Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Upcoming Presentation

On Tuesday the 29th of January at 2pm Gerd Koehler will present "The regionalist Challenge to Supranationalism" in Taylor Building Room D48. The following is a description of Gerd's essay by Jo Shaw:

The theme of the relations between the EU, the Member States and the regions is taken up again by Gerd Koehler. He identifies the risk that supranationalism, far from fostering regionalism, might also hinder its development. Taking a more EU-centric approach, Koehler submits the existing arrangements to a close legal analysis, identifying the difficulties for regions and substate nations when they raise claims to better representation and voice within the European Union political system.



And below is Gerd's summary of the issues. Comments are welcome.

The essay presents the inherent conflict between regionalism and the nature of the European Union as expressed in its structure. Both of the latter, nature and structure, 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 remaining nature of the Union as one of States, however, rather than an independent legal-political entity confines the EU to neutrality towards its Member States’ internal structure and relying 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 the existing regionalist features in detail:

Amongst 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 comprise 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 plays an advisory role only. In addition, its composition of an abundance of structurally uneven interests from different local and regional levels weakens the Committee with regard to substantive decisions. This weakness leads some regions to pursue their interests through other, non-institutionalised channels.

Whilst the principle of subsidiarity was originally adopted in order to ‘bring the Union closer to its citizens’ and as such hoped to champion regionalism, it does not even mention the regional level in its present form. 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. Whilst the EU cannot interfere with the internal structure of its Member States, it could grant rights to regions directly.

Further details of our programme for the coming weeks will be posted soon.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Congratulations!


Gerd Koehler (left), a co-founder and executive member of the Legal Research Society, is one of the winners of the Treaty of Rome Conference Essay Competition that was run by the Europa Institute of the University of Edinburgh and funded by the European Parliament. Congratulations to Gerd on winning this prestigious award!


The competition was part of a project to highlight the role of the European Parliament in the process of European integration in the context of the 50th Anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. The essay competition was followed by a major conference on 19 January 2008 at the Surgeons’ Hall complex in Edinburgh.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Guest Editorials on Conflictoflaws.net

Conflictoflaws.net has introduced guest editorials from scholars and practitioners to be posted monthly in 2008. This is a welcome development and yet another great contribution of that website to private international law scholarship. Students the world over who attend universities that have limited library resources must be particularly thankful for the availability of quality scholarly work on the internet - I know I would have been in my undergrad years.
The first guest editorial was posted last week: “Trust and Confidence in the European Community Supreme Court?” by Andrew Dickinson. Mr Dickinson makes a compelling case that the ECJ should be reformed in order to compensate for what he considers to be a gap in the court's expertise in the fields of private law and private international law.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

More Nuclear Power in the UK?


The UK Government today officially invited private contractors to bid for the construction and operation of new nuclear power stations in the UK. Before the House of Commons, Business Secretary John Hutton today informed MPs that the government hopes for the first new nuclear power plant to be up and running before 2020. The Government’s plans are that private contractors will build and run the nuclear power stations without any public assistance in form of subsidies or other financial assistance. Instead, the Government plan to attract interest by smoothing the planning system, in order to make it easier to build the plants.

The reasons behind the Government’s strong interest in nuclear power are to be found in the Government’s commitments to lowering emission of greenhouse gasses in order to curb global warming (nuclear power emits very little CO2) and rising electricity prices in the UK. However, the plans, which are supported by the Tories and opposed by the Liberal democrats, have already been met with strong opposition from environmentalists. Greenpeace, who successfully challenged an earlier Government review supporting nuclear power in the courts, has vowed to fight against any new plants and argues that even the building of 10 new nuclear power plants would only cut the UK’s CO2 emission by four per cent.

In addition, the placing of any nuclear power plants might cause the UK Government headaches. Although no sites for the possible plants have yet been identified, and although Hutton indicates that there are no plans to place any in Scotland, the situation remains that issues relating to energy policy are not devolved to the Scottish Parliament whereas issues relating to planning are. It is not difficult to imagine how this might lead to some interesting legal and political discussion Holyrood and Westminster in between.

However, building new power plants was always going to be a “hot potato” for the Government. No nuclear power plant has been built in the UK for more than 20 years. In addition, no permanent facility for storage of the highly radioactive waste has yet been identified and currently waste is stored in “temporary facilities”. Also, no definite solution as to do with the waste exists today. It is widely agreed that the most viable option is to store the waste deep underground. Add to this the differences in perceptions of risks associated with the production and storage of nuclear materials. Although engineers have undoubtedly become better at building nuclear power plants, they are conventionally strongly opposed and thought to be a risky business by the public (while scientists generally consider it a safe option). Furthermore, attitudes towards nuclear power vary significantly across Europe with Sweden and Germany planning to phase out their plants whereas Finland is the only country currently building new nuclear power facilities. What is more, the estimates of what the production of nuclear power actually costs, once the plant is up and running, varies considerably. Traditionally nuclear power is thought to be cheaper than renewable sources but capital costs for new nuclear power plants are gigantic.

No doubt today’s decision will lead to some interesting times ahead.

You can read more about today’s news here and here plus a very good article written by Prof. Peter Cameron, University of Dundee, on the legal issues of nuclear energy from Journal of environmental Law here.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Corruption in Nigeria

This week’s Economist has a very interesting article on what happens in Nigeria if your job description includes fighting corruption and you become a tad too good at it.

The newspaper reports how Nuhu Ribadu, head of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), in Nigeria, set up inter alia to fight corruption, was allegedly removed from his job because he started to show too much interest in close acquaintances of President Umaru Yar’Adua. Apparently Ribadu was investigating allegations of corruption against a former governor on whose political support President Yar’Adua depends in his own upcoming fight before an election tribunal where he faces accusation of vote rigging. The Economist reports how the EFCC is one of the most respected institutions in Nigeria and has helped installing international confidence in Nigeria. In a time when African countries in general lack international confidence and support, sacking the leader of one of the country’s most respected institutions does not appear a sustainable way to try and attract foreign investment.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

The Web of the UN


The BBC yesterday reported that the UN is to forge ties with the comic book publisher Marvel in an attempt to improve the understanding and image of the organisation among, first of all, American school children. The idea is that Marvel will, free of charge, create a special issue of Spiderman, in which the bookish and timid Peter Parker will fight against the evils of the world alongside UN workers. Although the news will undoubtedly invite witty comparisons between Spiderman’s preferred weapons of webs and the UN’s bureaucracy, it has long been obvious that the perception of the UN in the US is one of scepticism. Thus, the need for image-improvement is perhaps stronger in the US than elsewhere – even if it mainly targets children (and other comic book readers). Such improvements can, hopefully, only add to the picture of an organisation, which’s image is arguably on the rising following the one year anniversary of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who has helped stabilising the organisation following a few tumultuous years under Kofi Annan.