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‘States rights’ comes to Europe — Crooked Timber

September 18th, 2010

Looking at the Sarkozy government’s attempt at ethnic cleansing of the Roma, The Economist’s Charlemagne had the following observation about

the vociferous protest from the European Parliament. On September 9th it passed a strongly worded resolution denouncing discrimination against the Roma, and singled out the commission for its “late and limited response”. The row thus brings out the contradictions of European democracy: an elected national government finds that its resort to populism is confronted by the European Commission, an appointed body, and by the European Parliament, a distant chamber elected by a minority of voters.

It struck me that you could replace “national” with ” Southern state”, “European Commission” with “US Supreme Court” and “European Parliament” with “US Federal government”, and the analogy with Brown vs Board of Education would be just about perfect (except that it’s the Parliament driving the Commission and not vice versa). Then I noticed that Chris had proposed an almost identical substitution in relation to economic policy here.

This is the first time I can recall the European Parliament playing a key role in a conflict between the central institutions of the EU, such as the Commission and a member state. If the Parliament and Commission prevail, as they should, it seems to me that this will change the effective political structure of the EU, in the direction of a federal democracy. I’d be interested in the thoughts of those closer to the action.

Posted via email from John’s posterous

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  1. Ernestine Gross
    September 18th, 2010 at 16:18 | #1

    Taking your point about an evolving federal structure within the EU as a given, there is the possibly minor point that the reported event may not be the first signal of its kind. I seem to remember cases where the EU court of law overturned EU member court decisions (eg the 2 individuals against McDonald).

  2. Hal9000
    September 18th, 2010 at 18:28 | #2

    The most obvious difference in the case of the US vs the EU setup is surely the fact that the EU lacks any means to coerce compliance. Where are the European equivalents of the National Guard, marines and FBI that were in the final resort used to force reluctant Jim Crow state administrations to come to heel on civil rights law? It may be that the EU could apply some unwelcome economic pressure to recalcitrant member states, and this might be enough for some smaller and weaker members like the Baltic and Balkan states. It’s difficult to see how such measures would work against the likes of France.

    Any non-compliance by France will seriously annoy British Euro-skeptics who already complain that Britain is an efficient and compliant administrator of a system that is skewed to benefit Continental members and not Britain. These Euro-skeptics are most numerous in the present governing coalition.

  3. BilB
    September 19th, 2010 at 06:13 | #3

    They do have the expusion option, Hal. It would have to be a very nationally popular issue for any EU stated government to push an issue that far.

  4. Alan
    September 19th, 2010 at 07:49 | #4

    I think the EU has prolly got a little beyond the whiff of grapeshot. The US’s path to human rights is in many ways unique to that country. Other federations, like Australia and Canada, managed to unify their rights laws without needing a man on horseback.

  5. Hal9000
    September 19th, 2010 at 13:19 | #5

    BilB – I tend to think the boot is on the other foot. It would need to be a very big threat indeed to the EU constitutional arrangements for expulsion of France to be a serious option.

    Alan – perhaps you’re misunderstanding me here. I’m not saying that sending in the non-existent EU troops and EU law enforcement agencies would be a first, second or nth resort, but in the absence of a last resort to coercion, compliance with the law cannot be enforced. In Weber’s famous formulation, a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence is what defines the state. If courts cannot enforce their orders then those orders have no more status than an advisory opinion.

    It’s also an interesting aspect of this issue that, while anti-Semitism has quite properly been rendered taboo in Europe and elsewhere since the Nazi genocide, it’s still apparently quite respectable throughout the continent to voice racist sentiments about Gypsies, whom the 3rd Reich also attempted to exterminate and who are also an indigenous minority.

  6. Alice
    September 21st, 2010 at 18:49 | #6

    You know – I have real problems even thinking that in our day and age a modern government would go on and approve an ethnic cleansing of gypsies. Have we not learnt anything?

    No – tragically some evils endure.

    Today a nice very very senior accountant (post retirement and from a gentler age) told me of the time he visited NSW Treasury after doing some work for a minister for education – when he complimented the minister for the comfort of their offfice including premium wooded desks and cabinets he was told “yes – my office refurbishment cost $300,000″.

    This lovely old accountant was truly shocked and said to the Minister “dont you realise there are children in this country who do not have enough to eat who are living in extremely harsh circumstances?”.

    The particular Minister didnt even last that long but what a sorry state of affairs we have in politics now. Even Governor Macquarie Tower doesnt stint themselves on building rents and harbour views do they? Its sickening..the waste.

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