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Last Updated: Monday, 11 February 2008, 06:35 GMT
Students make sense of Europe
European Parliament building in Strasbourg

The Europa Institute, based at the University of Edinburgh, is one of Britain's best known centres for the study of the European Union.

The institute was awarded funding by the European Parliament to help organise a conference and essay competition for university students in Scotland on "The Treaty of Rome, the European Parliament and the regions and sub-state nations of the European Union".

Here are highlights from the winning essays.

Adam Gilbert
Adam Gilbert
Robert Gordon University

Scotland and the EU: The best is yet to come?

The European Parliament is an assembly of representatives from each Member State, known as members of European Parliament (MEPs), representing the 492 million union citizens.

Presently there are 785 MEPs representing 27 Member States, however, the number of members is due to change in 2009 to no more than 750 MEPs.

The parliament plays an active role in drafting legislation which will have an immediate effect on the daily lives of its citizens; these legislative powers are shared with the European Council.

Scotland's current MEPs represent Scotland in various committees within the European Parliament in areas that are of specific interest to the Scottish Executive and Scottish public.

Scottish importance

These committees include: Agriculture and Rural Development, where Scotland has two seats, proving that this is a priority to the executive; a vice-chair on the Economic and Monetary Affairs committee; the fisheries committee where four of Scotland's MEPs sit. This is the committee on which Scottish MEPs are best represented.

When devolution happened in Scotland, the Scottish Parliament was looked upon to pioneer the development for debate and scrutiny on EU matters for sub-states.

This is represented from Scotland by the European and external relations committee, where the committee works on methods to allow autonomous and legitimately informed Scottish - UK - European policies to develop in areas which are of particular importance to Scotland.

Scottish Executive ministers and officials are able to attend meetings of the council of ministers when items of significance to Scotland are scheduled and if required can speak on behalf of the UK.

In order for Scotland to have an opportunity to be heard on matters, the executive has created special relationships with other autonomous states within the EU.

The idea behind this is so that when legislative proposals develop they will need to put forward the Scottish view and opinion on issues which directly affect Scotland.

If they express Scotland's views, and subsequently another State agrees and puts forward the same views, as result the EU's institutions will more than likely listen to such views, than if Scotland alone were expressing them.

Express concerns

Scotland has achieved numerous co-operation agreements with similar autonomous states within the EU. Currently, the executive has created partnerships with: Catalonia (Spain), Tuscany (Italy), North Rhine-Westphalia (Germany) and Bavaria (Germany).

The object of these agreements is to promote government-to-government contacts between partner administrations to promote exchange of policy best practice, and to promote awareness of Scotland and Scottish interests.

Each agreement covers specific areas where Scotland may need assistance in expressing concerns or ideas to the EU.

With plans in place to work with other member states to identify and express concerns and views at an early stage in any process that may affect Scotland, the Scottish Executive is able to represent Scotland and its people more efficiently and effectively.

Gavin Barber
Gavin Barber
University of Glasgow

The representation of citizens in sub-state nations and regions in the EU.

Changes in how we understand concepts such as sovereignty, authority, and legitimacy are crucial to helping us explain the creation of a political space which exists "above" the member states, and also to explaining its nature.

European Union integration has consequences for these traditional definitions of state function.

It also has consequences for the component elements of the state, namely the region, sub-state nation, and citizen.

The formal processes of Europeanisation at state level create an informal awakening of political determination and the assuming of legitimacy and competency at the regional level.

It would seem apparent that, as the understanding of sovereignty in the European Union context changes from an absolutist definition to a pooled sovereignty definition, the region will find an increasingly legitimate role in assuming of political competency and function.

The centre will be redefined inasmuch as the region will need no longer defer exclusively to the exertion of sovereign status by a central government.

Awaken awareness

The changing understanding from an absolutist definition will see authority being decoupled from sovereignty.

No longer will there be a necessary deference by the region to the central government's authority.

This will awaken political awareness in the regions of Europe.

States, however, remain formally the gateway to European interaction for the region and the treaty framework ensures that most interactions are conducted via state-level institutions.

In practice, however, processes of regionalisation herald changes in which the state may become increasingly marginalised.

Sovereignty moves upwards to the level of European-governance and downwards, enhancing the competency of the regional political community.

Formal developments foster an informal process in which the central government will seemingly be pushed aside.

Democratic debate

States and regions will re-evaluate their status to one another even though states currently govern access to European-level institutions, and may do so for the foreseeable future.

The European Parliament, however, grants direct access to European-level decision-making for the region.

Yet, once again, the state defines the regions' relationship to European-level institutions by defining the electoral constituencies of the European Parliament.

The legitimating function of the parliament will see the political communities that exist in the regions involving in their democratic debate a European dimension which is no longer predicated on traditional state relations to Europe.

