12 October 2018

European sovereignty from Jean-Claude Juncker’s vision to EU’s role in the global security architecture

Niculae Iancu

The speech regarding Union’s condition, delivered by Jean-Claude Juncker in front of the European Parliament, in the middle of September, brought in the spotlight the “European sovereignty” concept. A new concept, of theoretical antithesis, but also of inspirational rhetoric dedicated to European unity consolidation, in a context of major security uncertainty and distrust growth in the solidity and continuation of the actual international system. The demand for deepen common security integration, in a profoundly symbolic moment – at 15 years from Iraq’s invasion by an international coalition, which completely changed the way of international security, 10 years from the start of the biggest economic crisis in history, 5 years from adopting European Union’s first cyber-security strategy in a more and more insecure and violent digital world, and at the end of the Juncker Commission term - can become a major historical landmark of European identity. How Bucharest will be able to take advantage on this moment, in the context of taking over the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union, in the first half of next year, will very much shape Romania’s place in future security architectures of a world which is facing unprecedented political, social, economic and moral transformations in the post-war era.

Image source: Mediafax

The speech regarding the state of the European Union and the thorny context of European sovereignty

The European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker delivered, on the 12th of September, his State of the Union Address in front of the European Parliament. On this occasion, he presented the Commission main achievements of the current year and the priorities for the  year ahead, whose first semester will also  mark off Romania’s first presidency at the Council of the European Union. Actually, EC President speech launches the dialogue between the Parliament and the Commission to prepare the European Commission Work Programme for the next year, as it was set out in the 2010 Framework Agreement on relations between the two fundamental institutions.

Juncker’s speech was the last one on the Union state in his capacity of President of the European Commission and the last one addressed to the European Parliament in the 28 EU member states format.

The leitmotif was European security, challenged by the many transformations that EU faces within, there the euro-sceptical voices are more and more uttered, and the core meaning of democracy is distorted by illiberal, populist and radical forces, but also from beyond its borders, there the state isolationism and the economic competition seem to bring a division of the euro-Atlantic space, hard to be foreseen just a few years ago. Meanwhile, the world’s hotspots undermine traditional security approaches, considering the lack of persistence in high medium- and long-term viable solutions.

For EU, 2019 seems to look like a complicated year for the European elections, which will test the limits of functionality of democratic tools, in an international context wherefore the only consistent prediction seems to be the unpredictability and violence of disinformation campaigns, manipulation and truth decay, planed within commando centres of big international actors, with major and extremely active interests, directed against the essence of vision of the European construction. Their methods will follow founding distrust both among member states and between citizens and national and European institutions by manipulating some procedural disfunctions and slowness of fundamental processes based on consensus. Furthermore, Juncker mentioned the growing pressure of the “disagreements” between member states, considering that the “heated exchanges amongst governments and institutions are becoming more and more common”. Therewith, the propaganda will follow to damage the image of the Union in neighbouring areas, especially in the spreading areas of the candidate or potential candidate states to EU membership.

The entire international security environment, which is considered volatile and extremely intricate in Brussels, has created the proper circumstances for Juncker to say that this is the “time for European sovereignty”. “It is the time when Europe took its destiny into its own hands”, and its finality must be a European Union capable to “shape global affairs”, as “sovereign actor in international relations”. The entire speech held in front of the European Parliament was aimed at sending a strong message, with autonomist tendencies within the Euro-Atlantic space and alternating optimists and scolding hues addressed to member states’ capitals.

What does European sovereignty mean for Juncker and where will we see its effects

In the view of the European Commission President, European sovereignty “is born of Member States' national sovereignty” and it is created by the certainty that “sharing sovereignty makes each of our nation states stronger”. “If Europe were to unite all the political, economic and military might of its nations, its role in the world could be strengthened. We will always be a global payer but it is time we started being a global player too”. This is how Juncker, on one hand, argues the necessity to fortify common tools dedicated to build a “Europe of defence”, and, on the other hand, expresses its frustration when saying that regarding the foreign policy subjects “it is not right that our Union silences itself [...] and this because not all Member States could agree”.

This is why, according to Juncker, the European sovereignty concept can be used only in a more coherent and homogenous union, so that “Europe to act as one, where necessary”. Moreover, the Union must be able to “speak with one voice”, when necessary, as Commission President did, in July, when negotiating with President Trump the agreement for diffusing an imminent commercial conflict between the two sides of the Atlantic.

If the European sovereignty will gain consistency, then “EU will have the possibility to offer collective solutions to collective issues”, and to “protect, defence and offer a better trust to its citizens”. Therewith, European sovereignty “will never to be an excuse to withdrawing from the world, but an encouragement to assuming a higher responsibility. Europe is a continent that will never be an island, but will only grow if it will remain connected with the rest of the world”.

Beyond the inspirational force of the common solidarity message, Juncker identifies the danger of populism, secessionist nationalism and irredentism which, surprisingly, seem to raise again within the Union, when saying “so let us show the European Union a bit more respect. Let us stop dragging its name through the mud and start defending our communal way of life more. We should embrace the kind of patriotism that is used for good, and never against others. We should reject the kind of exaggerated nationalism that projects hate and destroys all in its path. The kind of nationalism that points the finger at others instead of searching for ways to better live together”.

