Soft secession in the EU?

Could the UK`s perceived attempt at leaving the EU be considered a sort of European Soft Secession War?

What I want to state from the beginning is that this is an exercise of thought, and in no way am I claiming any connection between reprehensible actions of both North and South during the American Civil War and the EU or the UK. Consider this as an exercise of the intellectual kind aimed at furthering our understanding of the subject. For all intents and purposes please interpret the term soft secession war as a poetic licence under the general theme of the subject at hand, with no intention of actually referring to armed conflict. Peace in Europe is not debatable.

Since I started with stating facts I will now establish that in this exercise I perceive the EU as the North – The Union and the UK as the South – The Confederacy. Primarily to accommodate the conceptual work here this has to be admitted and accepted before we go further.

The Wikipedia article on the American Civil War offers a broad enough understanding of the subject, and I strongly recommend reading it beforehand. The article offers a list of causes that led to the secession of the Southern States, namely Slavery, Sectionalism, States Rights, Protectionism and issues related to National Elections.

Before we dig into them, let’s start with a few pointers – for now Britain is the only State within the Union that has this kind of plans. However it is not the only State inclined to such actions. So it is to be expected that if the British demands find any willingness to negotiate, some other States will join with similar demands. I shall refrain from naming them now, as no decisive move has been made.

Returning to the issues/causes of a possible secession, we will translate the possible reasons from 19th century USA to 21st century EU as follows: Slavery to Free Movement of the Workforce across the Union; Sectionalism to more integration for Member States and the prevalence of the Euro-block; States Rights needs no translation as Mr. Cameron plainly explained his views in his big speech yesterday; Protectionism is to be translated as Protectionism; as for Issues related to National Elections we could push it towards acceptance of an elected administrative body for the EU.

Now that we have translated all of these, let’s look into them a bit:

Free Movement of the Workforce across the Union

The UK has a long tradition of imposing restrictions on its labor market for foreign nationals from other EU member states. First the Polish, now the Romanian and Bulgarian are notable examples. Even if there are a million reasons and possible explanations for this it will boil down to the same debates we see all across Western Europe. I might be biased because of my Romanian Nationality, but this is something that nationality has nothing to do with and that economy has to do with. The migration of the local workforce either to higher standard jobs or better social welfare has left a workload gap that the locals don’t want to fill but will not accept a foreign national doing it. It’s kind of stupid, yet we see it everywhere. There is also a salary per workload balance that for the moment leans heavily towards the foreign national. But the issue is clear.

More integration for Member States and the prevalence of the Euro-block

The financial crisis and its aftermath and subsequent economic decline have pushed the Union to consider more integration in order to better deal with this kind of shocks. Full libraries have been written on the subject and I can refer you to Protesilaos Stavrou’s blog for a more informed read. The prevalence of the Euro-block is also clear, with Germany at the lead, and with a somewhat clear project for the future leaning towards a confederate type of union not exactly in line with British aspirations as a tier 1 world power.

States Rights and Protectionism

These concepts stand at the basis of the British demands for renegotiating the EU treaties. Mr. Cameron has distinctively asked for both, and a comment I heard on Bloomberg TV shortly after the speech coined it: “small business in the UK should be protected from EU regulations.” It becomes obvious then that the rules all of us abide to, for better or worse, are a cause of concern for the British Government. But could it also be that British companies have been losing market share across the continent but also outside the continent since there are a large number of Trade Agreements that in some cases threaten the UK’s hegemony through the Commonwealth. There is also cause for concern regarding the new powers invested with the ECB and the rather possible development of a stronger financial center on the continent, causing London to lose money and prestige.

An elected administrative body for the EU

Whilst this is not as obvious as the latter arguments presented above, we must account for this distinct possibility. Since Mr. Barroso gave the state of the union speech uttering the word federal in the process, and the EPP’s summit in Bucharest decision to add the federal agenda to their main political manifesto, things have been heating up across the Union. For obvious reasons. Consider the role of the British Monarchy, longest and most known across the globe, in a federal situation. Or consider the possibility of handing some control to the elected administrative body of the EU and how local interests are affected. This deserves a blog post of its own.

