EU and the abdication of sovereignty

Published on 10 October 2010 at 10:52

The EU is beginning to chip away at Irish sovereignty, but European nation states have been running away from their sovereign responsibilities for years.

Eurosceptics have been harping on for decades about how the EU is an assault on national sovereignty, but this month Ireland has found itself facing a direct demand to hand over power to the EU.

Both the conservative and green groups within the EU parliament have been demanding Ireland’s low rate of corporation tax rises, suggesting that its doubling should be a condition of EU bailouts. Many have complained that this would destroy Ireland’s international competitiveness, sending foreign-based companies fleeing to cheaper climes. Semiconductor manufacturer, Intel, which has its largest non-US plant in Ireland, has already come out saying that any changes to corporation tax would see the company re-evaluate its position in Ireland.

Needless to say, the Euro MPs’ plans are not popular in Ireland but the issue of just who is in charge has not yet peaked – which is surprising, because this is hardly the first time that the issue has been raised. Level-headed opposition to the treaty of Lisbon was centred on the issue of national sovereignty. Sadly the barking-mad opposition to the treaty was also centred on the issue.

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In fact, the EU itself represents an abdication of sovereignty. Pro-EU voices tacitly acknowledge this when they describe the EU as an institution that “pools sovereignty“. Britain’s most pro-European prime minister ever, Tony Blair, said in 1999 that Britain would eventually “pool its national sovereignty” with other EU states.

We can already see this at work in Europe: institutions such as the European Court of Justice (ECJ), generally seen as benign except by swivel-eyed conspiracy theorists, regularly trump national supreme court decisions. Sometimes the results are for the better, of course, but the question is one of democracy.

In the case of Ireland, the idea that MEPs elected in Germany should decide what happens to the Irish population is a bizarre one. Unlike ECJ decisions, plans to beggar Ireland have a massive and immediate effect on the public.

There are plenty of voices, both within and without Ireland, saying that the country's finances will have to be "administered" (note the technical and depoliticised terminology) by Brussels or the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Such moves may (or may not) stabilise the national finances but what they won't do is ensure that ordinary people in Ireland aren't ruined. After all, we all know that the monied classes will, by and large, survive any recession.

In fact, there is nothing inherently wrong with the idea of EU integration but it must only proceed on a democratic basis and democratic legitimacy is lacking precisely because, increasingly, the EU's raison d'être is to allow national elites to avoid taking responsibility for their decisions. Irish and other European states have been handing power over to surpa-national bodies for decades, lacking the will to get their own hands dirty. Moves to hand the economy over to Big Mother in Europe would be dramatic but they fit within a general pattern of expecting other, often unelected, bodies to do the job of government.

As a grim little coda, the Irish public seem to be in agreement with their delinquent leaders: a poll conducted by Red-C Market Research for the Irish Sun newspaper found that, of the 1,000 polled, most preferred a European Central Bank or IMF takeover to the government – or opposition – continuing to run the economy.

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