On 9th February 2016, Yanis Varoufakis, the unofficial leader of the ‘Democracy in Europe Movement 2025’, and a coalition of activists gathered together in Berlin to launch the ‘DiEM25’ manifesto. They declared: ‘The EU will be democratised. Or it will disintegrate!’
The former Greek finance minister believes the European Union to be a beautiful conception, but accuses it of opaqueness, elitism and furthering “the habitual domination of corporate power”. Mr Varoufakis is right – at least to the extent that this is a widespread and growing feeling amongst citizens who feel alienated and disempowered across the fledgling European polity. DiEM25 warns that this growing stagnation in democratic legitimacy combined with the growing fragility of European societies faced with economic and technological upheaval and mass migration, is bringing the continent to a critical moment of peril.
“This is the unseen process by which Europe’s crisis is turning our peoples inwards, against each other, amplifying pre-existing jingoism, xenophobia”…“Committed democrats must resolve to act across Europe”.
The manifesto document is light on actual proposals. Those that are presented range from highly feasible reforms – live-streaming European Council meetings and publishing ECB and Eurogroup minutes – to the grander ambition of convening a European constitutional assembly by 2025. What DiEM25 does do is expose a divergence in the strategy of European unity dating back to the early federalists, a divergence that could ultimately prove to be a fatal flaw.
In 1941, at the height of the most recent and terrible of European civilization’s recurring descents into barbarity, Altiero Spinelli and Ernesto Rossi languished on Mussolini’s prison island – Ventotene. Their internment for anti-Fascist dissent gave them the opportunity to reflect on the origins of totalitarianism and to ponder how best to return Europe to a lasting peace. Together they penned an extraordinary document: the Ventotene Manifesto is an explicitly socialist statement of intent. It refers to the “revolutionary masses” and describes the landowning elites as “thoroughly parasitic”, but it nonetheless rejects the classism of Communist parties, arguing against the dictatorship of the proletariat as the historical means of emancipatory progress. Instead of class struggle they advocated for the ‘Movement for a Free and United Europe’. The greatest strength of Spinelli and Rossi was that they understood the imperative need for Demos. Like the DiEM25 manifesto, the Ventotene Manifesto proposed a constitutional assembly; they desired a federated Europe that was representative and participatory with enough power retained by the federal states to allow for “the development of a political life according to the particular characteristics of the people”. The weakness of Spinelli and Rossi is that they were too eager in anticipating what a free and united Europe could be and do, but treated as of secondary importance the institutional framework needed to construct such a political community. This may be an unfair criticism; they were after all stuck on an island with no knowledge of what the conditions at the end of the war would be. Nonetheless, they predicted that the united Europe would take many industries, particularly steel, into public ownership (some debates never die), whilst also remarking that “it would be superfluous to dwell at length on the constitutional institutions”. They presented a sweeping dream with little clarity of method.
This was not the case for Jean Monnet. In his Memoirs, which should be required reading in the run-up to the Brexit referendum, he emphasised repeatedly: “I distrust general ideas, and I never let them lead me far away from practical things”. This is indicative of his approach to peace-building in Europe; patient wisdom, meticulous attention-to-detail and utilising a remarkable talent for networking. Over several decades, Monnet relentlessly cultivated friendships across Europe, reaching out to intellectuals, politicians, civil servants, businessman and trade unionists, who he convened together in the ‘Action Committee for the United States of Europe’. Despite their grandiose name, the group adopted the strategy of incremental development that can be identified in the contemporary EU: cautious (pre-Eurozone that is) economic integration starting with the strategic industries in the European Coal and Steel Community, treaty negotiations between member states, regulatory mechanisms, civil society and stakeholder engagement, and a gradually constructed institutional framework. These methods are familiar to students who have studied the Neo-Functionalism vs. Inter-Governmentalism debates in political science. They are the crucial difference in approach between the Ventotene Manifesto and that outlined by Monnet in Memoirs. The divergence between the Movement and the Committee. The Action Committee created an elite vanguard which has contributed incalculably to a stable peace in Western Europe…but a peace lacking a Demos. This is not to say that Monnet, Willy Brandt, Max Kohnstamm and the other associates were anti-democratic. Far from it. Monnet was enthusiastic about the United Kingdom because of our “respect for freedom, and the working of democratic institutions.”
