Monday, May 23, 2005

Supranational vs. Intergovernmental - the EU and the prevention of war

Hew BG asks in a comment, "what is your view on the Supranational / Intergovernmental question? The Yes camp (up to and including Barosso, Margot ) are currently conflating supranationalism and the peace in (Western) Europe over the last 50 years which is, to be generous to them, "stretching" the achievements of the EU."

My web connection's being a bit spacky today, and I've got a few deadlines so I can't do anything too substantial at the moment, and haven't got time to dig out links or the like. But in short, and off the top of my head:

Assuming we take "intergovernmental" to mean based on unanimous decisions and "supranational" to mean that states can be compelled by others to comply, I'd say Wallstrom/Barroso have a point - albeit a stretched and somewhat flawed one.

The World Trade Organisation, for example, is supranational and because of its powers of compulsion has helped to remove/reduce various tariff barriers over the years thanks to the added power of collective compulsion the supranational framework allows. The UN Security Council, however, working on the intergovernmental unanimity principle, has often been hampered by not being able to get agreement - notably over the Iraq war, Kosovo etc.

So a supranational set-up can certainly help get things done - it's akin to the principle of a parliamentary majority vote, only with nations rather than MPs. Intergovernmental decisions, requiring unanimity, can lead to stalemate and stagnation, and in turn to the breakup of the organisations which require them - viz. the current debates over the effectiveness of the UN and the collapse of its League of Nations predecessor.

You already know my views on nation states - outmoded and arbitrary. Nation states being allowed to maintain complete sovereignty and act purely in their own national interest can work to the disadvantage of other nations and the international community. Having some kind of supranational organisation which can put an extra bit of pressure on to stop them from pissing about is, in my view, very helpful. Being signed up to a supranational group is a rather more tightly binding check on rampant self-interest than mere bilateral / multilateral treaties - as the Munich Agreement is testimony to, such treaties are too easily easily ignored / rescinded / rewritten.

But having said that, in terms of war I doubt any agreement between nations is enough to prevent it if any particular state wants one badly enough - war is, after all, by its very nature illegal. The added threat of a vast number of allies instantly being dragged in (as via NATO) may help to stop anyone being stupid enough to launch one, but not necessarily.

This has gone on a bit, so to summarise: in my view, the EEC/EU has been a handy extra layer to NATO/the UN, but in legal terms not a vital one, in keeping the peace in western Europe. What it has helped to do is foster closer, friendlier relations between the governmental machines of the various member states, allowing closer dialogue than was previously the case. The more there is dialogue between nations, the less is the chance of war. In that sense I think the EU certainly has helped maintain the peace - but not, as I say, because of any specific legal agreements.

9 Comments:

Blogger The Grinch said...

Hi,

I believe the point Margot and Barosso are making is to do with the origins of the EU. The ECSC was set up to integrate the coal and steel industries of Western Europe, in particular of France and Germany, because these were the primary industrial prerequisites of a war machine. Nuclear was added later of course. Therefore the foremost initial purpose of what became the EU was the keeping of the peace in Western Europe; which basically meant between France and Germany, through the integration of those industries most closely involved in the military.

As to the success of the EU in this aim, it's worth noting that never before in history have those two countries enjoyed such a prolonged period of peace. Is this because their economies have been integrated? Well, who knows. But it must have helped. Under intergovernmental arrangements such as NATO, contracting nations are very unlikely to go to war, but it remains theoretically possible. Under supranational arrangements, such as economic integration, warmaking becomes not only legally prohibited but completely practically impossible.

5/23/2005 02:19:00 pm  
Anonymous Hew BG said...

Nosemonkey,

Many thanks for such a swift response. I had not expected it.

I have a couple of comments...

"in my view, the EEC/EU has been a handy extra layer to NATO/the UN, but in legal terms not a vital one, in keeping the peace in western Europe. "

This suggests that you believe that the EEC/EU is the minor factor in this respect. Is this a fair assessment of your views?

"The more there is dialogue between nations, the less is the chance of war. "

This appears - and again I am merely fishing for clarification of your view, rather than wanting to misrepresent you - that you are confining your thoughts purely to governmental dialogue. To what degree do you believe that it is the interactions of the people at all levels, especially through trade/business connections - and even tourism - that is the driver of closer relations between countries, rather than purely governmental/diplomatic relations?

Thus, in terms of the peace in Western Europe since WWII, there are perhaps four key factors - amongst a host of others:
- Fresh memories of WWII and the holocaust in particular causing everyone to do everything in their power to avoid a repeat, plus the threat that it could be nuclear if it happened again
- NATO and the common requirement to face down the threat of communism,
- Relaxation of trade barriers, resulting in the free(r) movement of people, aided by vastly improving communications and general "globalistion" of everything
- The Supranational model of the EU and its antecedents.

