Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Choose a number

Last week, the President of the EU Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, said, "I wouldn't want the EU to consist of 95 states”.  The statement begs more questions than it answers.  On what basis is 95 too many; and what is the right number? 
He seems happy enough with 28 – happy enough not to want it to reduce to 27 as a result of Brexit – and we know that the EU Commission is open to new entrants applying.  I somehow doubt that Turkey will ever make it to membership, but negotiations are in progress.  But I can’t see the EU refusing requests by Norway or Iceland for instance, should they aver make such requests.  Neither can I see them refusing Switzerland, although for its own unique reasons, I doubt Switzerland would ever apply.  Two former parts of Yugoslavia (Slovenia and Croatia) have already joined – if the other five wanted to join and met the conditions, would they really be refused?  I doubt it.  Or, again subject to the same caveats, would they refuse Albania or Ukraine?
It’s easy to see how, by a process of enlargement, the number of states could come close to 40 (perhaps the right answer should be 42, and Douglas Adams just never quite found the right question).  But the point is this: provided a state wants to join and meets the criteria, would the fact that the number of member states would then be too high be a reason for refusing them entry?  I can’t conceive that it would, even if it did somehow get to 95, because in each and every case the application would be considered on its merits, and in each and every case, the question becomes, regardless of the number of existing members, “can we cope with one more?”.  I really can’t see the answer ever being ‘no’; if states are refused entry, it will always be for a reason other than the simplistic numerical one.
Whether the applicant is ‘external’ or ‘internal’ doesn’t change that question or the answer to it, which makes his statement a nonsense, pulling a number out of thin air to suit his own predisposition for keeping the existing states as they are.  But then, since ultimately the EU Commission speaks first and foremost for its member states, why would anyone be surprised?


Anonymous said...

Sorry, but I think you miss one essential ingredient essential to all EU applications, the right of the majority of members to decide.

The EU Commission can only do what the 28 member countries agree to. Yes, for sure the commission can talk about enlargement, deeper integration and so on, but such talks are only to provoke discussion. Nothing can happen without majority agreement of the individual member states and even then a veto by one or more member states is often permitted.

Catalonia is in a bind because the majority of EU states do not want it to become a separate member in its own right, just as was the case with Scotland. Indeed, any of the larger member states can and would veto such a proposal.

So just as the Catalans have rights so do all the non-Catalans residing throughout the rest of the EU. And nationally elected politicians know this only too well.


John Dixon said...

I don't think I've missed the point at all - but I think that you've missed the point of this post. I entirely accept that any application for membership is decided by the existing members, and that those members have the right to reject or accept any application. My point, however, is that any decision to refuse an application would never be decided on the basis being put forward by Junckers, namely that the EU can't cope with that number of members. On what basis would the EU ever say, simplistically, we can cope with 'n' members, but 'n+1' is too many, where 'n' is the number of members at that point in time? The answer is that they would not; it's a wholly specious basis for decision. The point that I was making in this post was limited to that very narrow question of whether the EU can operate with '95' member states, because any claim that it cannot, to be credible, has to be backed up with a definition of how many is too many; where is the cut-off. And that's an impossible criterion.

You are dealing with the wider question of whether the EU would admit Catalunya as a member or not, and that is, of course, a matter of opinion. Ultimately, it revolves around the question of recognition of the legitimacy of the state.

As an unrecognised state, it is unlikely that it would be given 'membership' in the sense of seats in the EU Parliament, a seat on the council of ministers, or the right to nominate commissioners. But that is not the same as placing it outside the EU, which is the way many seem to be interpreting it. As long as Spain continues to claim the territory, it is hard to see how the EU could insist on customs borders or tariffs; it's hard to see the people being stripped of their EU citizenship, and nothing can stop them using the Euro as their currency. Being 'outside' the EU is a notional concept rather than one which makes a huge difference in this context.

As a recognised state, on the other hand, and a state at that which already uses the Euro, and complies with EU law, and whose citizens already hold EU citizenship, it's hard to see on what basis an application for formal participation in the EU's structures would actually be refused.

As in most real-world issues, the situation is rather more complex than the simplistic statement 'you'll be outside the EU' suggests.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that we should treat the EU as we would an Empire or colonial state.
In the case of the EU the dominant centre is held by Germany but as history tells us all such structures contain the seeds of their ultimate destruction so in the long term why worry? even the Germans cannot fail to recognise the self destructiveness of The Kaiser and Hitler to the German people nor their impact on all the people of Europe and wider afield