Analysis: On matters of Greece’s sovereignty

DESPITE the huge sums expended to write down Greece’s foreign debt, there has been an outcry against “interference” with the country’s national sovereignty.

True, in exchange for considerable European aid, Greece’s ability to manoeuvre independently will be limited. But are complaints that Greek sovereignty has been impaired justified?

The idea of a nation-state’s sovereignty is rooted in the 17th-century Treaty of Westphalia, which embraced non-interference by external agents in states’ domestic affairs as the guiding principle of international relations.

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Europe’s aid to Greece is an example of a co-operative agreement whereby parties negotiate with the others’ interests in mind.

Regardless of whether this is technically and economically the best solution to Greece’s problem, it is logical that the EU participated in designing it.

British sociologist Anthony Giddens rightly describes such examples as cases of integration or union in exchange for global influence. States co-operate because it is advantageous for them to do so, but at the same time they lose control over certain internal matters. They shift from unilateral to cooperative decision-making.

In the same way, the debate about the meaning of national sovereignty consists in what we consider “domestic” matters.

Depending on where we place the emphasis and how wide our focus is, we prioritise either a “global” (or at least “federal”) dimension to sovereignty, or a “national” dimension.

The EU seems to represent a halfway point between these two concepts, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to determine the difference between purely domestic matters and those that require international collective action.

Globalisation has made frontiers more porous, and we see interdependence: China’s annual GDP growth rate, for example, will slow by two percentage points this year owing to sluggishness in the United States and the EU.

On a global scale, this complex and interdependent world needs an organisation of states and structures of governance oriented towards responsible dialogue, the aim being to mitigate abuse of power and defend global public assets.

Without such structures, the world risks a competitive and disorderly race to the bottom among states.

• Javier Solana, a former secretary-general of Nato, is distinguished senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution.