Understanding Scotland and its Future
Public Lecture and IED Seminar on “Identities and Diversity in the European Union”
Bilbao, Basque Country, 3 May 2013
The seminar was hosted at the GOAZ Museum and organized by Sabino Arana Foundation and the Institute of European Democrats, with the financial support of the European Parliament, and coordinated by Professor Xabier Ezeizabarrena (University of the Basque Country) with two main speeches made by Professors David MCcrone (University of Edinburgh) and Jose Manuel Castells Arteche (University of the Basque Country). The event was chaired by Juan Maria Atutxa (President of the Sabino Arana Foundation) and Andoni Ortuzar (President of the Basque National Party). There were representatives from Scotland, Catalonia, the Basque Country, France, Belgium, Italy, Cyprus, Spain, San Marino, the UK and the United States either from the academia and the political scenario.
Within the conference given by Prof. MCcrone there was a remarkable portrait of the Scottish situation and the agreed referendum with the UK Government for September 2014. He focused also on the sociological approach of Scottish identity and, in particular, concerning the views of society within the UK & Scotland towards the EU, including Scottish and UK membership.
Professor Castells reported on the Spanish situation, particularly focusing on the Basque Country and Catalonia. In both cases he underlined the recentralising policies leaded by the Spanish Government and the difficulties of both nations even to agree with the Spanish Government some sort of political agreement concerning their political identities within Spain and towards the EU. The Basque representatives agreed on the importance of enjoying real peace in Basque land for the first time during the last 50 years, without the pressure of any violence whatsoever. Indeed, a historic moment for Basque democracy.
Afterwards, there was a long and deep debate on the many issues pending with regard to the European integration process. One of these is the current situation of cultural and political identities within the European Union and the possibilities involved in the whole system of following the path towards a concept of sovereignty that is already shared at the supra-national level, but not within the respective domestic constitutional levels. This is particularly important in order to build the EU and it was underlined by most of the speakers.
Cultural & political identities can play a key role in the pending institutional challenges of the EU as quoted by Professor Mccrone and the speakers from Catalonia.
Focusing on the Scottish situation, there was a general agreement on the importance of the proposal of the Scottish Government in four main lines arising from Human Rights and democratic principles:
The concept of democracy protecting the democratic will of society;
- The concept of “Constitution”: therefore, in despite of the absence of a written UK Constitution, there is a mutual recognition as nations, as stated and assumed by the 1707 Treaty;
- Social participation: due to the fact that the process is open to the whole society, giving also a wider option for young people aged 16+ and anyone living in Scotland;
- The EU integration process: recognising the clear will of Scotland to participate within the EU structure and in contrast with the current proposals made by the UK Premier.
The debate was more general and complicate in reaching a peaceful institutional agreement on the concept of cultural & political identities are even greater when we talk about the EU as the fruit of an international treaty, and therefore, through a concept that avoids Sub-State identities taking part directly within EU decision making processes. However, the EU has a clear will for political integration and this requires as well dealing with cultural & political identities at all levels. This means that both concepts are required to become a positive part of the EU framework.
This view is also present in different provisions of the treaties, for instance, article 4.2 of the EU Treaty regarding respect for national identities. This provision does not only demand to protect domestic particularities of every State within the EU, but also the recognition of the cultural and political identities within every Member States. This idea was underlined by representatives from the Basque Parliament and the Basque Government.
So, the real existence of a sum of constitutional agreements seems to be here a suitable procedure to recognise and assume cultural & political identities at the EU level, including the key concept of Human Rights. Therefore, there should be a principle of mutual trust for the protection of diverse cultural and political identities, including “minorities”. There is therefore an important decision on what model of EU society are we all working for.
The different lawyers and law scholars agreed also on the growing mutual impact of Human Rights as a key concept through the enforcement of the general principles of Law and the jurisprudence. Thus, cultural and political identities are directly linked with Human Rights as a relevant part of the EU tradition, with at least three sources of recognition and assumption:
a) The EU Law, including the jurisprudence of the Court of Justice of the EU.
b) International Law, particularly through the European Court of Human Rights.
c) The domestic Law recognising and developing cultural and political identities.
In this sense, the implementation at the European level of the constitutional reality within every social, territorial and legal scope demands to distinguish the existence of these cultural and political identities that are not easily defined under the general concept of “Regions”. Cultural & political identities with a constitutional statute or recognition may require specific developments in order to also foster the building of European identity.
Both the process for a strong European Union and the economic crisis are unique opportunities at least to approach the situation of cultural and political identities within the EU.
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