Outside the marginals

a commentary on the politics that followed the UK 2010 & 2015 elections

Regionalisation of the EU

In an article posted today (25 August 2014) on Democratic Audit, it is noted:

2014 will be an important year for a number of regions in the EU. Political developments in the UK, Spain and Belgium have seen subnational entities – Scotland, Catalonia and Flanders – become increasingly autonomous. Today, political movements in all three regions are openly calling for independence and, having achieved this, to become established as EU member states in their own right.
Democratic Audit 25 August 2014 : Scotland and Catalonia would face very real challenges in making a seamless transition to EU membership after independence

The use of “subnational” is interesting and raises the point of what a “member state” is.

The article then tries to argue from the various EU treaties what should happen; sometimes common sense needs to be applied and an argument from first principles is illuminating.

When a region of a country (peacefully) seeks its own sovereignty it does so through two main processes.

  1. A campaign and referendum in that region to break away: “to be an independent country”
  2. A campaign and referendum in the whole country to reform the country as two (or more) states.

The difference is key. In (2) a member state will be proposing to ask the EU that it in future be recognised as two (or more) states. The member state will have a mandate (from all its people) for such a request. If Czechoslovakia had been an EU member at the time of its “Velvet divorce”, this situation may well have applied. Should Belgium decide to split (into Flanders, Wallonia, and the city State of Brussels? – rather than a straight Flanders break-away from Belgium) it would be illogical to argue that all three entities have to re-apply for membership. Their membership would surely continue on much the same terms as previously.

Where part of a country votes to break away the situation is a bit different. They are saying that they wish to be independent – of the former state.  With that goes independence from a lot associated with the former state. Should the new state then wish to give up some of its new independence to become a member of a supra-national association like the EU or NATO, it can then apply. Whilst logic may well say that the “new state” should become a new member (easily and rapidly) it may every well be that it cannot be a member on the same terms as the residual state – particularly if the membership had been on preferential terms (opt-outs, rebates etc.).

A breakaway is far more an assertion of national sovereignty than a negotiated split which is more a recognition that previous subnational identities should take precedence over the previous national identity.

At the moment I do not see a majority of the populations of either the United Kingdom or Spain (or probably Belgium) voting to give up their national identities in favour of current subnational identities.

The idea of a true “Europe of the Regions” has some superficial attractions, but the ongoing role of the “Nations” would have to be resolved and this would be difficult where there are not single lines of sovereignty.


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