After EU deal, sovereignty under threat

AP News
Posted: Dec 10, 2011 11:06 AM
After EU deal, sovereignty under threat

Sovereignty ain't what it used to be _ just ask two dozen nations in Europe.

In a fundamental shift agreed in the dead of night, most of continental Europe has decided to cede a surprising amount of control over how it spends its money to an ill-defined pan-European body. And this just weeks after two of the countries _ Greece and Italy _ replaced their leaders because of pressure from foreign investors.

Even the Dutch prime minister, whose nation has spent centuries building barriers to protect its people from the sea, says it's a brave new world: "You cannot," says Mark Rutte, "stay behind the dikes."

Britain, a fiercely independent island nation, was the only country insisting on keeping full control over its finances.

This is what three years of financial chaos have wrought.

Even if the European dream was to build an ever-closer union on the ashes of World War II, it was always assumed that nations would maintain the essence of their independence even as they plowed ahead with closer ties.

All throughout this year, right up to the festive season, financial markets have ensured otherwise.

European Union leaders said Friday that 26 of its 27 member countries are open to joining a new treaty tying their finances together to solve the euro crisis. Under the deal, member states would have to put the way they spend their money under tight surveillance from Brussels and face the possibility of sanctions if they stray from fiscal dogma.

For the rest, it all means a significant abandonment of self-determination.

"It is a fundamental step forward, but anybody who believes that within nation states we still control our sovereignty is deeply mistaken," said Piotr Maciej Kaczynski of the Centre for European Policy Studies.

The European Union once abounded with lofty egalitarian visions of small nations carrying the same relative weight in the EU as big countries to create a better future.

Now there are fears that everybody will be forced to walk the line set out by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose close cooperation has turned them into a new political animal: "Merkozy."

From the 1980s, European nations that had rolled across each other's borders in tanks only four decades earlier started scrapping them instead, to steadily create a single continental space where travelers and workers can mostly move at will.

When the euro currency was launched a dozen years ago to eventually unite the financial fate of 17 nations, nationhood and continental cooperation blended even further.

"We live in a world which is so interlinked that we cannot perceive sovereignty as untouchable objects any more," Kaczynski told the Associated Press.

The balance between national independence and supranational oversight has been changed by the crisis.

And in that sense, Friday's deal might have been a tipping point in European history.

Where once empires and powerful kingdoms ruled, the 19th century gradually spread a quilt of nation states over the Continent. It was the order of the day until not so very long ago, giving people a sense of identity and common bond within each nation, often juxtaposed against its neighbors in every wind direction.

Beyond the Belgian capital where Friday's deal was reached, there is a stark reminder what it also brought: endless rows of whitewashed graves, reminders of two world wars at the heart of Europe which largely were fought in the name of the same nation state.

Up to now, with each step of a more united Europe, the sense of loss of sovereignty seemed marginal, the advantages largely outweighing the near invisible loss.

But, everything changes when money is involved.

On top of the EU impact, globalization and a never-sleeping financial market have further diminished the clout of sovereignty.

University Corruption
Walter E. Williams

In Greece, former prime minister George Papandreou was forced to resign after his shock announcement of a referendum on a European bailout spooked markets and the European Union. The same goes for Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's flamboyant former premier, who was widely seen by investors as an obstacle to urgent steps to save his nation's economy.

Abuse of sovereignty, of course, has been a big cause of Europe's woes.

Greece used it, and then some, when it indulged in a collapse of tax collection and an uncontrolled rise in spending in the expectation that the richer eurozone nations would help out if trouble came.

"The problem is that the debt crisis in a number of nations created economic problems for all nations" using the euro, said Rutte, explaining the spillover which inevitably diluted economic sovereignty.

Greece, Ireland and Portugal were eventually bailed out. But fiscally sound nations wanted to make sure that financial sinners feel the consequences of their actions to avoid any repeat.

"If we are in trouble, we are there to help, but only against the most stringent conditions," Rutte said. That has set the stage for the vision of centralized power contained in the EU's new treaty on financial union.

Loss of sovereignty is now obvious on the streets of Athens, after Prime Minister Lucas Papademos had to promise the EU and the European Central Bank to impose tough cost-cutting measures needed to start reducing the deficit and paying down debt.

Britain does not want any such meddling.

"We're not in the euro and I'm glad we're not in the euro," British Prime minister David Cameron said after he was left all alone in opposing financial oversight from Brussels.


Elena Becatoros contributed from Athens. Don Melvin, Angela Charlton and Gabriele Steinhauser from Brussels.