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.