Still a ‘democratic deficit’ in the EU has emerged and is not only a theoretical matter, but a real and harmful problem. It must be addressed, but not through Brexit. Nor through regionalist devolution alone. Both of these options risk impotency in an era of neoliberal globalisation. The deference of sovereign states to exterior institutional frameworks will become increasingly necessary in everything from the protection of marine habitats such as the humble seagrass, to transnational policing, adaption to mass migration flows and internet governance. Unlike ICANN, IMF, the World Bank and other international governance institutions, the EU has a Council whose members are elected heads of states or governments and an elected Parliament. Moreover, it has an institutional understanding of responsibility for fundamental rights afforded to citizens, grounded in common historical experiences, civilizational heritage and political freedom. This is not nothing; it is something that can be worked on. Democratising Europe will require the bold political imagination DiEM25 are calling for.
 The text of the DiEM25 manifesto can be read here: http://diem25.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/diem25_english_short.pdf
 The text of the Ventotene Manifesto can be read here:http://www.cvce.eu/content/publication/1997/10/13/316aa96c-e7ff-4b9e-b43a-958e96afbecc/publishable_en.pdf
 Monnet, Jean, Memoirs, translated by Richard Mayne, William Collins Sons & Co. LTD (Glasgow:1978)
 See Project Seagrass statement on the EU: http://www.projectseagrass.org/apps/blog/show/43887552-don-t-let-the-uk-become-a-fish-out-of-water-for-the-sake-of-our-seas-let-s-stay-in-the-eu
It’s official: Australia’s “Stop the Boats” campaign is a success. Or so the government claims. Back in 2013, former Prime Minister Tony Abbott ascended to his post in part because of his pledge to “stop the boats,” or, in less catchy rhetoric, to prevent asylum seekers – mostly arriving by sea from the Middle East and Asia – from reaching Australia. Instead, they are either resettled in Cambodia or detained indefinitely in centres in Australia, on Nauru, and on Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) Manus Island. In return, Australia offers these countries aid money and pays their legal fees. As of November 2015, over 2,000 people were in Australian immigration-related detention facilities, 436 of whom had been held for over 2 years, with an additional 1,469 residing in third-country centres.
The measures are meant to deter irregular immigration and the dangers of boat crossings, yet desperate people fleeing countries like Iran, Vietnam, and Afghanistan continue to seek asylum in Australia. The detention centres are “cramped, hot and unhygienic…[with] limited access to water.” Physical and sexual abuse is common; children – including unaccompanied minors – are locked away with inadequate medical care; and violence is a regular reality. The frequency of suicide attempts and protests in the centres speak to their horrific conditions. Doctors and staff who work in the centres even face imprisonment for advocating on behalf of detainees. This is all illegal under international – but not Australian – law.
Here, I offer a glimpse into the history and legality of such centres vis-à-vis the Australian case, with three disclaimers. First, Abbott’s anti-“boat people” program is not new to Australia, but began in 1992 under PM Paul Keating. Second, Australia is not wholly anti-immigrant – it admits 200,000 immigrants and settles over 13,000 refugees every year. These policies only target asylum seekers arriving by sea. Finally, Australia is not the only country to have detention camps for would-be refugees (Camp Moria on Lesvos Island is another example).
Concentration camp, detention centre, and internment camp are different names for the same concept: “A camp where persons are confined, usually without hearings and typically under harsh conditions, often as a result of their membership in a group the government has identified as suspect.” In the case of Australia, the suspect group are boat people; during the Second World War, for Americans, they were people of Japanese descent, and for Germans the Jewish population; and in North Korea, the persons are critics of the state.
