PITTSBURGH: Former ECJ Judge Sir David Edward on Nationalism and the EU

Kristine Long, Pitt Law '11, and Joseph Schaeffer, Pitt Law '12, attended the 18th Annual McLean Lecture on World Law, Nationalism, Constitutionalism and the Future of the European Union, presented by Sir David Edward at the University of Pittsburgh...

Kristine Long

Rather fortuitously, I was able to go with Professor Ron Brand, Director of the Center for International Legal Education, to pick up Sir David Edward from his hotel before his lecture. Prior to meeting him, his reputation as a respected judge and scholar made him both impressive and intimidating. Yet, in the car ride, he was engaging and had a sincere interest in Pittsburgh, student life, and the law school. His demeanor was unchanged when he began his lecture, Nationalism, Constitutionalism, and the Future of the European Union. Even though his topic was daunting, Sir David had a warm and engaging tone that prevented his talk from becoming a stuffy lecture on national egotism.

Joseph Schaeffer

I didn't know what to expect from Sir David before he began his lecture, but I learned that he is a man of many talents: he is a respected jurist, historian, and humorist. He opened by noting that he was in Pittsburgh due to his work with the Carnegie Foundation, joking that he felt obligated to give back to the city, since he was "spending funds that originated in Pittsburgh" to help his home country of Scotland. Sir David seemed to have a deep interest in his topic, which he stated was inspired by two seemingly-unrelated events: the death of former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and the German Constitutional Court's judgment on the Lisbon Treaty, whose aim is to create more efficiency and cohesiveness throughout the EU.

Kristine Long

Sir David posed an initial question to the audience: "What is the dream of the European Union?" At first, it could be argued that the EU was attempting to create a version of the "United States of Europe," relying on the belief of incremental integration. Returning to his inspirations, he noted that McNamara believed in such a dream when he was the Secretary of Defense, but gave up on the notion due to the Vietnam War. What McNamara did come to believe in, however, were 11 short lessons. Sir David started by focusing on Lesson Three, which argues that the US underestimated the power nationalism has to motivate a people to fight and die for their beliefs and values. In fewer than 15 words, McNamara and Sir David captured the importance of nationalism, a factor that cannot be discounted when discussing international ideology.

Joseph Schaeffer

Continuing from this first inspiration, Sir David discussed the American-centric versus Eurocentric perception of the "nation." Quoting Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, he argued that the American idea of the "nation" is that of a people created by joint experiences, constantly in flux. In contrast, the European idea of the nation is that of a historically-evolved, stable group bound together by common language and culture, among other factors. He implied that Europe consequently places a stronger emphasis on nationalism, and he ran through approximately 400 years of European history in order to prove his conclusion: despite numerous wars, Europe's current geographical composition has a strong correlation with its linguistic composition.

Throughout his lecture, Sir David led the audience on an extended journey from America to Europe — although his tone was conversational, each of his slides strategically added layers of content which eventually led the audience to realize that any discussion about nations would require delicate handling and balanced discussion of differing opinions. Despite the strength of nationalism in Europe, there are still elements of instability, particularly ethnic tensions, immigration, Euroskepticism, disparities of wealth, and structural imbalances. Returning to McNamara, there is also the divisive force of nationalism, which Sir David implied served as a bar to greater European unity. His position on nationalism was made explicit during the question and answer period, when he responded to a question about the Euroskepticism of England's Tories by stating that they were simply "irrational."

Kristine Long

One of the most alarming elements of instability that Sir David discussed was the lack of representation in the EU. Currently, representation in the EU legislative bodies is largely non-proportional. Germany is by far the largest member of the EU with a population of over 70 million, but a vast majority of the EU members states have far smaller populations (ranging from several hundred thousand to a few million). While there are vastly different population levels, larger states do not necessarily have a greater share of the votes. Germany currently has 24 votes, while other states have from 2-12 votes. This imbalance would be exacerbated by the accession of Turkey to the EU, since Turkey would then become the largest state in the EU. According to Sir Edward, Turkey's entrance to the EU is inevitable, and will bring many related problems.

Joseph Schaeffer

Sir David moved on from his discussion of nationalism when he questioned whether constitutionalism would be a cure to the structural imbalances. Again, he discussed the benefits of a constitution, but also noted its drawbacks. Probably the most amusing moment of the lecture was when Sir David wondered (in the words of Georgetown Professor Michael Seidman) whether these changes would not simply "put the lipstick of disinterested constitutionalism on the pig of raw politics." He then discussed the impact of the German Constitutional Court ruling on the constitutionality of the Lisbon Treaty under German Law, interpreting the court's ruling as an imposition of strict limits on the applicability of EU law. In yet another humorous turn of phrase, Sir David felt the German court's holding on the EU issue was "Thus far shalt thou come and no further." The German court held that the Treaty was not representative of the German people and that, at the extremes, Germany might declare EU law inapplicable or even refuse to participate in the EU. As Sir David noted, there is a real concern that states' exercise of nullification powers might lead to further instability. Finally, he concluded by connecting the portion of his talk on constitutionalism to the portion on nationalism, asking whether the German court's decision was a sign of national egotism or a legitimate concern.

Joseph Schaeffer

Sir David left some questions open for the audience, which was perhaps fair because he spent the majority of his allotted time speaking not only on nationalism, constitutionalism and the EU, but also on American federalism and European history. Sir David was a most impressive speaker because of his breadth of knowledge in a vast array of topics. In forty minutes he talked about American law, (citing Oliver Wendell Holmes and the US constitution) political theory, (quoting from Stalin and McNamara) and literature - all in addition to his already extensive coverage about the EU.

Kristine Long

Sir David gave a fascinating lecture and truly lived up to the expectations of the McLean Lecture Series, which seeks to create public dialogue about the need for world peace through the mechanism of world law. He gave a balanced and honest discussion about the state of the EU, which is not an easy task. It is difficult to write a truthful history of any nation because people do not want to hear about their own shortcomings, but Sir David acknowledged that the EU, like any nation, has both its strengths and weaknesses.

Mentioned in this article:

Center for International Legal Education (CILE)

11 Lessons from the Vietnam War

The Lisbon Treaty

The European Union

Photo Credits: Kerry Ann Stare courtesy of CILE

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