Greece and the EU – Democracy and Sovereignty

One of the main concerns of this blog has been the promotion and advocacy of democratic principles. Events need to be measured against them regardless where and when they have taken place. The way the sovereign debt crises in Greece has been dealt with poses lots of questions in this regard. One of them is whether or not Greek sovereignty has been violated. See also my article Greece – first injury then insult.

Javier Solana explains in his article for Project Syndicate Whose Sovereignty? that:

“…The idea of a nation-state’s sovereignty is rooted in the seventeenth-century Treaty of Westphalia, which embraced non-interference by external agents in states’ domestic affairs as the guiding principle of international relations. But, taken to its logical extreme, national sovereignty would require the complete physical and social isolation of states from one another. Indeed, an excessive emphasis on national sovereignty leads to serious problems: after all, any international agreement, whether political or economic, entails a certain transfer of sovereignty…”

He refers here to the Peace of Westphalia which ended the Thirty Years’ War, a conflict that was started on religious grounds and evolved into a political contest which at the end involved almost all European powers. The war was mainly fought in the area of present-day Germany with devastating consequences. One third of the civilian population was wiped out either by the direct impact of the war, plunder, hunger or epidemics. So there was good reason for a policy of no future interference in domestic affairs.

Solana rightly points out that we have moved on from there. With the creation of the European Community came a significant transfer of national sovereignty. But to whom and to where?

Solana goes on and gives a lot of background information including concepts regarding sovereignty and personal freedom and in which cases a violation of either or both may be justified:

“…In his classic On LibertyJohn Stuart Mill used the “harm principle” to express the view that a person’s individual liberty could be limited only in order to protect others and avoid harm. The debate consists in how we define “harm” to others.

In the same way, the debate about the meaning of national sovereignty consists in what we consider “domestic” matters.  Depending on where we place the emphasis and how wide our focus is, we prioritize either a “global” (or at least “federal”) dimension to sovereignty, or a “national” dimension…”

National governments have a mandate from their sovereign, its people. People exercise their democratic right and elect their representatives by common vote. These representatives assemble and elect the government which in turn will act on behalf of its sovereign. Do European institutions have a mandate of equal quality? Can the sovereignty of a democratic ‘nation-state’ be transferred to a multi-national body with a shaky democratic mandate as the European Union? Does this already constitute a violation?

The lag of democratic legitimation lays at the core of the European crises. It was only exposed more clearly than before by recent events in Greece.

We need more Europe not less and a Europe which is more democratic and transparent. If this could be achieved we wouldn’t need to worry about old fashion concepts like national sovereignty of a member state and its violation.

We need to ask the right questions to get to the right conclusions.

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Filed under Democracy, English, Politics

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