As the system of laws, norms, and treaties that currently governs global politics was still in its infancy, states were able to imprison “undesirable” people easily. The first camps were set up in the late 19th century by the Spanish Crown in Cuba to contain peasant guerillas and the detention centres constructed by the British to detain Boers and southern Africans during the Boer Wars. Often, governments carried out what would now be considered egregious human rights abuses by stripping people of citizenship or their humanity, labeling groups as a security threat, and/or simply building secluded, inaccessible internment facilities.
Thanks to the advent of technologies like television, mobile phones, and social media, the plight of those currently in camps is harder to ignore than in the past. Given the history of brutality associated with internment camps, international organizations like the UN have set up legislation and treaties to prevent their use.
For example, the 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol Relating the Status of Refugees enshrines the right to asylum, including access to courts, housing, and employment – and, most importantly for Australia’s asylum seekers, freedom from “penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence.” Article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights explicitly states, “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile;” Article 13 offers the right to freedom of movement; Article 14 guarantees “the right to see and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution;” and Articles 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 10, 15, 25, 28 offer protection against the degradation of dignity, nationality, free trial, asylum, and other rights that have been violated by the actions of Australia and other governments using similar detention centres for asylum seekers and those deemed security risks. The UN’s Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (Opcat) takes these measures a step further for detainees, requiring “UN inspections of immigration detention centres.” These are just a few of many conventions, treaties, and norms that protect asylum seekers and people in detention without trial.
Countries like Australia often have national laws against degrading treatment, making such detentions illegal on multiple levels. How, then, do such camps persist? States can choose to ignore domestic and global outcry at their actions; bypass UN conventions, resolutions, and international norms (which are secondary to national law); use other nations as third parties for detention; and, of course, countries are free to legislate their own standards. The United States, in setting up a facility for the detention of untried, suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, utilized all four of these approaches. Australia has acted similarly towards asylum seekers: it ignores protests by its own people; refuses to ratify Opcat; organized offshore centres; and has changed its own laws – ruled constitutional by its highest court – to allow overseas detention of asylum seekers.
What hope can Australia’s asylum seekers possibly posses against such a rich, powerful nation? Many appeal to international public opinion for help or launch lawsuits against the government. If the wave of anti-detention sentiment gains enough force, it may be able to capsize Australia’s discriminatory policies. Already, asylum seekers have achieved some success – and not the kind trumpeted by the government – while contending detention on Nauru and Manus Island. Perhaps their strategy can usher in a new tide of humane treatment for asylum seekers not just in Australia, but the world over.
In the meantime, learn about your country’s internment and detention camp policies. The Global Detention Project offers information on many countries’ centres. For UK readers, I also suggest Standoff Film’s documentary “Campsfield House: An Immigration Removal Centre.”
The release of over 11.5 million documents from Mossack Fonseca, a Panamanian based law firm, has revealed the lengths to which individuals and companies will go to avoid their national tax obligations. When asked about the problem of tax avoidance, President Barack Obama acknowledged that those with wealth can avoid their tax systems when necessary, especially if they have the right lawyers and accountants. ‘A lot of it is legal,’ the President said ‘But that’s part of the problem.’
Those of us interested in the global rule of law and global constitutionalism should pay attention to President Obama’s point. Promoting the rule of law is hardwired into the international normative order. NGOs, international and regional institutions, and well-meaning liberals argue that law rather than politics ought to guide decisions at the global level. As John Adams, American founder and president maintained, we want a ‘government of laws and not of men’.
But law is not divorced from politics, either at the international or domestic level. A legal system results from political decisions, and those political decisions result, in part, from power configurations. Perhaps we ought to abandon our quest for the rule of law and recognize what Marxists have long emphasized, that law simply reflects a social and economic reality which, for all its pretentions, it cannot transcend. If this is true, does this mean that the quest for the rule of law is nothing but a chimera at the global level?