I suggest that (with the possible reordering of NATO and Free Trade) that this is the correct order of priority (most important first).

Do you broadly agree with this and, if so, can you defend Margot who mentioned only - IMHO - the least important of these?

Without wanting to be too flippant about this, my view is that if the leaders of the various (Western) European had declared at the end of the war something along the lines of "war is ghastly - we must not go back there again. In the future all delegates to inter-govt summits must wear revolving bow-ties to remind them of their fallibility and to avoid hubris" we would quite possibly be lauding the bow-tie as the keeper of peace in Europe over the last 50 years.

Thoughts?

5/23/2005 02:26:00 pm  
Blogger Alex said...

Er, the third of your points (trade barriers, communications and such) is the EU and its antecedents. You may argue that this was achievable through another form of international organisation, but in fact it was achieved by the ECSC/EEC/EC/EU.

Point no. 1, the horror of war, is fine as far as it goes, but then again, the First World War was pretty horrific, and plenty of people in 1919 thought nobody would ever fight again, except perhaps to make the revolution.

The EU and Nato have much closer common origins than people remember. Many of the same people involved in the precursors of the 40s - Benelux, the ECSC, the OEEC, the European Payments Union and such - were simultaneously building NATO. It was 1973 before a non-Nato state joined (Ireland), and the next joiner (Spain) joined Nato prior to joining the EU, as did Greece and Portugal.

The EU/Nato dichotomy only emerges after the end of the cold war - with the 1995 entry of four neutral states. By this time, it was arguable that Nato itself was obsolete. Even the central and eastern European entrants have all signed up to Nato, too. Tim Garton-Ash argued, quite rightly, that in reality there were two pillars to European integration - a military pillar, Nato, and a civilian pillar, the ECSC/EEC/EC/EU.

In a sense, the economic defence of Western Europe was just as important as the military preparations; perhaps more so if you think that the USSR would have preferred to increase its influence through revolution or neutralisation. The prosperity of postwar Europe also helped to keep the neutrals outside the walls of Nato from drifting into the other camp.

5/24/2005 10:01:00 am  
Blogger Nosemonkey said...

Grinch - entirely right on the success of those early aims. It's a testimony to that success that a lot of the anti-EU camp today ridicule any suggestion that the European Community is responsible for maintaining the peace. War between western Eurpean nations has become unthinkable largely because of the various pieces of integration that have taken place since the war. Not all of this integration was deliberate, but such integration was the intention, and the intention was to prevent war. Quod erat demonstrandum.

Hew - a lot of points. I'll try and cover them all.

1) I reckon that these days, a lot of the EU is not vital to keep the peace, as the relationships have become solid enough of their own accord. NATO and the threat of the USSR was a vital additional factor in preventing war in the west during the latter 20th century - united against a common enemy and all that. But the EEC/EU added the more binding, long-term social/economic ties which has ensured that war is now considered unthinkable between western European states for the first time in 2000 years.

2) Not restricting it to governmental dialogue - in fact, governmental dialogue is the least important, as that has always gone on. I was referring to dialogue between civil services - the minor officials who now communicate regularly, but who previously would never have come into contact with their opposite numbers from other countries. Your point about travel etc. and the dialogue at all levels is likewise a vital factor - this all helps foster understanding between nations, creating a sense of solidarity between the peoples of Europe which simply didn't exist at the start of the 20th century. If you've gone on holiday to France and met some French people, you're far less likely to sign up to a war in which you'll be expected to bayonette them.

3) Memories of WWII were strong and certainly a factor - but not enough in themselves to prevent another war (I'm distinguishing here between a war between western European states and a war with the USSR, which few western European states kidded themselves they had any power to stop). After pretty much every major war in history - WWI, Napoleonic, English Civil War, Hundred Years ec. etc. people have said "never again", and it's usually been forgotten within a generation.

Otherwise your four points (memories of war, NATO, relaxation of trade barriers etc, and the EU) are fair, but I'd say in the wrong order. Without the shift to European integration in the post-war period, intra-European trade barriers would have been harder to break down, and it would have been practically impossible without some kind of binding multilateral/supranational agreement to prevent individual countries from reinstating them at will. I'd opt for the following, in this order:

a) The threat of a common Soviet enemy.
b) NATO, making alliances against that common enemy more binding (to prevent another Munich).
c) European economic integration more generally, under the umbrella of the EU and its various predecessors, more closely linking each country's wellbeing to that of its neighbours.
d) The growth in trans-European understanding - at all levels - because of these close links.
e) The desire to avoid another major war in western Europe between western European states.

Added to that could also be the realisation that alone no single European country was strong enough to compete in the USA/USSR cock-measuring contest that was the Cold War, but that collectively they might have a chance. I don't however, think many people seriously thought there was much chance of Europe becoming a third superpower - it was more just that we were caught in the middle and wanted to make our voices heard. Better, in that scenario, to all shout at once.