So looking at all this, suddenly you can understand me saying that this might be our soft secession war. A soft and, by all accounts, non-violent conflict that threatens our union. That we all joined freely, understanding the requirements and the rules of the game, signing all agreed changes in those rules as they came along, negotiating the hell out of everything we did not want. And now, as it no longer seems profitable to be a member of this Union, let’s bully everybody, and twist their hands in what might possibly be the biggest blackmail in history (the term was coined by Nick Panayotopoulos on Twitter), to either accept our secession or accept our unreasonable demands to change all game rules.

The outcome of this soft war is still uncertain. Contrary to the US at that time, the EU does not have a Constitution or a federal system in place. We have treaties. History has proven that treaties on this continent have a 50-50 change of being upheld. For now, Member States of the EU are still considering their official position on British demands. The French for example have made it clear through the voice of the President that they don’t accept this negotiation. Things are still brewing across the EU and it might take some time until an official backed up position will emerge. My only hope is that at the end of the day, we will actually see a stronger Union emerging.

I can’t say I favor the Brits much right now. My education involved, over the years, somewhere close to 14 years of English Language, History and Culture. By all means and measures I have a stronger affiliation with the UK than France or Germany. But my education, all the things I have read, understood and thought led me to believe that a federation is the best outcome for the European Continent and the EU. My allegiance lies with the EU, no matter where my affinities might lie. Because I still intend to have a say in the best outcome for my future. I hope that British citizens will go past the above and understand that our future lies together, and that “The Island” Churchill talked about is no longer a geographical denomination to the west of the continent, but it has forever “joined” the continent in a Union of ideas and values that need to be upheld. By all.

5 Responses to Soft secession in the EU? »»

  1. Comment by Protesilaos Stavrou | 2013/01/25 at 10:27:40

    This is a very interesting approach indeed. I shall leave the parallels with the American state-building process and its related struggles to others who are more knowledgeable on the topic. Allow me to add a few more words on the theme of the euro-bloc which is of particular interest to me and which is among the main themes of my blog (by the way, thanks for the link).

    The ideas on federalism notwithstanding, European integration was initiated as a project of international (intergovernmental) cooperation, effectively falling within the spheres of ‘foreign affairs’ and ‘international trade’.

    Though one may identify a number of ideas behind the initiation of the European integration process, it is my humble opinion that a thoroughgoing inquiry into the matter will leave us with two fundamental principles underpinning all things ‘European’:

    1- National sovereignty: The governments of member states were eager to enjoy the ‘increasing returns to scale’ deriving from accession to a broader economico-political community. Nevertheless, none was prepared to overcome the powerful social imaginaries that dominate European statemanship at least since the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) and the French Revolution (1789), viz. state sovereignty and nationalism (the latter term is not used to describe ‘far-right’ parties–this is a misunderstanding and a misuse of the original term, since in its actual meaning it refers to the precedence one offers to the perceived collective ontology of the ‘nation’ over individuals domestically or of nations/individuals abroad) This was mainly made manifest in the praxis of consensus politics, or more lyrically if you wish, with the respect of–and search for–the Aristotelian golden mean,

    2- Economic liberalism: The Member States would harmonize their policies to dismantle trade barriers between them, so as to realize the potential of a free (free-er) market in Europe (Western Europe at the time). However, contrary to the liberal doctrines, the ends of free trade would be achieved by the meticulous application of mercantilist means. States agreeing to ‘mutually’ remove barriers to trade are not challenging the principle of such restrictions, but only reconsider its scope and extent. This is important as it does not remove the possibility of such barriers being reintroduced, should conditions, perceived or real, necessitate such action. The case of migration controls that you mention is but the tip of the iceberg and the issue certainly transcends the UK problématique since other Member States have also resorted to similar modes of conduct. The point is that the idea of mercantilism was never challenged as such, but was merely reconfigured to suffice the political ambitions of the time.

