eu series: hegemonism – an eu love affair

Enlarging the European Union to include “new” member states is an ambitious and fascinating political project. Controversy however, does exist. Expanding the EU is an ideological exercise that strives to provide the impetus for the spread of neo-liberal market policies as well as other fundamental “democratic” concepts that may include a commitment to human rights, rule of law, transparency and elements of consociationalism. It is a function of reality and pragmatic constraints, that not everyone and not every political agenda can be accommodated.

Our Choice Is Peace?

The difficulty with failing to provide political outlets for those parties that may find themselves on the extremities or fringes of the political decision making process may find other means by which to manifest their grievances, often times using methods that have been captured by those terms such as “corruption,” “illicit” and “shadow” or “under- ground.”

As the EU looks to the East and the Balkan states to provide future economic markets, cheap labour, intellectual and natural resources, geopolitical advantages, as well as other strategic dimensions that make up the EU’s own “manifest destiny,” it is imperative if not counterintuitive and potentially catastrophic politically, if no measures are taken to accommodate the uniqueness of local and regional problems as well as solutions. The EU has systematically confused accommodation for supremacy and top-down “dictatorship” in key areas such as energy security, foreign policy and corruption. A failure to rethink accommodation in the EU may have history repeat itself with “second revolution” being a potential consequence.

The harmonization of local “laws” with the EU’s body of laws, otherwise known by the catch-all phrase, acquis communitaire, is bound to introduce a remapping or shifting of both political and economic actors. New winners become losers while old losers may find themselves on the other side of the spectrum. To reiterate the above is not to introduce something new, quite the contrary. Political and economic actors are constantly in flux. Traditionally, power sharing is explicitly desirable and opposition healthy; competition, or the antagonistic interplay between two parties competing for a limited-supply resource produces beneficial economic and “political” byproducts.

With the end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the Soviet regime, East Europe had been left without a governing hegemon. Criticisms aimed at undermining Soviet rule can also be applied to East Europe’s new hegemon, the European Union. East Europe and those living in East Europe have probably turned to the West in search for a panacea solution to their internal political and economic chaos. If freedom from Soviet-rule was, in retrospect, presupposing a departure from “colonialism” and “quasi-sovereignty,” looking forward, EU-rule will be a restoration of the very same things Eastern Europe was expecting to free itself from.

Commonplace energy rhetoric is often bundled with a normative pursuit of democracy. Rather alarmingly, EU’s energy commissioner, Andris Piebalgs, made explicit that “[t]he best way to create EU energy security is to export market economy values to suppliers such as Russia and the Middle East.” By throwing its political and economic weight around, the EU is trying to reconcile the uncertainty that is “foreign” or “alien” approaches to governance with their own version of market economics. If the EU’s is not prepared or willing to negotiate with players outside their geographical and ideological borders, what sort of example is that setting for the newly accessed East European countries, as well as those to be accessed, Romania and Bulgaria, in January 2007. To proceed with caution would be an understatement.

Furthermore, as an example, Germany and Poland have “failed to see eye-to-eye on the second major issue of energy, with the Polish leader sticking to his opposition against Germany’s plans to build a direct gas pipeline to Russia under the Baltic Sea, bypassing Poland.” This is, again, certainly nothing new. Anyone, with even the most limited background in history understands, not just as a result of World War II, but previous historical events as well, that Poland sovereignty is a sensitive issue for many Poles. To bypass such sovereignty, in this case the justification being that Germany must secure energy supplies and Russia is an appealing as well as suitable supplier, is to yet again, reinforce what has just been previously been said that the EU simply cannot dismiss the unique local socio-political make-up. To have German Chancellor Merkel offer to a “branch from the pipeline to Poland,” allowing for the possibility of a “valve-shut-off,” a-la Ukraine during early 2007, stands to prove the German approach as being unilateral and for the most part, politically ignominious.

Poland has voiced, through President Kaczynski, their sovereign desire to achieve energy security through “supply diversification,” a policy and initiative that includes a commitment by the “Western” countries through the “linking [of] energy grids” and the “enshrining of principles at the [EU] treaty level.” It is without doubt that given the latest rounds of accession, the EU has observed an increase in oil and gas imports and consumption. These rates stand to further rise, as the newly annexed countries have “weak internal hydrocarbon production.”

With the Baltic States looking to “reduce the number of Russian investors for historical and geopolitical reasons,” and the EU seeking to secure policy that is founded on treaty law (something that has yet to happen) with Russia, it will be interesting to observe the extent to which supra-national interests will trump national ones. Vladimir Putin has already expressed his concerns over allegations that Russia has continued to transgress human-rights law (for some a jus cogens principle), stating that Russia did not invent the word “mafia.” Whether or not that stands to be of any significance, it not only reminds the EU of its own past corruption scandals and political malfeasance, but rather antithetically speaks of the hypocrite nature of the disparity between EU practice and EU foreign policy. To provide examples, France’s experience with Jacques Chirac’s sloth during his tenancy as mayor of Paris, as well as the 1991 “Lafayette Deal” between France and Taiwan, both speak for the reality that is corruption and the exploitation of office for personal gain, with different repercussions and consequences for different countries.

In addition, British Euro-skeptics often find it extremely difficult to reconcile the benefits of the current status-quo that is EU’s civil-law legal system, with the UK’s traditional common-law system. EU Criminal Law overrides national provisions, regardless of opposition from local governments. All breaches of EU law are subject to sanctions that can be imposed by the EU Commission, an un-elected body in Brussels, which also has the right to propose and define what those criminal sanctions will be by definition (with a majority vote of Council of Members needed).

The above is an example of how as a supra-national institution, the EU is not always making unanimous decisions or implementing policy that is accommodating of all. It would be dangerous to make such an assumption by implying it. While current governments of the day can be said to be pro-EU, opposition and dissent do exist, even within veteran states, at both political and civil society levels.

Questioning EU’s future prospects is an exercise bound to introduce arguments from both Euro-skeptics as well as EU proponents. However, given current “policy” approaches that adopt measures more akin to imposed dictatorship, dissatisfaction either from old member states or newly accessed member states is bound to, in the future, undermine the traditional EU objective of uniting to reinforce national commitments that provide and oversee all “essential services” – as dictated by accompanying political mandates.

The EU constantly echoes those principles on paper. In reality, the truth points into other directions, directions that are not “consociational” or “accommodating” in nature, but rather disappointingly, the opposite.

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