Last month the opinion polls showed that more then 50% of the Scottish were in favour of independence. With the Scottish elections coming up in spring 2007, and with the Scottish National Party (SNP) taking the lead in opinion polls, this vision does not seem totally unrealistic. Earlier it was argued that independence of different regions across Europe was unthinkable as the polities were simply too small to be efficient and often too poor or too rich to abandon their old states without welfare implications. But a Europe functioning as a federation that could take on the competence where economies/politics of scale is relevant, like defence and foreign policy as well as regional wealth redistribution, surely makes the discussion of regionalization of Europe more realistic.
A challenge to the sovereign monarch – and rightly so!
But the question of breaking up Europe has bigger implications then the mere redrafting of maps, something that has been done so often in Europe and elsewhere. Looking at these independence movements in an international context of European integration and globalization, we can see that they challenge not only the state they are trying to break free form, but also the very concept of the sovereign nation state. First of all, the independence movements are signs of how artificially and randomly states are often constructed, and how this gives rise to unhealthy tensions (that can of course be slightly reduced by federal structures). Outside Europe we don’t even have to go into the artificial shape of old colonies that were often the result of a ruler and a pen! How easy is it then to defend the shining sovereignty crown of the state ?
Moreover, in the last decades globalization has put the sovereign nation state into question as it is not anymore the state that is able to decide everything for itself. Rather the decisions of the state are subjected to everything from environmental and economical globalization to US big brother ambitions. The strengthening of international institutions like the EU and international law has also weakened the sovereignty of the state and its position as the decisive decision maker.
It rather seems like we have to move to both smaller and to larger polity units to guarantee maximum influence of the citizens in their own lives.
Last but not the least the illegitimate actions of states have put the states sovereignty crown into question. We don’t even have to go as far as Rwanda to questions a states absolute sovereignty and start thinking about the importance of protecting individual’s sovereignty before anything else. Also the distrust in many governments ability to act on behalf of their electors has given rise to a weakening of the legitimacy of the state and its sovereignty, and here clearly large differences of regions within a state are of no help.
Will Scotland be prepared to put nationalist rhetoric behind to promote a federal Europe?
So do then the independence movements contribute towards a more federal world order moving away from an outdated state sovereignty concept or not? Looking at it bluntly you could say that these independence movements are fighting a nationalistic goal, which aims at reinforcing the nation state – as this seems to be exactly what they want to become through independence. But if the strive for independence happens within the framework of Europeanization and the building of a world governed by international law, it gives us reason for hope that these movements will rather lead to a very new concept of state and state sovereignty. And having the negative experience they have, we should be able to demand from these emerging states to avoid destructive nationalist rhetoric and promote a Europe where sovereignty and borders are weak.
At the same time common action in areas where the nations/regions are simply too small to be efficient would be organized by Europe – in this way making borders less sharp and old-fashioned state sovereignty severely weakened.
Building a federal Europe goes further then setting up a system where states take joint decision in certain competences. It consist of moving towards a world order where borders are weak, international law is strong and where citizens rather then states are put in the centre. But to achieve this we must be prepared to put the nationalist rhetoric together with the monarch’s sovereignty crown to the history books.
Is Scotland prepared to take the lead?