
Most people acknowledge that both public and private provision are necessary, that there needs to be a creative tension between the two and that their boundaries are continually shifting in accordance with technological developments and the changing balance of class forces in society.
People on the political Right want the State to legislate right-wing measures, people on the political Left want left-wing ones; but neither can have either unless they are citizens of an independent State in the first place, which possesses the relevant legislative power and competence to decide. This is why regardless of whether people are politically either Left, Right or Centre, they have an objective common interest in establishing and maintaining an independent Nation State and a government which represents and is responsible to the nation.
Conservatism, Liberalism, Socialism, indeed all ideological “-isms”, requires the prior attainment of national independence. The old adage holds: “Attain first the political kingdom and then all other values will be added unto one.”
Political movements on Left and Right tend to be divided internally between those who understand the importance of national independence and democracy and how the imperative of establishing an independent State when that is absent transcends conventional Left-Right divisions, and those who do not understand this.
Likewise within each state different social interests align themselves for and against the maintenance of State sovereignty, seeking either to uphold or to undermine national democracy. This is a central theme of the politics of our time. It is why democrats in every EU country today, whether on the political Centre, Left or Right, are potentially part of an international movement in defence of the Nation State and national democracy, and against the political and economic forces which seek to undermine these.
13) GLOBALIZATION CHANGES THE ENVIRONMENT OF NATION STATES, BUT DOES NOT MAKE THEM OUT OF DATE . . . INTERNATIONALISM, NOT GLOBALIZATION, IS THE WAY TO A HUMANE FUTURE
The notion that “globalization” makes the Nation State out of date is an ideological one. Globalization is at once a description of fact and an ideology, a mixture of “is” and “ought”. It refers to important trends in the contemporary world – ease of travel, free trade, free movement of capital, the internet. The effect of these on the sovereignty of States is often exaggerated. States have always been interdependent to some extent. There was relatively more globalization, in the sense of freer movement of labour, capital and trade, in the late nineteenth century than today, although the volumes involved were smaller. At that time also most States were on the gold standard, a form of international money. Modern States do more for their citizens, are expected by them to do more, and impinge more intimately on peoples’ lives, than at any time in history, most obviously in providing public services and redistributing the national income.
Globalization imposes new constraints on States, but constraints there always have been. States adapt to such changes, but they do not cause Nation States to disappear or become less important. Globalization as an ideology refers to the interests of transnational capital which wishes to be free of State control on capital movements and seeks minimal social constraints on private ownership. The relation of transnational capital to sovereign States is ambivalent. On the one hand it seeks to erode the sovereignty of States in order to weaken their ability to impose constraints on private profitability and restrain “the furies of private interest”. On the other hand transnational capital looks to its own State, where the bulk of its share ownership is usually concentrated, to defend its political and economic interests internationally when needed.
14) STATES HAVE THE RIGHT TO PROTECT THEIR CIVIC OR ETHNIC COHESIVENESS BY CONTROLLING IMMIGRATION, BUT NOT AT THE COST OF DISCRIMINATING AGAINST ETHNIC OR NATIONAL MINORITIES WITHIN THEIR BORDERS
There is no international, positive or natural legal right which entitles people to migrate to live and work in other peoples’ countries – apart from political asylum seekers, who are recognised as possessing such rights under both international and natural law. All independent States have the right to decide who shall settle in their territories and how newcomers may acquire rights of citizenship. At the same time once people of different national or ethnic origins have settled in a country, they have the right to be treated the same as everyone else.
It is evidence of how the European Union diminishes the sovereignty of its Member States that the government of each EU country must now extend such classical components of citizenship as rights to residence, work and social maintenance to the citizens of all other EU member States as a requirement of supranational European law. The EU Member States have surrendered the right to decide such matters.
Two distinct democratic principles are involved in assessing international migration policy: the right of national communities to protect their social and cultural cohesiveness and integrity, and their labour standards, in face of uncontrolled or excessive immigration, and the right to equal treatment of all people within a country. Confusing these two rights makes rational discussion of migration issues often difficult.
