Where National Sovereignty Lies

By White, John | The New Presence: The Prague Journal of Central European Affairs, Autumn 2009 | Go to article overview

Where National Sovereignty Lies


White, John, The New Presence: The Prague Journal of Central European Affairs


The Treaty of Lisbon requires a new definition of national sovereignty. It is no longer enough for a state to just promote policies at home or speak to its individual national interests. They must also actively participate in the international community where coordination between individual states is paramount. In this interstate dialog, nations must be clear in defining the border between where their national interests should be defended and what common interests and rights should be agreed upon and lent to the European Union. In this new political structure where states have become actors within a larger supranational body, it's up to the statesmen and stateswomen to act, and to defend, what they perceive to be their national interests.

THE BORDER BETWEEN STATE AND UNION

In June 2008 a group of senators lead by Jiri Oberfalzer petitioned the Czech Constitutional Court to look at six articles from the 2007 Treaty of Lisbon, a reform treaty which if ratified amends the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty establishing the European Community. At the time of writing in late October 2009, the Treaty has been signed by twenty-six out of twenty-seven EU Member States. The only state yet to sign is the Czech Republic, and the last needed signature is from the Czech president, Vaclav Klaus. The senators asked the Court to consider the articles' approach to Member State sovereignty, the role of national parliaments in European level lawmaking, and the nature of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. The Charter is annexed to the Treaties and renders citizens of the Member States into legal citizens of the European Union. Currently, the Charter's effect is still hotly disputed between the Court on one side, and the petitioning senators and Klaus on the other.

The Court responded on 26 November 2008 to the senators' petition with a 45,000-word statement. The Court ruled that the articles in question did not violate the Czech constitution or Czech national sovereignty. They defined a traditional "sovereign state" as having "the highest and exclusive power on a state's territory, and independence in international relations." And yet, "states are required to respect the norms to whose creation they contributed," should the state want to benefit from the organization's rules. The Court reasoned, "In the globalized world the centers of power are regrouped according to factors other than simply the power and will of individual sovereign states." Today, power is not measured by the territory one has, but by the influence one commands. This influence is displayed through private businesses, telecommunications, media, and international presence.

In the nineteenth century, sovereignty meant having a monopoly on decision-making within a given territory. The dean of the School of Law at Anglo-American University in Prague, JUDr. Vaclav Smejkal Ph.D., points out that "one hundred years ago there was discussion [questioning] if a state concludes an agreement, [is it] still a sovereign state? If you have to respect an agreement, are you sovereign or are you not?" In legal terms, sovereignty is now defined by accepting responsibility for one's contracts and by retaining the right to pull out of a contract or international organization. Thus, no law or regulation can be imposed upon a particular Member State without that state's expressed consent. The guidelines of the EU under the 2001 Nice Treaty include this right of states, and Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty maintains and clarifies the states' right to leave the Union if they so choose.

Martin Stasek, Press Officer for the European Commission in Czech Republic, speaking on his own behalf, believes that the Czech Republic had in many ways "lost its sovereignty way before it joined the EU." He continues, "For the Czech Republic [as well as Europe at large] it's inevitable to be part of the international community. With respect to the movement of people and goods, sovereignty needs a new definition. …

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