Thursday, August 16, 2007

Mind the gaps...

Well this is better – a substantive post by the Economist and not a lazy flick of the wrist dismissal of sceptics as types inhabiting a hysterical freak show. The Economist has at least taken up Richard North’s trenchant challenge.

The Economist states that, in law, the claim of eurosceptics that Britain is going to lose control of its foreign policy is false. The Economist states that the “unanimity lock” means that member states agreement is necessary before an EU foreign policy initiative can commence (point 34 according to Richard North).

Richard North & Helen Szamuely at EU referendum do not contradict this – they merely point to the new foundational principles which the treaty does embody and they suggest that these can be used to alter this legal status in the future. They also point out that the treaty permits the EU to "borrow" the British and French permanent seats at the UN and that whilst this does not mean (as some sceptics have claimed) the abolition of the French and British security council seats it does oblige them to stay silent and defer to the high representative on matters of agreed EU policy.

The EU foreign policy then is to be a “foreign policy of the gaps”. A “no objections” mandate is granted to develop foreign policy where the member states prior, unanimous and specific agreement is obtained. In this innocuous form and with fond wishes from family and friends a baby is born unto the world and his name will be High Representative.

We are hastily reassured that he will only ever be the high representative of low tasks – tidying up foreign policy lacunae, presenting a united EU front at harmless international boondoggles such as the conference of the regions etc. He will be just another pointless speechmaker in that home of pointless speechmaking – the UN.

But he is proud successor to a race of giants - Presidents of the European Commission, EU trade Commissioner, President of the European central Bank, President of the European Court of Justice and others whose modest beginnings have not prevented them from becoming mightier than their now anaemic nation state progenitors. He is a prince of the same incremental kingdom that gave us the “trade policy of the gaps”, “judicial review of the gaps”, the “currency oversight of the gaps” and so on, and on….and on.

In practise the gaps are quickly filled and the principles of “harmonisation” start to be urged. The helplessness of the puny nation state in a new world of hostile giants is the preferred rhetoric of dread. To this background orchestration of fear and loathing the clear note of a trumpet is sounded – salvation! The great ring of power can be forged by the high representative if the nation stations melt their puny rings of power in the sacred and cleansing flames of the European “pool”.

Here is where the currently anodyne words of article 9 cease to be aspirational and become the very bread and butter of practical power politics. They provide a legal basis to undermine, subvert and finally overthrow point 34 and with it the independence (inter alia) of British foreign policy.

And under the “ratchet clause” the Constitution (sorry treaty) provides the means to accomplish this without any of those troublesome summits with their “red lines” and vulgar brinksmanship. Now it can all be wrapped up elegantly and quietly by the “colleagues” behind closed doors - just business as usual – nothing to see here.

The Economist can claim that mine is only a forecast – and a pessimistic one at that. But it cannot do so with the sanction of history. It cannot deny that the EU “has form”. The words “ever closer Union” were an aspiration when they were written. Today they are a real and existing fact.

The Economist tells us that the gap between the “legalese” of the treaty and the “real politik” of nation state dominated power politics means that the treaty’s words are irrelevant. However the history of the European Union teaches us that these gaps between the de jure claims of the “project” and their de facto realisation are quickly closed and always in favour of the EU centre at the expense of the Nation State periphery.

I am also reminded of a tragic and romantic episode in the history of Ireland’s absorption into the Kingdom of England. Henry VIII persuaded the powerful chiefs of Ireland to acknowledge his suzerainty over them and granted them the anglicized rank of “earls”. At the time this was presented to the Irish chiefs as a harmless diplomatic formality as their power was greater in Ireland than his. But as Henry’s daughter, Elizabeth I, proceeded to make flesh his words against these overmighty subjects, one by one, she effectively relied on their “loyalty” oath (and heavy bribery) to keep them disunited. The end of Gaelic glory came when the last victims (O’Donnel & O’Niell) were forced to flee Ireland in the “flight of the Earls”. As they departed they may have ruefully reflected on their ancestor’s folly in accepting unenforceable legal claims of power instead of countering Henry’s de jure claim of authority with their united de facto power from the very outset.

8 comments:

O'Connon said...

"But as Henry’s daughter, Elizabeth I, proceeded to make flesh his words against these overmighty subjects, one by one, she effectively relied on their “loyalty” oath (and heavy bribery) to keep them disunited. The end of Gaelic glory came when the last victims (O’Donnel & O’Niell) were forced to flee Ireland in the “flight of the Earls”."

Yeah, my grandmother used to tell me about that story all the time. Elizabeth's invasion of Ireland was if anything even more brutal than Cromwell's a half-century later, though apparently she was much less successful-- Hugh O'Neill, and O'Donnell launched what was really the only victorious rebellion against the English until the Anglo-Irish War of 1920-21 itself.

O'Neill pretended to be loyal to the Elizabethan occupiers, but he secretly gathered ammunition and trained his soldiers, and when he launched his rebellion he defeated the English repeatedly at Yellow Ford and other battles. He also used delaying tactics to humiliate the Essex expedition. The English never suffered a defeat in Ireland like that again until 1921, when they were expelled-- the English suffered heavy casualties repeatedly. O'Neill suffered a setback at Kinsale in 1601, but even then he just melted away and launched guerrilla war like what we see in Iraq and Vietnam. The English got so frustrated they plowed up the fields, that famine was even worse than the Potato Famine proportionately. Yet still O'Neill didn't surrender-- it was only when James I took the throne in 1603 that O'Neill made a deal with them.

The Flight of the Earls occurred 4 years later, and it was because O'Neill and O'Donnell just didn't trust the English. Such a shame.

Tony Maher said...

O'connon,

You are right about O'Neill's brilliant campaign but had he allied himself with the Earl of Desmond whose rebellion started and was beaten before O'Neill started his then Mountjoy could have sung for his supper at Kinsale

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