I’m not ready to give up on the rule of law. Without it, violence and coercive power would dominate the world order. The argument of those working in the realm of global constitutionalism is that we need not abandon the hope of a rule governed order. There must be some way to harness power and law to produce a more just and equal political order.
At the domestic level, this can come about either through representative government, although realizing truly representative institutions which are not tainted by injustice is no easier at the domestic than at the global level. Revolutionary movements to advance the cause of equality and justice are another means, one that has created the representative systems we have in many countries around the world. There is no representative institution at the global level, so perhaps we are left with the revolutionary model?
A third way might be through the device of constituent power. Constituent power is the act of a people to establish its political order through the creation of its constitution. Constitutional conventions remain the paradigmatic instance of constituent power. But as Jason Frank has argued, the constitutional convention is not the only constituent power moment; a constitutional system results from continued engagement of the people with its legal and political order. Those engagements can at times be conflictual and even revolutionary, but at other times they may be more prosaic. The point is that such constituent moments need cultivation and attention, and need to be recognized as such in order to give them the power to shape and reimagine a political order.
Does constituent power exist at the global level? If we name political protests, NGO activism, and forums in which activists and political leaders meet to articulate new agendas and ideas, then perhaps we do have something like this. Especially if those activists articulate their claims in the language of rights, law and democracy, they may well count as efforts to constitutionalize the global order.
The activism of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists which released the Panama Papers demonstrates how those engaged in the protection of free speech and hardnosed journalism – classical liberal virtues that keep lawmakers honest in domestic societies – provides an instance of global constituent power. This organization does not represent anyone, but constituent power is not just about representative democracy; it is also the moral force that ensures constitutional orders remain true to their purpose.
President Obama is right in recognizing that tax havens are legal. But the constituent power of those who revealed the failure of global law gives us hope that global justice is possible when we make use of the emancipatory potential of law to advance rights and equality around the world. Recognizing the release of the Panama Papers as an instance of global constituent power can play a small but significant role in advancing that agenda.
Anthony F Lang, Jr holds a Chair in International Political Theory in the School of International Relations at the University of St Andrews and is Director of the Centre for Global Constitutionalism.
Image courtesy of Dronepicr
The spring schedule for the Constitutional Law Discussion Group at the University of Edinburgh Law School is now available.
Please see PDF for details: CLDG Spring Semester Schedule.
The Centre for Global Constitutionalism and the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies are hosting a talk by Professor Catherine Lu of McGill University on Monday, 18 April, 5:00pm in the Arts Lecture Theatre.
Professor Lu will be speaking on the topic – ‘Justice and Reconciliation in International Relations’. All are welcome.
‘Protest and Politicization. Critical Theory in Times of Resistance’ Professor Christian Volk, University of Trier, Germany. Tuesday, 8 March, 5 pm-7pm, Arts Building, Seminar Room 2
‘Normalcy and Normativity: Constitutive and Contestatory Practices in Global Governance’ Professor Antje Weiner, University of Hamburg, Germany. Monday, 4 April, 5pm Arts Lecture Theatre
‘Justice and Reconciliation in International Relations’ Professor Catherine Lu, McGill University, Canada. Monday, 18 April, 5pm Arts Lecture Theatre. Cosponsored with the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies.
We will be holding a meeting on Wednesday, 23 September at 3:00 PM in Room 243 of the Arts Building for students and postgrads interested in finding out more about the CGC internships programme. At the meeting, information will be available on the types of responsibilities an internship would entail and the application process.
More information on CGC internships can be found here.
This article by Bennett Collins and Ali Watson first appeared in Carnegie Ethics Online:
The deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner catalyzed discussions nationwide over race relations in the United States. Surely it’s time for some kind of Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). But how would it work? This essay examines other TRCs–including two in the U.S.–and proposes a solution tailored to fit America in all its diversity.