So, to summarise, European integration / the EU was a vital factor in making it impossible for war to happen again between western European states, and as this was one of the project's primary aims it deserves to claim some credit. But there were others - largely designed to prevent the Cold War kicking off - which also helped.

5/24/2005 10:23:00 am  
Blogger Nosemonkey said...

Oh - Alex posted as I was typing - his final point about economic prosperity is another vital one. And if you look at what happened to Europe after WWI, such prosperity was by no means guaranteed with nations acting entirely selfishly. Parts can be put down to the injection of American Marshall Aid cash, but not the ongoing stability - the US pumped money into Europe after WWI as well, after all, and that's how a lot of the problems started...

5/24/2005 10:27:00 am  
Anonymous Hew BG said...

Firstly, let's compare the quality of the analysis here to that on the Yes Campaign blog: looks like you are doing a good job Nosemonkey.

The economic prosperity argument - especially in the eventual collapse of communism - is interesting and I agree. The question then is: How much of this prosperity is due to the EU? I would suggest that the EU has had more affinity with a command model (cf CAP and the entire structure of the ECSC - which would be consistent with its stated aims...) rather than the liberalisation that is more probably responsible. As we stand now, all that is free market in the constitution is not new (it was there in the 1957 Treaty of Rome, but parts were never acted upon and the French are still resisting it ferociously) and all that is new is not free market.

A couple of more specific points:

Alex: " Er, the third of your points (trade barriers, communications and such) is the EU and its antecedents. You may argue that this was achievable through another form of international organisation, but in fact it was achieved by the ECSC/EEC/EC/EU." Possibly. But you cannot extrapolate from this that it was only the supranational nature of it that was the cause of peace and that a return to intergovernmentalism NOW risks a return to war.

" It was 1973 before a non-Nato state joined "
This is looking at it from completely the wrong end. NATO was a much more important part of the defence of Europe and comprised (and still does) many nations - principally Norway and the UK (until it joined the EEC) that are/were outside the EU. NATO has historically had a broader reach both in terms of the bridge across the Atlantic and in the membership of European nations than the EU.

The Grinch:
Under supranational arrangements, such as economic integration, warmaking becomes not only legally prohibited but completely practically impossible. Hmmm... Not sure. conventional war possibly, but what about a violent, drawn out secessionist/guerilla war?
Even so, if a set of circumstances arose such that war was on the cards under an intergovernmental system, I doubt everything would be smelling of roses in a supranational council of ministers given the same situation.

I believe the point Margot and Barosso are making is to do with the origins of the EU.

This is where I disagree with the Grinch in particular. Margot was not making a point about the origins of the EU: she stated very very clearly that there was a danger in a return to intergovernmentalism NOW, not in the past.


As to the success of the EU in this aim, it's worth noting that never before in history have those two countries enjoyed such a prolonged period of peace. Is this because their economies have been integrated? Well, who knows. But it must have helped.

This brings me back to the original point, which Nosemonkey seem to have avoided : there is a meme being put around (Margot, the Commission Europe Day statement, the Dutch Yes campaign aborted advert) that EU supranationalism is solely responsible for the peace in Europe over the last 50 years and more or less the only thing stopping Germany invading France (or vice versa) in the future.

I'm sure that the removal of trade barriers and closer cooperation at all levels has helped, but we appear all to be agreed that there are many factors in play. Equally, it is not at all clear that supranationalism is the guarantor of free trade going forward, particularly not in the way that the EU goes about its work.

This goes to the heart of the discussion at hand now: are we freely co-operating nation states or can we only sustain the peace through supranational structures?

5/24/2005 01:16:00 pm  
Blogger The Grinch said...

Hew,

Some interesting points.

"conventional war possibly, but what about a violent, drawn out secessionist/guerilla war?"

Well, perhaps. But to be fair to Monnet, Schuman et al this is not what they were trying to prevent. They were trying to prevent huge, bloody conflagrations between nation states. They've been successful thus far. And besides, economic and social integration IS likely to prevent guerilla or secessionist wars: cf. Nosemonkey's point about going on holiday with Frenchmen making you less likely to bayonet them.

"Margot was not making a point about the origins of the EU: she stated very very clearly that there was a danger in a return to intergovernmentalism NOW, not in the past."

I think the Commission's point here is valid, but extremely clumsily made. Yes, there are dangers in a return to intergovernmentalism now. One only has to look at the damaging bananas / steel / etc trade wars that regularly flare up between the EU and US. In a supranationally integrated economy such trade wars are an impossibility. And to have a supranationally integrated economy you need supranational political institutions to regulate and manage it, and arbitrate in disputes. Where Margot et al make their mistake is to raise the spectre not of trade wars, but of gas chambers. This doesn't help their cause, because thankfully such images these days seem to belong to the distant past.

