Wouldn’t that be so bad ass? Or am I just a geek?
The New York Times picks up on concepts that libertarians have been talking about for years. From the article:
The great paradox of the European Union, which is built on the concept of shared sovereignty, is that it lowers the stakes for regions to push for independence.
Has the NYT been reading Notes On Liberty? That’s a tongue-in-cheek question, of course, but one that makes me feel smug and sexy at the same time!
I have largely addressed the crisis in Europe from a political standpoint on this blog, and I don’t see that changing much over the next few years. Fiscal responsibility and civil society can only flourish if political institutions are well-defined.
The NYT article decided to quote a scholar at the European Council on Foreign Relations (which is not *sigh* a think tank dedicated to furthering the interests of a small, elite circle of bankers and industrialists) instead of me:
‘The whole development of European integration has lowered the stakes for separation, because the entities that emerge know they don’t have to be fully autonomous and free-standing,’ said Mark Leonard, the director of the European Council on Foreign Relations. ‘They know they’ll have access to a market of 500 million people and some of the protections of the E.U.’
If readers will recall, that’s pretty much what I explained in my post on secessionist agitation in Spain the other day. Indeed, I wrote:
Now, though, the European Union has essentially taken the place of the nation-state as the chief entity in charge of standardizing trading policies in Europe. My line of thought leads me to conclude that this political setup is a great opportunity for regions that have been absorbed into larger nation-states to assert more fiscal (local taxes) and political (local elections) independence because of these region’s new interdependence with a larger part of the European economy thanks to the elimination of tariffs between the larger nation-states currently in place. In short, the confederation has provided the opportunity for smaller states to emerge while at the same time eliminating the parochial and self-defeating aspects (trade policy) of small state polities that often accompanies ‘smallness.’ The best of both worlds has the chance to flower: local governance and total participation in world trade.
Damn, I’m good.
Now, I’d like to draw a quick historical sketch of 19th and 20th century Europe and apply it to some of the potential problems that might have arrived if it weren’t for the implementation of the European Union. Anarcho-capitalists pay heed!
In the last decades of the 19th century large nation-states like Germany, Italy, and even France had just been formed after centuries of being composed of hundreds of small polities. These small polities were parochial, though, and many of these polities’ elite factions had erected protectionist barriers around their small territories. Cosmopolitan-but-despotic empires like those operating from Vienna, Budapest, Moscow and Istanbul flanked these small polities on their eastern side, and to the south were small Muslim polities haphazardly connected to the Ottoman Empire and dependent upon Mediterranean piracy and Saharan trade routes for their incomes.
The formation of these larger nation-states were undertaken, generally speaking, in order to unify territories considered to be connected under various broad cultural domains into a cohesive political units and mercantile trading blocs. Despite the fact that the eastern flanks of these small polities were dominated by massive, cosmopolitan empires, military and strategic considerations were not that important, and when such considerations were brought up it was to lament the relative weakness of the small polities compared to states on their western flanks (like imperial Britain, the Netherlands, and France).
A digression: remember, I am trying to sketch a brief historical account of the rise of large nation-states in Europe in order to apply it towards today’s political upheavals within the European Union, and explain why I think that the European Union, despite its recent trends towards centralization, is a good thing for European society.
Back to the issue at hand: after Germany, and Italy (and even France!) achieved political unification, programs geared towards creating economic spheres of influence within these new nation-states began to be implemented. There were objections, of course, and liberalism (in the classical sense) had a number of brave voices arguing against the grain, but for the most part economic nationalism – in the form of carving up mercantile spheres of influence within the territories of the new nation-states – became part and parcel of these new nations’ political life and social life.
The political unification of these nation-states did not go down well with a number of people in a number of regions. The reasons for resistance were varied, but suffice it to say that there was an intense backlash against the centralization of power and the nationalization of everyday life in the new nation-states of central Europe.
To counter regional resistance, proponents of political centralization argued, rightly in my opinion, that political union had essentially halted the petty-but-bloody wars that had stricken Europe since the fall of the Roman Empire. This intellectual argument was framed in terms of nationalistic pride when they trickled down into the political sphere of European life, and what emerged was a solid case against regional fracture that involved one part peace and one part national chauvinism, both of which were mixed together to create mercantilist spheres of influence.
The end result, of course, was the destruction of Europe through two large-scale, horrific wars.
Regional aspirations for more political autonomy have been voiced since the time of the creation of Germany and Italy in the late 19th century, but wars, nationalism, and fears of wars have largely kept these aspirations on the fringe of European political debates.
The European Union has created – again despite its many faults – a political situation where access to mercantilist spheres of influence are impossible and, by implication of this fact, so are petty (but bloody) wars. In short, the European Union has succeeded where the nation-states of Germany and Italy failed: by creating a massive free trade zone that would eliminate protectionist sentiments and the necessity of going to war for such policies. What is missing from the EuroZone equation that was present in the German-Italian one is the reliance upon cultural chauvinism (violent nationalism, if you will) to maintain legitimacy.
Given that Germany and Italy (and all of the others) have essentially been rendered obsolete by the European Union, I don’t see why it is not now safe for more and more states to emerge from the disappearance of these relics as standing members of the EuroZone.
Check out this map from the NYT:
The map only highlights some of the more high-profile separatist movements going on within the EuroZone, but I think you can grasp what a “New New Europe” would look like in the future. (h/t Mike Gibson)
The implications of more states in the EuroZone are huge, by the way. Even if no new states are likely to emerge from democratic referendums, political structures in liberal democracies and authoritarian post-socialist/post-colonial states alike are likely to be affected in one way or another. At this point, I think it’s safe to say that incorporating an option into constitutions to allow for referendums on secession or regional autonomy are likely to do more good than harm, so long as the danger of throwing up protectionist sentiment is sufficiently sequestrated.