Sovereignty, what is it good for, eh? It’s not the sexiest topic in the world, but it’s one that often comes up when discussing the European Union. In a globalised world, does it make sense for EU countries to “pool” some of their sovereignty in order to keep hold of the rest? Or is sovereignty a black-and-white issue (you either have it or you don’t)?
According to Dr. Hiski Haukkala, Associate Professor of International Relations at the School of Management at Finland’s University of Tampere, sovereignty is both a political practice and a legal concept entailing the recognised equality and supreme authority and autonomy of territorially bound states in the international system. Which is quite a mouthful.
For some of our readers, sovereignty is under threat in the 21st Century. We had a comment sent in from Joaquim arguing that “there is no sovereignty anymore” in Europe because the EU forces small countries to do what large countries want.
To get a response, we spoke to Dr. Hiski Haukkala from the University of Tampere: Is Joaquim right to argue that international organisations and agreements are incompatible with the concept of national sovereignty?
No it is not. It is through the use of their sovereignty that states enter into international arrangements. They do not lose their sovereignty but on the contrary usually re-affirming it in the process. Even pooling sovereignty á la the EU does not entail an irrevocable loss of sovereignty. For example, the problems in the EU’s immigration policies and Schengen system have ‘forced’ many member states to exercise national sovereignty by adopting national measures concerning the issues.
On the other side of the coin, we had a comment from Fenris arguing that European states could use the EU to “strengthen their sovereignty”.
Can European states strengthen their sovereignty through the European Union? Or are legal and political powers given up to the European level lost for good? How would Dr. Haukkala respond?
Yes and no. They have in certain cases increased their (collective) capacity for action and therefore inadvertently streghthened their sovereignty. At the same time they have created and accepted constraints on that very sovereignty on the national level.
The key problem in the case of the EU is that perhaps to a degree this ‘pooled’ sovereignty has ‘vanished’ in the process, i.e. failing to crystallize into a credible actorness (let alone formal sovereignty) on the EU level. It is this failure that creates the temptation to go back to national level politics and responses. It remains to be seen whether this will work. My feeling is that it will not.
If going back to the national level might not work, could we try the opposite? We had a comment from Peter suggesting that EU Member States should start the process of “sovereign mitigation to a truly European sovereignty”.
Is that just an idealistic pipe dream? What did Dr. Haukkala think it would take to create a “European sovereignty”?
A conscious decision on the part of the European publics that nation-states are inadequate for tackling the key challenges facing Europe / wider humanity. It is easy to be pessimistic about these prospects when the pendulum is currently swinging towards the national direction even in the EU. But it is not to be excluded that in future the reverse could hold as well. It might be that the EU is about to enter a period of intense crises after which people will be forced to re-think many issues. It is not unthinkable that the notion of national sovereignty could be one of them.
Is sovereignty still relevant in the 21st Century? Can European states strengthen their sovereignty through the EU? What will it take to create a “European sovereignty”? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!