"there is a meme being put around ... that EU supranationalism is solely responsible for the peace in Europe over the last 50 years and more or less the only thing stopping Germany invading France (or vice versa) in the future."

I disagree, for the reasons set out in my last point. I don't think the Commission etc truly believe that World War Three is likely to break out if the EU collapses, but if the mechanisms of a supranationally integrated economy were removed, then nation states would indisputably begin to compete once more as nation states, by which I mean governments would begin to distort the international market by the use of tariff barriers, punitive taxes and state aid for treasured national industries. The democratic pressures on them to do so would be irrestistible. This would lead to hostility between European nations, and pressures forcing them apart, not together. Of course in today's world, which is also regulated through bodies such as NATO and the UN, this would be highly unlikely to lead to military conflict. But the point remains that such conflict - under intergovernmentalism - is not impossible, whereas under supranational economic integration, it is.

5/24/2005 02:08:00 pm  
Anonymous Hew BG said...

I think the Commission's point here is valid, but extremely clumsily made.

I must say that I still disagree with the Grinch's analysis. (I would have liked to refer to you in the second person singular, but your name - being rather decidely 3rd person - seems to preclude this. apologies).

He is giving Margot et al considerable benefit of the doubt. That could be fair enough, but he has to ignore this to do so.

There is a world of difference between the suggestion that Europe will descend into trade disputes and actual conflict. The Dutch Yes campaign, together with the location and inferences in Margot's Terezin makes it clear that this is not about trade.

On the topic of trade:
governments would begin to distort the international market by the use of tariff barriers, punitive taxes and state aid for treasured national industries.
Not if we are still part of a free trade area. In any case, try telling that to the French...

This would lead to hostility between European nations, and pressures forcing them apart, not together.
The Euro seems quite capable of fostering these conditions on its own.

And to have a supranationally integrated economy you need supranational political institutions to regulate and manage it, and arbitrate in disputes.

This is a problem in itself, for many reasons:
1) The UK looks further than the EU for trade. Supranational govt within the EU is of no use to us if we are outvoted as to the EU approach to trade discussions EXTERNAL to the EU.
2) Is Political Union really a price worth paying over and above the intergovernmental nature of a free trade area? Particularly given that...
3) ...Political Union requires a real demos to give it the legitimacy that is needed to avoid real conflict when difficulties arise.

To wrap this up, I think there is a wider point to make:
- In order to have a single currency, you must have complete political union. Full Stop. I do wish HMG would just say this. It is lunacy to deny it.
- However, you do NOT need a single currency simply to operate a free trade area. Otherwise, why - for example - would Canada perversely insist on keeping its own dollar?
- Why then do we need a supranational EU to do anything except police the free trade area as regards tariffs etc - if that - for those countries who are not part of the single currency? Why do we need to have EU wide restrictions on the length of the working week?

If the supranational element of the EU were as tightly constrained in remit as, for example, NATO, I doubt that there would be any problem with it. Its problem - from the perspective of the UK - is that it is not. To get it back there would expose the French and German social models to intolerable strain. This is why the "no" camps in the UK and France appear to be at opposite ends of the political spectrum.

My concern is twofold therefore:
1) The supranational model on offer seeks to bury this contradiction. It won't solve the problem. In fact, it could easily become a source of conflict in the future.
2) I suspect that the pro-EU lobby - in its heart of hearts - knows that it has significantly overshot the level of integration that the people of Europe - but notably not the political classes - are prepared to bear, and many have woken up to just how much power has been transferred. They kind of need to make some really irreversible steps before the wheels fall of the whole thing. Hence some of the wilder claims that started this whole discussion .

5/24/2005 03:51:00 pm  
Blogger Alex said...

I also think there's a serious flaw in equating "intergovernmental" and "absolute sovereignty". It's quite possible to have an intergovernmental organisation that limits sovereignty: NATO is exhibit A. All parties bind themselves to defend any ally who is attacked. Not just that, on the declaration of war their armed forces pass into a unitary command structure dominated by one particular ally.

Another example from my own industry: the International Telecommunications Union. Everyone's got a veto, but its decisions once achieved are binding (and anyway well worth accepting if you want the phones to work). For a twist, what about ETSI-TISPAN? It's European, intergovernmental/intercorporate, but its efforts bind companies and governments beyond Europe to particular courses of action.

It's impossible to have a supranational that doesn't limit sovereignty, true. But it's quite possible to have intergovernmental shared sovereignty. Theoretically, of course, the final word on sovereignty is whether or not a nation-state can resign - under the Constitutional Treaty, for the first time there would be a mechanism for orderly departure. Just as in NATO (and all western alliances since the Beauvais Anglo-French agreement of early 1918), national contingent commanders have the right of appeal to national authority.

5/24/2005 04:58:00 pm  

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