Academic journal article American Review of Canadian Studies

Quebec in Europe: Constraints and Opportunities

Academic journal article American Review of Canadian Studies

Quebec in Europe: Constraints and Opportunities

Article excerpt


Quebec's contemporary international engagement was launched in the mid-1960s with the Gerin-Lajoie doctrine and the cultivation of Quebec's special relationship with France. (1) The government of Quebec asserted the right to engage in foreign affairs and to negotiate and sign agreements in areas under its jurisdiction with foreign countries. (2) The special relationship with France facilitated Quebec's efforts to exercise these powers within limits set by the government of Canada. Canada is able to restrain Quebec's international ambitions by virtue of its superior diplomatic status and capabilities. Nonetheless, the unique status accorded to Quebec by France and the extensive activities of Quebec internationally are indicative of its ambiguous international standing. (3)

The increasing engagement of noncentral governments in an arena formally conceived to be occupied exclusively by sovereign states is the subject of considerable practical and critical theoretical reflection. Quebec's trajectory on the international scene provides an example of the opportunities and constraints within which "semi-sovereign" states operate. The European context, specifically the evolving integration project of the European community (EU), offers considerable evidence of regions and noncentral governments exploiting opportunities to act autonomously outside their borders. To what degree does the contemporary sovereign state system accommodate the international activities of nonsovereign governments? While noncentral states, regional and local governments, international and transnational organizations occupy a space within the international order, the will and instinct of sovereign states to contain or exploit their activities remains steadfast.

My treatment of Quebec's international activities in Europe since 1995 considers how its status as a semi-sovereign state shapes its objectives and the strategies it can deploy. Quebec's activities are focused primarily on projecting and managing Quebec's image abroad in order to increase trade and investment; secure international exchanges and agreements within areas of its jurisdictions; and promote its unique cultural and political situation through a variety of initiatives. All of these objectives, it must be stressed, are formulated and delivered with an eye to both the domestic--that is, within Quebec and Canada--and the international arenas.

Despite the fact that Western Europe's share of Quebec's international commercial activities has decreased substantially from 22.3 percent in 1980 to 8.8 percent in 2000, the United Kingdom, Germany, and France are Quebec's most important trading partners after the United States. (4) Trade and investment remains the preeminent focus of Quebec's activities in Europe, as it has been for Quebec's international policy generally since the 1980s. Nonetheless, the importance of Europe to Quebec is more than financial and goes beyond the political and cultural advantages that its alliance with the French state permits.

The preeminence of Quebec's relationship with France, though certainly warranted, may lead observers to underestimate the critical importance of its presence and activities in Brussels and London. That special relationship with France is limited, however, and there are more and varied opportunities for Quebec in the evolving project that is the EU. Lander governments, autonomous regions, and regional governments are making concerted efforts to maximize their influence and autonomy within the policy processes of the European Union directly and through their national governments. They are demanding more effective participation in the ongoing construction of the EU and, in some cases, the right to negotiate foreign treaties in areas under their jurisdiction. They offer opportunities for Quebec to forge new partnerships and expand its network of alliances and contacts within Europe. …

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