Friday, May 7, 2010

Macedonia and EU: between identity and integration

I was surprised to learn about the strong pressure on the Macedonian government following the adoption of the new anti-discrimination law that does not mention sexual orientation. It is interesting that these emotional discussions mainly base themselves on vague terms like “European values” and “European standards”. Even the European Commission reminded Macedonia that its anti-discrimination legislation should be in line with the “Charter of Fundamental Rights”, part of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty. What was interesting was that the Charter was only used for Article 21 (where “Sexual orientation” is protected). The consequences for other rights like “the freedom of thought, conscience and religion (Art. 10 of the Charter) or for the “Freedom of Expression and information” (Art. 11 of the Charter) were mainly forgotten in these discussions. Furthermore I found it strange that the pressure did not start from Macedonian society, but mainly from abroad: from ambassadors, certain European Parliamentarians and even from the European Commission. This raises the question whether they are really in line with “European standards?”

If we talk about the Lisbon Treaty, we do not talk about a “European constitution”, but about the “Treaty”. This Treaty amends previous treaties. For example one of the basic (still valid) principles is the “Principle of Subsidiarity”. This is intended to ensure that decisions are taken as closely as possible to the citizen and that constant checks are made as to whether action at Community level is justified in the light of the possibilities available at national, regional or local level. Specifically, it is the principle whereby the Union does not take action (except in the areas which fall within its exclusive competence) unless it is more effective than action taken at national, regional or local level. It is closely bound up with the principles of proportionality and necessity, which require that any action by the Union should not go beyond what is necessary to achieve the objectives of the Treaty (see Article 5 of the Treaty Establishing the European Union.). The question is whether the external pressure on this issue is justified or that the decision on this issue should be taken “as closely as possible to the citizen”.

Besides, the European Union is not a superstate, but more a Unity of diverse States each with their own character. There are more liberal countries like the Netherlands, Belgium, and Sweden but also more conservative countries like Poland, Romania and Italy. You can see this for example in the family legislations: the legislation in Bulgaria, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and (recently) Romania provide for a one man-one woman marriage. Even the Italian supreme court has interpreted marriage under Italian law between a man and woman (even though Italian law refers to marriage as the union between “spouses” without being specific as to sex).

However, it seems that liberal (mainly West European) countries seem to take a monopoly on “modern and progressive” or even “European values.” All means are used to promote these Western values: money, pressure, manipulation and even lies.

However this does no justice to the fact that the EU is diverse and decisions are made by means of negotiations and compromises. This is also one of the reasons that the United Kingdom signed a protocol to the Lisbon treaty relating to the application of the Charter in their country which, according to the then British Minister for Europe, would ensure that the Charter would not extend the powers of the European Court of Justice over United Kingdom law. In 2007, the Polish government indicated that they wished to be included in the British protocol. If member states can secure either full or partial opt-outs of the Charter, then EU candidate countries should have the same right to do so, or at least be given the opportunity to negotiate on certain issues.

This is actually the reason why “European values” are not clearly defined and in my opinion this is also totally not necessary. I feel for example completely uncomfortable about creating a “European superstate.” I believe that the strength of Europe lies in unity through diversity. This makes the continent unique and is also the basis for a pluriform community: a Union where different peoples, religions, and cultures live together in peace, prosperity and freedom. These are the real European values! East European countries have struggled to find these values after decades of communist rule. Now that they have embraced these values, should they renounce them again and embrace the radical neo-liberal dogmas of Western Europe against their own will?

Last but not least, the Charter itself (which the European Commission was referring to) limits its own rights. Art. 52(1) “Prohibition of abuse of rights: Nothing in this Charter shall be interpreted as implying any rights to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms recognized in this Charter or at their limitation to a greater extent than is provided for herein”

The opposition in Macedonia has criticized the dispute over the anti-discrimination law as a “shameful scandal” for the country. I call it an act of courage. It shows that the Macedonian government is mature and dares to stand for the rights and interests of Macedonia even under enormous pressure. The country teaches the European Commission an important lesson and therefore we need Macedonia as a full member of the European Union.