January 24, 2013
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.