    For reasons which I need not enumarate in this comment, this system was rather sclerotic and could only result in maladministration or, even worse, end up in what we may call ‘planned chaos’. Whatever progress was achieved in the years between the Treaty of Rome and the Treaty of Maastricht was in large part thanks to the rulings of the European Court of Justice. For instance, it is the ECJ’s jurisprudence that consolidated the four freedoms of the single market.

    The limitations of the original modus operandi were readily apparent, so with the Treaty of Maastricht European leaders took the timid, yet radical, decision to shift from the principle of consensus to the praxis of enhanced cooperation. The creation of the Economic and Monetary Union (the Euro) was the epitome of this change in approach and, most importantly, it heralded the start of what may I may term “Eurocore politics”, i.e. the idea of a European two-level state emerging within the EU architecture, eventually usurping the latter.

    I will not delve on the Eurocore politics here, since this is something I effectively do on a regular basis through my blog posts. What I may say is that the direction Mr. Cameron has pointed to is but the counter-force to the integration dynamic that has been developing ever since 1992.

    The important particularities and complementarities aside, what we are witnessing here is a mutually reinforcing dynamic of divergence, while the Euro-state emerges as a sovereign entity on the continent, smaller in terms of membership than the EU, but far more significant in all other respects.

    Thanks,
    Protesilaos

  2. Comment by Horatiu Ferchiu | 2013/01/25 at 10:50:42

    As always we find ourselves in agreement, even if we deal with the matter with different methods.
    To answer directly to some of the points you made:
    1. National sovereignty – i agree with what you put forward. And we both know that the golden mean here is almost impossible to find, primarily due to the large number of “actors” involved. I think the issue rests on the willingness of MS administrations to concede to loosing some prerogative and to their acceptance to contribute to a larger, EU wide scale, administration which in turn will be a cornerstone for federalism.
    2. I agree that other member states took similar approaches, but i did not intend here to broaden the spectrum since i tried to restrict myself to the Britexit scenario. I will agree though that this particular mercantilism is not the best option available, but in many respects it is the direct consequence of willingness to join the EU for it’s obvious economic advantages and unwillingness to allow the EU an increased power within the national scene (national as reference to the Nation State)

    As for the Euro-block, or Eurocore as you name it, I think this is actually the most viable medium for increased integration (although i hate this term) and eventual appearance of a federate model. Moreover, this more than apparent unity and direction that the Eurocore has been demonstrating, with more or less success, is actually the primary reason for a perceived Britexit – Creation of a unified voice within the Eurocore would send Nation States not part of the Eurocore to a very grey area, where their voice may indeed be silenced by will of majority. I think the UK is acting a little like a spoiled child – faced with a complicated problem it chooses to cry and run away, rather than facing it. The planned chaos has reached a tipping point, and the outcome is yet to be clear.

    Thanks,
    H>

  3. Comment by Jose | 2013/01/28 at 20:57:18

    “The UK has a long tradition of imposing restrictions on its labor market for foreign nationals from other EU member states.” how do you equate this claim to the fact that between 500,000 and 1,000,000 Poles immigrated to the UK after 2004?

    “It becomes obvious then that the rules all of us abide to, for better or worse, are a cause of concern for the British Government.” Cameron’s intent is for you to understand it is not just the UK but all members of the EU. Hollande has dismissed all talks of ‘reform’ as if everything in the EU is perfect.

    “That we all joined freely, understanding the requirements and the rules of the game, signing all agreed changes in those rules as they came along, negotiating the hell out of everything we did not want.” Not true. The citizens of the UK have never been told that the intention was to join a euro-super power. The citizens have never been asked their opinions, probably in case they give the wrong answer like in Holland and France and Ireland. The EU bureaucracy doesn’t like referenda witness what they did to Berlusconi and Papandreou. In every year of membership apart from one the UK has been a net contributor to the EU budget, can you as a Romanian make that claim?

