“Recognition, representation and reform would transform not just the fate of stateless nations but also that of the EU”

Op-ed by Maggie Lennon, member of the National Committee for Women for Independence

News / 23.9.19

Five years to the day that Scotland failed to gain independence from the United Kingdom, I am addressing the Coppieters Foundation’s conference on self-determination in a context of shared sovereignty.

In 2014, the President of the European Union (EU) and other senior figures espoused a range of prejudiced opinions stressing the impossibility of an independent Scotland ever joining the bloc. It was outrageous, undemocratic, not founded in law and far from the position of studied neutrality on internal matters we had been led to expect. It affected the vote. Now with Brexit looming the tone has changed, softened, because by the time we ask again, we will be out of the EU or in transition. We will be a new State seeking to join and not a breakaway, upsetting the EU loyalty code. But that is cold comfort to our comrades in Catalonia, Flanders or elsewhere. So, it is no surprise among my many asks this week, I stated the need for a blueprint, a roadmap to help stateless nations navigate the route that the EU can accept or tell them what their relationship with the Union might be. It is essential if it is going to allow citizens to make informed choices about their post-secession future.

The EU is at heart all about relationships. It is time they were looked at hard and reformed. Such reform could include the option of a multi-speed Europe and differentiated integration. It could also imply greater representation of devolved administrations at the sharp end of negotiations, on matters of policy for which they have legislative control, and which affect them directly, as is the case for fishing in Scotland, but from which their national governments exclude them. We could also be looking at the ability for more formal recognition of emerging stateless nations by Member States and the development of bilateral agreements between the two.

If self-determination is something of a myth within the framework of co-determination in which the EU exists, let us start thinking outside the box. Not only in terms of communities of place, roughly defined by geographical borders, but also as communities of interest, understood as diverse groups of actors with shared interests and characteristics. The latter could would put much greater emphasis on social Europe, looking at women’s rights, health, environment, ethnicity and culture, among other topics. Those communities can shape policy and drive reform and they could constitute a new demos for a new Europe.

If it is the old, tired European voices which are failing to enthuse the peoples of Europe, then maybe it is time to bring in new voices: non-governmental organisations, the third sector, citizens’ representatives and expertise from within stateless nations. If the EU really is listening, then it also needs to say less and let other voices come to the fore. Those voices are legitimate because they represent a large percentage of EU citizens who are normally absent and cut off from normal representation or channels of communication.

Recognition, representation and reform would transform not just the fate of stateless nations but also that of the EU, and we might realise that Scotland and stateless nations like it, in their push for self-determination, are not the enemies of the EU: they might just be its saviour.

Maggie Lennon, member of the National Committee for Women for Independence, gave a speech at the conference on “Self-Determination in a Context of Shared Sovereignty: How to Devise a European Approach?” held in Brussels on 18 and 19 September 2019

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Coppieters Foundation is financially supported by the European Parliament. The European Parliament is not liable for the content of the conferences, events or the opinions of the authors of our publications.

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