Academic journal article The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs

Sovereignty in the European Union: A Critical Appraisal

Academic journal article The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs

Sovereignty in the European Union: A Critical Appraisal

Article excerpt

Introduction1

In 2016, there have been a number of widely debated topics directly or indirectly concerning the issue of sovereignty. Civic organisations in numerous EU countries have criticised TTIP talks2 due to their concerns that they may result in restricting the sovereign rights of states, national parliaments, and voters themselves.3 Thus, TTIP has become a symbol of constraints, resulting from economic globalisation, on the sovereignty of European states and nations. Similar opinions could be heard during the campaign that preceded the "Brexit" referendum in June 2016, in which the majority of British citizens voted for their country to leave the EU. The reasons for the decision included the defence of the sovereign rights of the British parliament against regulatory pressure from the EU. The constitutional dispute in Poland was an example of an analogous debate. Intervention by the European Commission (EC) in this regard was understood by the politicians who represented the Polish government as undue interference by an institution that has an insufficient democratic mandate yet joined the internal political rivalry between the government and the opposition, thus violating the sovereign rights of national democracy.4

Another aspect ofthe sovereignty debate was the internal legal and political system. In Poland, for example, the Constitutional Tribunal controversy led to a fierce dispute about the form of democracy and interpretation of constitutional norms. The Polish government defended the rights of the parliamentary majority to determine its own policy, including far-reaching reforms, saying that such a programme had been given a clear mandate at the election. According to this argument, the sovereign voice should not be unduly constrained by the opposition. An example of such constraints is the situation in which the opposition, though it has lost the election, may use constitutional checks and balances to veto proposals by the parliamentary majority. Also, the other players can constrain the legislative process. We may here refer to Georg Tsebelis, who defines such players (the "veto players") as those who take part in the political game but do not have to be politicians or representatives of parties. The institutional system is constructed in a way that makes their consent necessary to change the legislative status quo. A greater number of such players and more complicated legislative procedure make a significant change to public policy more difficult.5 We may illustrate this using the example of Matteo Renzi, the Italian prime minister, who announced the 2016 constitutional referendum that aimed to reduce the excessive number of veto players and thus limit the overly complex checks and balances system. The purpose is to allow the Italian political system (and, to be more specific, Renzi's Democratic Party) to implement difficult reforms more easily, regardless of objections by the opposition.

The examples cited above, particularly the Polish debate on the political system, are near the definition of sovereignty proposed by Carl Schmitt. In his opinion, the sovereign power is verified particularly in a serious crisis that requires making special decisions. In such a situation, sovereignty may manifest itself in its purest form, as the highest authority in the state, which makes final decisions, is the sole lawmaker, and at the same time is not constrained by earlier regulations. The sovereign is compared to god, the highest authority that establishes norms and rules but is not bound by them. Thus, Schmitt rejects any restrictions on sovereignty that are present in liberal thought, such as constitutional norms or international law.6

The cited examples show that the notion of sovereignty is still alive in European politics in spite of the continuing integration and globalisation. This happens contrary to assumptions that these two would inevitably lead to increasing interdependence, and thus decreasing significance of national sovereignty and the states themselves. …

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