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Citizenship and Sovereignty in Europe

Friday, February 17th, 2012

Continuing the discussion of citizenship lessons from abroad–and issues of state sovereignty and the European economic crisis–Kori Schake wonders if individuals states (and their citizens) still have the capacity to chart their own destines.

Schake shares the concern, earlier expressed by Ross Douthat in the New York Times, that European solidarity will ultimately come at the cost of both national sovereignty and democracy. As Douthat writes: “Democracy may be nice in theory, but in a time of crisis it’s the technocrats who really get to call the shots. National sovereignty is a pretty concept, but the survival of the European common currency comes first.”

Schake writes:

The crisis of the European monetary union has unfolded at roughly the same time as the Arab Spring, and their geneses illustrate a striking contrast in those societies’ views of government. Whereas people in the authoritarian countries of the Middle East and North Africa are insisting on governments more accountable to them, the people of Europe are agitating to reduce government sovereignty, replacing it with a commitment among governments. The juxtaposition demonstrates the extent to which nearly all European governments believe they no longer—or should no longer—have the power to act as sovereign governments.

[…] The European Union has attempted to extend across its member states a “pooled sovereignty,” where states keep some authorities, but give others to a supranational body of their common creation. Some countries pooled their border control, removing all restrictions on movement between participating states. Some countries pooled their money, giving up their currencies for the Euro and their ability to set monetary policy. What is now proposed is that countries pool their debt, giving up the ability to use fiscal policies to manage their economies.

As Schake points out, as nice as this might sound–these countries are operating on the same currency, after all, so why not pool together their financial policies?–past experience has shown that because there is not a completely “shared norm of compliance” among member nations, greater and greater enforcement mechanisms are needed, resulting in less and less state sovereignty. “Continental Europe has become ‘post-sovereign,’ no longer believing an individual state can take meaningful action alone. Greece’s financial crisis of course disproves the thesis–the choice of an individual state has made a huge difference. Germany’s answer is that the European Union should take away from states the ability to make their own choices.”

She concludes:

There’s a wonderful passage in Tacitus, in which he describes the conquest of the British Isles less as a military victory for Rome than a voluntary submission by the British who wanted the advantages that that great civilization had to offer. “The unsuspecting Britons spoke of such novelties as ‘civilization,’ when in fact they were only a feature of their enslavement.” David Cameron [who led Britain in refusing to agree that the EU should be allowed to supervise its financial choices] has looked at ‘civilization’ in the form of EU solidarity, and chose to take his chances with sovereignty instead.

Read the whole article here.