The European Union as a whole and Greece in particular are experiencing another crisis in, what it seems, a never-ending downfall. Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to be present and deliver a presentation at the 2015 ATINER Law Summit in Athens. My presentation entitled “Sovereignty Conflicts as a Distributive Justice Issue: the Egalitarian Shard Sovereignty as a New Mode of Governance” was intended to deal with sovereignty conflicts such as Falklands, Gibraltar, Crimea, Jerusalem, and many others within the ideal theory—i.e. as opposed to non-ideal according to Rawls. Therein, it had little to do with Greece, the European Union, the crisis… or at least, I had thought so.
When the questions came, after the presentation was done and dusted, one in particular was key: How do Germany and Greece “share sovereignty”? My first reaction was: this presentation is not about already settled issues in legal and political theory. In fact, it has nothing to do with the European Union. But, second later, I realised a key issue in untangling the European Union crisis has undoubtedly to do with the unbalanced power-sharing. Let me explain myself:
What does it mean to “share sovereignty”? Advocates of this position apply the label ‘shared sovereignty’ to situations in which there is one sovereign State (usually a weak one) and an international organisation or another State ‘helping’ it in one way or another. In this case, they define it as follows:
“[s]hared-sovereignty entities are created by a voluntary agreement between recognised national political authorities and an external actor such as another state or a regional or international organization”. Moreover, “[s]uch arrangements can be limited to specific issues areas like monetary policy or the management of oil revenues.” [Krasner, 2005]
Firstly, it is a voluntary actual agreement; secondly, not all the parties need to be sovereign States (they can be recognised national political authorities, regional or international organisations); thirdly, it can be limited to specific areas (the examples given are related to economy and finance). Some authors assert that weak states could observe this proposal as a solution to their problems since—they maintain—“[l]eft to their own devices, collapsed and badly governed states will not fix themselves because they have limited administrative capacity, not least with regard to maintaining internal security.” [Krasner, 2004] Therefore, international organisations or strong States would be supporting the development in certain areas of States that for whatever cause were considered weak.
There are several reasons that are at best problematic with this conception of ‘shared sovereignty.’ The implications of defining in such a fashion ‘shared sovereignty’ do not agree with a just and fair way of dealing with sovereignty issues. Whilst this account of ‘shared sovereignty’ is theoretically intended to assist weak States and hence may be considered useful—even fair—at first glance, it is both too narrow and too ample. Too narrow in the sense that the weak State sees its actions being dictated by external authorities without much internal input; too ample since the strong agent has the prerogative to be involved in affairs of the weak one without control other than its own good will. For although this model involves already ‘recognised national political authorities’, these scholars presuppose that collapsed or badly governed communities (weak States) cannot dictate for themselves proper policies and create efficient institutions to achieve a sustainable development. So the way to fix these realities—they propose—is to let the strong States be involved in the internal affairs of the weak ones. Yet, instead of presenting shared sovereignty this appears to be a means to dictate to another supposedlysovereign State how to proceed under certain circumstances. Furthermore, what is clear is the fact that both sovereign States—the weak and the strong one—would not have the same level of authority: the strong sovereign State would be determining the advisable actions to be followed by the weak ‘sovereign’ State. In other words, the ‘neo-colonial shared sovereignty’ (as I prefer to call this conception) is uni-directional and unequal (only one of the involved States is the real sovereign, maybe not de jure but, at least, de facto) resulting in one agent dictating the other’s internal policies.
Those who are in favour of ‘shared sovereignty’—so defined—maintain that humanitarian reasons support this form of international aid. Violation of human rights, natural disasters and weak economies are only examples of many actual circumstances that make the internal situation of some sovereign States highly volatile. Nevertheless, behind this aura of humanitarian aid strong States would be interfering in the internal affairs of their weak peers. By applying the ‘shared sovereignty’ label in this way, both States seem to be equally sovereign with one of them—the strong one—assisting the other one by being involved in its internal affairs. But although it may seem at first glance that they are equal sovereign powers, they are only equal in terms of their de juresovereignty; de facto, one of the States is determining, or advising, or forcing, or instructing, the other State’s way of addressing its internal issues. From that angle, these States are not sharing sovereignty; in fact, only one of them is the ultimate authority in regard to certain issues which are actually supposed to be in the sovereign sphere of the other one. Indeed, the ‘sharing’ may be, or become, involuntary.
Consequently, to understand ‘shared sovereignty’ as a way in which a strong State ‘assists’ a weak peer does not seem to agree with the nature of the concept itself. The whole theory has been developed so as to justify what may result in a violation of State sovereignty.
If ‘shared sovereignty’ is the global tendency with the European Union as the most developed example, the aim should be to offer all the involved international agents a real equal footing at the outset, so as to reach a just and fair final agreement in which all parties are taken into account and have an actual (not only theoretical) say with regards their internal and external affairs.
I agree with you that calling this asymmetrical arrangement a *sharing* of sovereignty is misleading. Perhaps we should just call it hegemony – particularly in cases where several weaker states 'share' their sovereignty with one strong state.
Hi Phil,Thanks for that. I completely agree. We may call it “shared sovereignty”, or “neo-colonial sovereignty”, or “hegemony” as you suggest. Whatever the term or name, the idea behind is clear. Only one of the parties actually “shares” its sovereignty whilst the other is in fact dictating what to do/not to do. Hence, de facto, don't we have only one real sovereign in such situations?