Thursday, May 25, 2006

EU and Western Sahara

Last week, the EU endorsed a fishing deal with Morocco. This wouldn't be a problem if it weren't for the fact that the deal includes the coastal waters of Western Sahara, a territory that has been occupied by Morroco for more than thirty years.

In the same week that the people of Montenegro had to produce a special qualified majority in order to have its independence recognized by the European Union, that same European Union sends now some very dubious signals to the indigenous people of Western Sahara. It endorsed a fishing deal with Morocco worth 114 million euros, and didn't object to the coastal waters of Western Sahara being included in the deal. According to international law, an occupying country isn't allowed to make deals that include the natural resources of occupied territory. The only European country that objected to this deal was Sweden, though the Netherlands stated that «the benefits of the deal should also accrue to the indigenous people of Western Sahara». Whether this has any value is very doubtful. If Morocco would be interested in the fate of the people of Western Sahara at all, then maybe it wouldn't occupy the territory, let alone try to «morocconize» it. Ireland and Finland gave also some support to the Swedes, but at the end of the day they and the Netherlands decided to approve the fishing deal just like the other EU members.

What's the matter with the European Union? Where are all those advocates of the Big Principles, those who object to war and occupation, even when the goal is to overthrow a merciless dictator? In the end, this fishing deal is a de facto recognition of the Moroccon occupation of Western Sahara, and some sort of stipulation that this would not be the case is completely worthless: we're asked to listen what the EU says, but not to watch what they do at the very same time. The only conclusion can be that apparently, fish and oil are two different things to the in its own eyes moral superior Europe.

But on a more fundamental level, this case shows once again that the European Union doesn't care much about a people's right to self-determination when its own interests are at stake. The rights of Western Sahara have to make place for the trawlers of Spain, Portugal and France. In Montenegro, the EU's interests weren't economical, but internal political: countries like Spain, France and Belgium are allergic to referendums about independence, and therefore the European Union would have preferred that Montenegro would have kept quiet in its union with Serbia. Imagine that one day 55% of the Basques would vote for independence in some sort of referendum – how is the EU supposed to handle something like that? That's why it shouldn't come as a surprise that the EU doesn't have much trouble getting over the occupation of Western Sahara when it signs a deal with Morocco. The Kurds, the Catalans, the Basques, the Scottish and the Welsh better watch out.

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Saturday, May 20, 2006

The European Union and Montenegro

On Sunday, Montenegro's population will vote on whether to become independent or not. However, the European Union has demanded that at least 55% votes in favour, or it will not recognize Montenegro's independence. What is going to happen if the result of the referendum is between 50% and 55% remains unclear.

The latest polls indicate that the diference between Yes and No are rather small, and it is therefore quite possible that the referendum will end in the so-called «grey» zone between 50% and 55%. There are even those who suggest that this is exactly the reason why Javier Solana chose the threshold of 55%. Asked for a reason, his office made the following declaration:
This is not a referendum on whether people can smoke in a pub. Independence is a question you ask only once. You have to ensure that the outcome is solid enough to guarantee stability.
This is a very interesting statement, because it shows that a referendum on independence differs on at least two points substantially from the referendums on the so-called European Constituion: a majority of 55% instead of 50%, and no second referendum. After the French Non and the Dutch Neen, the European has been playing with the idea to organize at second referendum in both countries, so that the population can get another chance to come up with the correct answer. For those with a bad understanding, that should be a Oui and a Ja, not the real opinion of course. In fact, there is even a third point, because it leaves no doubt that the European Union would have preferred that the Constitution would be adopted by the parliaments of the Member-States rather than by referendum. Sure, the populations would still have had their say in the next parliamentarian elections, wbut then it would be too late. Anyway, the European Union has an internal practice that is completely different from what it now demands from Montenegro.

The conclusion can therefore be nothing else than that the European Union doesn't approve of a people's right to self-determination, and in effect acts like a state-nationalistic mother-in-law against peoples that want independence. Why doesn't Javier Solana turn things around, and demands a majority of 55% to continue the union with Serbia? For the European Union, stability seems to work only in one direction. Montenegro's neighbours, the Kosovars, should remember this for the future.

It would also be interesting to know the positions of some of the Member-States of the European Union on this matter. What's for example the position of the Baltic states, the Czech Republic and Slovakia? Does Slovenia share the opinion of Javier Solana? And what do Cyprus (776,000 inhabitants), Luxemburg (463,000 inhabitants) and Malta (397,000 inhabitants) say about the argument that Montenegro (678,000 inhabitants) is too small to become independent?

Furthermore, this case is directly relevant for quite a few people inside and outside the European Union aspiring independence, like for example the Kurds, the Catalans and the Basques, the Scottish and the Welsh, and the Flemish. To take the Flemisch case: in theory, the Vlaams Belang, N-VA, SPIRIT and CD&V have a majority in the Flemish Parliament to declare Flemish independence. It looks though like the European Union may require a referendum to be held before it will recognize Flemish independence. On the other hand, there is also something called Realpolitik, and the European Union may not want to start an open conflict with a Member-State that would be the 14th largest measured by population number, and the 11th by GNP. And there is also the geographical factor: Brussels is an island in the middle of Flanders, that is, if Brussels doesn't choose to join Flanders. This doesn't make things better though, because it would only show that the EU is not afraid to use double (or triple?) standards depending on the situation. But one thing is very clear: the European Union's position on Montenegro's independence cannot exactly be described as being the most sympathetic and consequent one.

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