Europe's Sovereignty Crisis, Moving Beyond The Nation-State

There is no contradiction between feeling French (or Catalan, or Berliner) and becoming a European citizen. But it is time for that citizenship to have real civic meaning.

The European Union flag
The European Union flag


Emmanuel Macron's use of fainéant, the French word for "slacker," caused an uproar in France. But the real "slackers' are the commentators who scatter hashtags to the wind of social media and avoid any in-depth debate longer than 140 characters. The only controversy we should be focusing on is the substance of President Macron's speech in Athens, which marked a major break from France's perception of European construction.

His assessment is that the people's lack of trust in the European Union reflects a sovereignty crisis. We are living with the myth that decisions made in Brussels are the result of compromises made at the European Council, where each country supposedly continues to exert its prerogatives in an independent and reversible way.

This is an argument put forward by opponents of Brexit, like the think tank Chatham House, before the June 2015 referendum. Essentially, they said, the EU is just a sophisticated multilateral agreement that does not question the democratic process of its member states. It is no wonder that in a country so attached to its parliamentary tradition as the United Kingdom, voters did not fall for this fallacious argument.

With its powerful Court of Justice, capable of slapping fines on governments and overstepping their decisions through the qualified majority rule, the EU narrows the field of national sovereignty. The competition policy in fact condemns any economic voluntarism.

More than half of our national legislation comes from Brussels. Political leaders who pretend not to see the democratic problem this poses and continue to nurture the illusion of national independence are dooming Europe to an eventual populist implosion. In this context, it is only natural for extremist parties to demand the return of national sovereignty.

European sovereignty would make our nation-states obsolete.

But then comes Macron offering the opposite and equally radical solution: the creation, over the next 10 years, of a European sovereignty. "Real sovereignty," he insisted, "can only be built in and by Europe." It is, as far as I know, the first time a head of state uses such language. It means no more and no less the accelerated formation of a European demos and granting it real political power, which is the only way to tackle issues such as immigration, sustainable development, or financial regulation. Hence Macron's proposal to form transnational lists in European elections, in an effort to fuel a pan-European political debate.

Even though Macron denies it, logically, European sovereignty would make our nation-states obsolete, little by little. This is actually the vision of the famous German philosopher Jürgen Habermas. Europe could, therefore, take on the form of a post-national state, separating cultural identity (confined to the private sphere) from legislative and civic commitment in an enlarged public sphere.

There is no contradiction between feeling French (or Catalan, or Berliner) and becoming a European citizen, impregnated with what Habermas calls "constitutional patriotism." It probably isn't a coincidence that the German philosopher, who went from the Frankfurt School to liberalism, was such a staunch supporter of Macron during the presidential campaign.

There is, however, a third way for those of us who worry about the emergence of a European Leviathan, with its own budget and appetite for norms and regulations. You could argue that, in a networked world, the very idea of democratic sovereignty has had its day.

In his speech, Macron quoted the famous early 19th-century European liberal Benjamin Constant. But more specifically, Constant called to overcome the "Liberty of the Ancients," which is based on belonging to a homogeneous people and not on collective deliberation. He favored a "Liberty of the Moderns," in which an individual with indisputable rights would be able to lead his life and go about his business without worrying about politics. We should, therefore, be imagining a European (or global) governance that is decentralized and participative, unconstrained by elections and representation. Macron announced the organization of "democratic conventions' open to everyone across Europe. Count me in!

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Why This Sudan Coup Is Different

The military has seized control in one of Africa's largest countries, which until recently had made significant progress towards transitioning to democracy after years of strongman rule. But the people, and international community, may not be willing to turn back.

Smoke rises Monday over the Sudanese capital of Khartoum

Xinhua via ZUMA
David E. Kiwuwa

This week the head of Sudan's Sovereign Council, General Abdel Fattah El Burhan, declared the dissolution of the transitional council, which has been in place since the overthrow of former president Omar el-Bashir in 2019. He also disbanded all the structures that had been set up as part of the transitional roadmap, and decreed a state of emergency.

In essence, he staged a palace coup against the transitional authority he chaired.

The general's actions, which included the arrest of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, are a culmination of a long period of tension between the civilian and military wings of the council.

A popular uprising may be inevitable

The tensions were punctuated by an alleged attempted coup only weeks earlier. The days leading to the palace coup were marked by street protests for and against the military. Does this mark the end of the transition as envisaged by the protest movement?

Their ability to confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

The popular uprising against Bashir's government was led by the Sudan Professional Association. It ushered in the political transitional union of civilians and the military establishment. The interim arrangement was to lead to a return to civilian rule.

But this cohabitation was tenuous from the start, given the oversized role of the military in the transition. Moreover, the military appeared to be reluctant to see the civilian leadership as an equal partner in shepherding through the transition.

Nevertheless, until recently there had been progress towards creating the institutional architecture for the transition. Despite the challenges and notable tension between the signatories to the accord, it was never evident that the dysfunction was so great as to herald the collapse of the transitional authority.

For now, the transition might be disrupted and in fact temporarily upended. But the lesson from Sudan is never to count the masses out of the equation. Their ability to mobilize and confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

Power sharing

The transitional pact itself had been anchored by eight arduously negotiated protocols. These included regional autonomy, integration of the national army, revenue sharing and repatriation of internal refugees. There was also an agreement to share out positions in national political institutions, such as the legislative and executive branch.

Progress towards these goals was at different stages of implementation. More substantive progress was expected to follow after the end of the transition. This was due in 2022 when the chair of the sovereignty council handed over to a civilian leader. This military intervention is clearly self-serving and an opportunistic power grab.

A promised to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

In November, the rotational chairmanship of the transitional council was to be passed from the military to the civilian wing of the council. That meant the military would cede strong leverage to the civilians. Instead, with the coup afoot, Burhan has announced both a dissolution of the council as well as the dismissal of provincial governors. He has unilaterally promised return to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

Prior to this, the military had been systematically challenging the pre-eminence of the civilian authority. It undermined them and publicly berated them for governmental failures and weaknesses. For the last few months there has been a deliberate attempt to sharply criticize the civilian council as riddled with divisions, incompetent and undermining state stability.

File photo shows Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in August 2020

Mohamed Khidir/Xinhua via ZUMA

Generals in suits

Since the revolution against Bashir's government, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council.

This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy. True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19.

Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse.

Demands of the revolution

The success or failure of this coup will rest on a number of factors.

First is the ability of the military to use force. This includes potential violent confrontation with the counter-coup forces. This will dictate the capacity of the military to change the terms of the transition.

Second is whether the military can harness popular public support in the same way that the Guinean or Egyptian militaries did. This appears to be a tall order, given that popular support appears to be far less forthcoming.

The international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin.

Third, the ability of the Sudanese masses to mobilize against military authorities cannot be overlooked. Massive nationwide street protests and defiance campaigns underpinned by underground organizational capabilities brought down governments in 1964, 1985 and 2019. They could once again present a stern test to the military.

Finally, the international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin. The ability of the military to overcome pressure from regional and international actors to return to the status quo could be decisive, given the international support needed to prop up the crippled economy.

The Sudanese population may have been growing frustrated with its civilian authority's ability to deliver on the demands of the revolution. But it is also true that another coup to reinstate military rule is not something the protesters believe would address the challenges they were facing.

Sudan has needed and will require compromise and principled political goodwill to realise a difficult transition. This will entail setbacks but undoubtedly military intervention in whatever guise is monumentally counterproductive to the aspirations of the protest movement.


David E. Kiwuwa is Associate Professor of International Studies at University of Nottingham

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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