Thursday, March 17, 2005


Frans Groenendijk has an interesting post regarding Scottish relations with the EU. In it, he quotes a member of the SNP as saying "Scotland needs a little friendly goodwill from mainland Europeans on its path to independence". Frans's response to this message is "Of course it is in the interest of smaller nations in Europe to actively encourage a non-xenophobe intention for more independence in regions and states in the bigger ones!"

The response is self-evidently true. The more the EU can break down traditional country barriers, the more it will be able to assume powers that are currently considered to be sacrosanct issues of national sovereignty. One of the interesting features of the growth of the EU is that it has led to growing regional sovereignty movements in many areas - Flanders, Scotland, Wales, Catalonia, to name the most prominent (but the movements stretch further afield than this). Countries which don't have movements as strong as these are often federal in character anyway - most notably Germany, where the concept of the EU as the top level of a hierarchy slots in very nicely with the basic hierarchical model.

Now, is this separatism something that should be encouraged? This is always a tricky question to answer - but in the main, I think that having the EU at one end of a spectrum and increasingly autonomous regions at another provides a very good solution for this. Government needs to operate over a certain area to be effective. This area, however, depends greatly on the task at hand. Some tasks are definitely dealt with best at a micro-level, others at a macro-level. That's where the EU steps in, for it can tackle some issues (notably asylum) far better than national governments. National governments are much better, on the other hand, at setting tax rates. And an integrated transport policy is best achieved on a municipal level. These governments are not incompatible.

Going back to the comment of the SNP member, it is indeed right that Scotland should have more help from mainland Europeans - although I suspect if Scotland was to declare independence, it would soon find life very difficult as many of its programmes are currently subsidised heavily from England. More broadly, all Europeans should get more help from the EU. The biggest problem the EU has is that it is seen as more interested in regulating the legal height of rocking horses than it is in actually making a positive difference. People will never relate to a bloated bureaucracy.

And yet a hierarchical model of European government makes perfect sense. Indeed, it is thoroughly achievable, for the balance of power means that no powers are conceded to the EU except those which governments consider to be absolutely necessary. At any point, any country could stop the flow of powers, if indeed that exists anyway. A model of Europe not far detached from the American Articles of Confederation is exactly what Europe should be aiming for - largely devolved powers, but with essential issues passed up the tree. The constituent nations can then decide which way they want powers to be shifted.