This will be a debate that is particularly important to regionalist parties.

Thus the individual, within the region, will have a fresh new opportunity to engage in new dimensions of democratic discussion and interaction within regional politics.

This is a political framework that has given rise to a political awareness and legitimacy one that no longer defers necessarily to central government sovereignty.

Gerd Koehler
Gerd Koehler
University of Aberdeen

The regionalist challenge to supranationalism

The essay presents the inherent conflict between regionalism and the nature of the European Union as expressed in its structure.

Both the nature and structure of the EU have changed over time, from an international to the current supranationalist organisation.

Since the 1990s, changes were also made in order to accommodate regionalism.

The union continues to be a union of states, and this ensures that the EU must adopt a neutral position with regards to the internal structure of its member states and it must rely on nationally determined territorial bodies.

Therefore, regions have uneven powers and resources. This, in turn, hampers the existing regionalist features, thus facilitating centralisation arguments.

The essay examines a number of regionalist features of the EU in detail.

Regional interest

Among the decision-making institutions, the council is the one based on spatial representation.

It is, however, the member states through their central governments that are represented.

The regionalist movement achieved that regional representatives may act on behalf of the whole state in the council.

However, this depends on respective national provisions. Furthermore, even where such provisions are in place they have an inherent bias towards representation of national rather than regional interests.

The committee of the regions was specifically created to represent regional interests on EU level. Yet, it only plays an advisory role.

In addition, as it is composed of a whole variety of structurally uneven interests from different local and regional levels, this weakens the committee with regard to substantive decisions.

This weakness leads some regions to pursue their interests through other, non-institutionalised channels.

While the principle of subsidiarity was originally adopted in order to "bring the Union closer to its citizens", and, as such, it was hoped that it would champion regionalism, it does not even mention the regional level in its present form.

Influence decisions

The amendments by the Lisbon 'Reform Treaty' refer to regions, yet leave the decision-making obligations with the member states.

Circumstantial evidence suggests that in this scenario regional input is not sufficiently guaranteed.

Especially in Member States without a regional parliamentary chamber, devolution of decision-making to the regional level is not guaranteed.

The ensuing unevenness may raise concerns of inconsistent implementation, so that the subsidiarity principle would demand a central decision on either EU or member state level.

Depending on their powers and resources under national law some regions successfully established non-institutionalised channels to influence decision-making.

Again, this inherently provides for uneven regional representation.

Institutionalised channels like the committee of the regions may thus be seen as representing a minority only.

This weakens the committee and, incidentally, the weaker regions that do not have the power or resources to make representations in Brussels.

Commission consultation appears to concentrate on stakeholders, thus excluding regional authorities as part of state structures.

A structural response to these deficiencies of the present regionalist approach would have to make regions more equal.

While the EU cannot interfere with the internal structure of its member states, it could grant rights to regions directly.

Daniel Kenealy
Daniel Kenealy
University of Edinburgh

Competing Interests? Scottish Nationalism and the Strengthening of the European Parliament.

Two phenomena within Europe stand out for their seeming incongruity and both were neatly captured in the May 2007 British election, in which the Scottish National Party achieved its best ever result while pledging to seek independence only within the European Union.

The first phenomenon is the rise of sub-state nationalism in general and regional parties in particular. The second is the continuation of European integration.

Put simply, how does the rise of sub-state nationalism square with the continuation of European integration?

The answer is a subtle one because, while Scottish nationalism does not preclude further European integration per se, it does stand in opposition to the further empowerment of the European Parliament as a supranational, democratic decision-making body.

The reason for this opposition has its roots in the SNP's unique stance in calling for an independent nation-state.

Other sub-state nationalist groups, who do not seek an independent state, may be more inclined to compete for seats in the European Parliament and create some sort of regional group that supports greater autonomy for sub-state nationalist groups across the continent.

Irreconcilable forces

Such a potential may even have the potential to "Europeanize" these groups if the parliament becomes a more effective venue to pursue their interests.

But would empowering the European Parliament with treaty amendments and technical transfers of competence really make it a genuine site of democratic decision-making?

Probably not, and for a very simple reason.

The democratic deficit of the European Parliament does not stem from technical competencies and procedural rules but from the lack of a European "demos".

There is a distinct lack of support for a federal vision of Europe, a vision that is necessary for the establishment of a genuinely supranational Parliament.

The masses have not become "Europeanized" in the same way that they once became "nationalized".

It is the desire to dodge a situation in which Scotland gains its independence from the UK only to lose it to a European super-state which has led the SNP to oppose the strengthening of the European Parliament, the embodiment of EU supranationalism.

Put simply, the European Parliament needs a European demos if it is to become a site of democratic decision-making.

But the SNP sees a Scottish demos as necessary for its existence. These two forces are irreconcilable.

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