Jean-Claude Juncker puts “European sovereignty” concept under the aegis of the German term “Weltpolitikfähigkeit”, which can be translated as „global politic capacity”. This term could mean a common security and defence policy, extremely active and offensive on subjects with European interest, even with the risk of colliding with the other actors, with global relevance, like the US on economic issues, mainly the free trade and currency ones, but also with regional importance and global aspirations, like Russia, on politic issues regarding functioning of democracy and human rights or using energetic resources for influence and blackmail.

The distrust message addressed to US is definite. “In today’s world, Europe can no longer be certain that words given yesterday can still be counted on today. That old alliances may not look the same tomorrow”. And the reaction to protectionist policy of Trump’s Administration is firm, Juncker clearly asserting that the world needs today “a Europe that works for peace, trade agreements and stable currency relations, even as some become more prone to trade and currency wars. I am not in favour of a selfish unilateralism that defies expectations and dashes hopes. I will always champion multilateralism”. Furthermore, Juncker criticize American currency primacy for some strategic financial transactions within EU, like the military ones between member states and announces Commission further active measures to “to strengthen the international role of the euro. The euro must become the face and the instrument of a new, more sovereign Europe”.

On the other hand, Juncker caution against Moscow, regarding Russia’s aggressive behaviour in obstructing some European states’ aspirations to EU accession. Juncker says that “Europe can export stability, as we have done with the successive enlargements of our Union. For me, these are and will remain success stories – for we were able to reconcile Europe's history and geography. But there is more to be done. We must find unity when it comes to the Western Balkans – once and for all. Should we not, our immediate neighbourhood will be shaped by others”.

In the same vane is built the message of defending democracy in Europe, wherefore “we must firmly protect our free and fair elections. This is why the Commission is today proposing new rules to better protect our democratic processes from manipulation by third countries or private interests”.

Challenges of the concept of European sovereignty

In his paper regarding “The concept of Sovereignty Revisited”, published in 2006 in the European Journal of International Law, Jens Bartelson, professor of international relations at the University of Copenhagen, thinks that the actual interpretation of sovereignty concept is marked by the debate on the acceptation of state centrality within international system, which developed two dichotomic theories. One considers that it is less probable for the state to represent anymore the main locus of political authority and community in the future and eventually the sovereignty concept “will have to be abandoned”. And another one, where the state will continue to be the central authority and community unit in the future, and the sovereignty concept will even represent “the supreme manifestation of statehood success” on the international scene. In these circumstances, sovereignty is often used as synonym of state independency concept, or its supreme authority over its politic entity, as defined in political sciences.

Starting from this premise and considering the European Union as a construction whereat participate many independent states, as they are defined in their own constitutions, the first impression is that the new European sovereignty option would profoundly collide with what it is actually, conventionally, national sovereignty. Of course, the free abnegation at national authority’s tools, seen as fundamental for the building of common interest, by handing over the responsibility to Brussels, were consistently debated in each major step of European construction consolidation. Each time the deep concerns about the political and moral boundaries of delegation, or the capacity of absorbing the shocks of enlargement, have been overcome, whether it was about the abolition of borders, the integration of economies, the creation of the single currency or the adoption of common security and defence policies. This compromising policy, which comes from European enlightenment tolerance, used for decades, made possible today the rise of the European sovereignty concept.

On one hand, if this idea will follow the realist view of international system functioning, probably the EU will face some more and more centripetal forces, determined to satisfy the 4 criteria specific to statehood, meaning unicity of territory, European citizenship, centrality of political and military authority, respectively, the international recognition of its sovereignty. But, all of these are the exact concerns which lastingly shaped massive tensions between the member states and which will continue to encourage a major potential in producing some destructive effects, specific to uncontrolled and excessive energy and tensions violent liberation.

On the other hand, if the European sovereignty concept will follow the constructivist meaning of linguistic reinforcement, more than the normative statehood sovereignty, then it could be created a common space of sovereignty meanings, either judicial, political or symbolic, like some semantic conventions and rhetoric practices necessary to promote the common European interests on the international scene. For these to have the expected effects, it will be necessary the development of a set of common security and foreign policy tools and methods, encircled to PESC actual vision and PESCO trajectory.

If the member states will show determination and altruism in supporting the European institutions, even against some firm and conjunctural national interests, than Juncker’s rhetoric, which says that “above all, I would like us to reject unhealthy nationalism and embrace enlightened patriotism; we should never forget that the patriotism of the 21st Century is two-fold: both European and national, with one not excluding the other”, will have the power to inspire next generations and assure continuity to Europeans’ construction, so that the EU will remain the “guardian of peace” of a continent whereat major wars’ injuries were too big to ever be forgotten.

Can this be also Romania’s moment?

Without using, this time, the cardinal points as geographical reference points and European dynamics measures, although its relevance in EU’s critic policies analysis continue to play a central role to some points, we will have to see member states behaviour and how will the actual tensions between these evolve next months, which are to be critical for European and global security.

Bucharest must carefully watch these evolutions, which can be valorised during the presidency of the Council of the European Union as Romania’s moment, a moment of active involvement in concrete support with politic decisions, pragmatic actions and enough resources for the new sovereign Europeanism evolution, but also in easing the redefinition of Euro-Atlantic identity, in a world where the common security should mean more than the security of every part. “It is worth the pain to get involved”, was saying Jean-Claude Juncker in the setting of his participation at the Three Seas Initiative Summit form Bucharest.