No such thing as national affairs in the EU

No such thing as national affairs in the EU

The state of political relations between the European Union and Turkey is not at its best. In the past 12 months, we have witnessed a series of ups and down, but the overall trend is negative. The latest reverse is the exchange of views which followed the events of Dec. 14, 2014. The EU expressed its concern about the freedom of the press and, more generally, about the respect of human rights; the president of Turkey invited European institutions to mind their business. Pundits and commentators in Turkey have been inclined to consider the move of the European Union as inappropriate or even as a “gross interference,” dusting off an expression from the cold war.

The logic that brings institutions like the commission, the council or the Parliament to issue, when it is the case, statements concerning the internal issues of a member country, has to be explained in order to understand the move of the EU.  

In a wide process of integration, as the EU is, there is no such thing as national affairs. Take for instance the case of fiscal policy and public finance. Once (pre-Maastricht times) considered as strictly internal issues, at the present time, every other day the commission is addressing some member state on how to cope with its own public deficit or public debt. Furthermore, any member state, through its government, may have a say on the stance of fiscal policy of another member state. In practice, wherever a common policy or a shared commitment in terms of fundamental values respect is enforced, Brussels’ interventions into member states’ policies are functional to the working of the integration mechanism. They represent a sort of gravity force so that the trajectory of member states is maintained within the limits agreed in the Constitutional Pact, that is, the treaty and the EU legislation. In absence of such a type of interventions the system would fatally explode.

What is valid for member states also applies to candidate states. Obviously, as this process is carried on by persons who as human beings are fallible, certain interventions may not be calibrated as they should be. But this does not affect the principle; it only requires its more attentive application.    
These considerations lead us to the concept of shared sovereignty. Absolute sovereignty has no room within the EU. In a community of states, no one is free to act as if he or she is alone. There are common goals to be pursued by common actions or shared conducts. Member countries have not ceded sovereignty to a foreign body. They have opted to transfer it to a common body whose leadership they share. It is under this shared leadership that there are no more national affairs. However, member states retain the bulk of sovereignty in fields like, for instance, education, culture, social affairs, where no common policies are enforced. These fields remain a national issue.

EU membership is the outcome of a process reflecting the political will of the concerned country. At the beginning of the 1950s, six founder states decided to run the adventure. It was their free choice.

Subsequently, 22 other countries, always freely, joined the club. Other European countries have preferred to remain outside the EU. Today’s long waiting list of candidate countries is again the product of autonomous decisions taken by sovereign states.

The EU opens its doors to new members but does not annex new provinces. Integration is not coercion. Integration is sharing a common destiny. Voluntarily.

Angelo Santagostino is the Jean Monnet ad personam chair of European Economic Integration at Yıldırım Beyazıt University in Ankara.