15) PROTECTING HUMAN RIGHTS IS A PRIME DUTY OF SOVEREIGN STATES. NO ONE STATE OR GROUP OF STATES HAS THE RIGHT TO CONSTITUTE ITSELF AN INTERNATIONAL POLICEMAN OVER THE DOMESTIC AFFAIRS OF OTHER STATES
International action to protect human rights should be grounded in respect for State sovereignty. This principle can be overborne only in accordance with the generally recognised principles of international law and on the basis of a broad consensus of the world community. The two recognized conditions for such international intervention nowadays are if one State attacks another or if a State attempts genocide against an ethnic group within its borders.
16) MANKIND IS AS YET AT A RELATIVELY EARLY STAGE OF DEMOCRACY, A CONCEPT THAT HAS SEVERAL DIMENSIONS
The human race is around a million years old, history some 6000 years, industrialism 300 or so, and political democracy, understood as provision of the universal franchise and the recognition that men and women everywhere possess human rights, has existed for little more than a century.
Over much of the world these rights are still denied and many nations that seek statehood are refused the right to self-determination. At the same time the universal franchise is only one dimension of democracy. It is of limited value in the absence of fair and proportional voting systems and controls on electoral spending to prevent the rich and powerful “buying” votes.
Other desirable dimensions of political democracy on the basis of the universal franchise, but which most States do not yet recognise, are direct legislation by citizens through referendums, the right of a sufficient number of citizens to initiate a referendum and rules of fairness in referendums, the institution of term-limits for consecutive periods of office to encourage the circulation of political elites, provision for the recallability of public representatives who flout their election pledges, and an optimal balance of central and local government to encourage citizen participation in public administration and efficient provision of public services. People will be struggling to establish such democratic rights for centuries to come
CONCLUSION: CHANGING ATTITUDES TO NATIONAL SOVEREIGNTY
The period of the Cold War, from 1946 to 1989, created a geopolitical space which permitted national sovereignty to flourish. New nations aspiring to independence were able to play off one superpower against the other. The doctrine that States were sovereign inside their borders and that those borders should be respected, was an achievement of the victory of democracy over fascism in World War 2. The principle of respect for national sovereignty became the cornerstone of international order. It was reflected in the post-war Nuremberg trials, where Germany’s primary crime in international law was judged to have been its waging of aggressive war. This doctrine was embodied in the United Nations Charter.
By contrast, since the end of the Cold War we have entered a period which is less sympathetic to the principle of national sovereignty. Following changes on the United Nations Security Council, the UN now confers a mandate on particular powerful countries to govern small and weak ones. Since 1990 the EU in former Yugoslavia, the USA in Iraq and Afghanistan, Britain and France in Libya, have claimed UN backing for their actions. The removal of the national sovereignty of some countries takes place under a UN-backed world order which is supported by the USA and the European Union.
In this context the old categories of colonialism and imperialism are acquiring a new lease of life. Existing and aspiring superpowers claim a new civilising mission, asserting their entitlement to interfere in the domestic affairs of smaller countries in the name of a benign supranationalism, “military humanism” or concern for human rights. That too will generate inevitable reactions as, in the pattern of all previous imperialisms, the superpowers overreach themselves and face the resolve of peoples everywhere to assert their democratic right to national self-determination.
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(*) This document has been drafted by Anthony Coughlan, Professor Emeritus in Social Policy at Trinity College Dublin and Director, of The National Platform EU Research and Information Centre, 24 Crawford Avenue, Dublin 9; Tel.: 00-353-1-8305792; Web-site: nationalplatform.org People are free to disseminate and use it in whole or in part as they see fit without any reference to or acknowledgement of its source.
Anthony Coughlan is one of the guests to the international meeting organized by EPAM 31 Nov-1 Dec 2013
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