    The French never want to change anything as about 40% of the budget goes to farmers and France receives the bulk of this followed by Germany. There can be no justification for subsidising German or French or UK and Polish farmers when the eurozone and the UK itself are in desperate straits.

    I don’t object to us being members of the EU but I do object at the lack of democracy associated with it. There is no reason why ‘powers’ cannot flow both ways between nation states and the EU and vice versa except the bureaucrats need some justification for their well rewarded carriers!

  4. Comment by Horatiu Ferchiu | 2013/01/29 at 09:12:36

    Hy Jose,

    To answer you Polish migration question first I would like to stress that the case you bring up is anything but representative. Given the relationship between the British People and Polish People, I think it’s wise to assume that this scenario is not repeatable. Indulging the view that is is possible, and while I can maybe predict the Romanian response, being a Romanian national and all, I have sincere doubts that it will achieve the same numbers. It would take too long to explain, but this is my view, take it as such.

    It is a bit condescending to assume that we needed Mr. Cameron to tell us what regulation infringe on our rights. But I will grant you this and tell you this – Nobody, and I mean nobody, is happy with Bruxelles administration so far. Neither is anyone campaigning for them. Quite the contrary. You have come here to a place that advocates more democracy, more referendum, more choice for the people. But in order to achieve that we don’t just pick up our things and threaten to leave. Cause that is one very short road to being excluded. I advocate for a federation. Not of nation states.

    Budgetary contributions are judged improperly – The UK has been with the Union since 1973, and Romania since 2004. Yes we are still on a negative balance, but this is planned to change and most likely it will. Given it’s size and population, Romania will come to contribute quite heftily to the common budget. But in 2007 it was agreed, including by the UK that things will go like this.

    The debate on the CPA is an all time British favorite. I admit not being thoroughly informed on the CPA and the distribution scheme associated with it, but I will look into it and maybe come back with an answer.

    The only reason why your last line is not valid here is that this is a blog pertaining to my views on federalizing EU at a sub-national level. I advocate the end of the nation state. Your argument is simply not valid. As for Bruxelles, that also needs to change. Significantly.

  5. Comment by Jose | 2013/02/02 at 10:38:59

    Hi Horatiu,

    Sorry I couldn’t get back to you sooner but I’ve had the flu! Me being English, perhaps it’s a european strain.

    I accept that our views on some things will be different but did you know that the UK has had a net inflow of immigrants of approx 250,000 per annum for 10 years? No doubt the bulk of these people have ‘stopped’ in southern England which is now one of the most densely populated areas in the world. I think we all accept that free movement is a good thing but what about the knock-on effects for services. In this example, and I’m sure it will be the same in France, Italy, Germany, where do the extra schools come from? Where do the extra houses come from and where do the extra hospital services come from?

    Obviously, the UK has contributed to numerous budgetary cycles including the 2007 agreement. Now that the new budget has to be agreed we’re being accused yet again of being bad Europeans as we won’t simply agree to a 6% rise in the budget at a time when we and half of Europe are virtually bankrupt. The Commission and the Parliament are ‘typical’ politicians, they want to spend other people’s money and never their own. I was reading somewhere before how a proposal had been made to reduce the monthly longhauls to Strasbourg to save money; it was rejected. No doubt the French whipped up support for maintaining Strasbourg and Brussels which of course is a case of the French wanting the income for the city and the political prestige. Nonsense like this is why the media in the UK has such an easy ride when it comes to criticising the EU. And yet, what have these supposed austerity bodies achieved except to throw good money after bad.

    Nation states have existed for a very long time and will be very difficult to change, you just need to look at the UK and recognise we are 4 countries and have been bound together for 300 years and yet the citizens outside of England still do not refer to themselves as British but rather Welsh or Scottish or Northern Irish. The concept of pan European parties seems incredible to me given that the EU ranges from Romania and possibly one day Turkey to Eire in the west. It is amazing that there is any sort of sensible dialogue half the time given what goes on much of the time.


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