Thursday, 28 April 2016

What Would One of France’s ‘Great Men’ Say?
Victor Hugo’s Vision of the ‘United States of Europe’

As fate would have it, on June 23rd at a UK conference I will be delivering a keynote address about what one of the nineteenth century’s most globally recognized voices would have to say about the EU Referendum. Victor Hugo’s popular writing (including the wildly successful novel Les Misérables) and his outspoken political interventions as both a public figure and an elected representative make him a high-profile figure to invoke. Indeed, Hugo increasingly used his celebrity throughout his long and storied life to lobby for a universal republic of European nations that he believed was a natural consequence of the French Revolution’s principles of liberty, equality, and brotherhood. Collective freedom, mutual respect, and lasting solidarity could become the hallmarks of a modern Europe in Hugo’s eyes. He would undoubtedly have been a vocal critic of the EU’s present shortcomings as a political entity, but he equally would have resisted any urge to cut the ties that bind the continent together.  

It was Hugo, after all, who promoted the term ‘the United States of Europe’. He first used this phrase in his inaugural address to the
International Peace Congress in Paris on 21st August 1849, where he imagined an ‘intimate’ union of European countries through cultural and commercial ties alike. A bust of Hugo can still be found standing in front of an extract from this speech in the French National Assembly in Paris, although Hugo had erected a monument of his own on the symbolic date of 14th July 1870 when he planted an oak tree as a symbol of future European growth. Hugo has become something of a public monument himself, of course, receiving a huge State funeral in 1885 and being interred in the Paris Pantheon as one of France’s ‘great men’ who continues to be regarded as a bearded patriarch of the French Republic and its humanitarian values.

My current research explores the cultural influence that Hugo exerted both during and after his life as a grand homme, so it has been timely this month for me to think about his conception of Europe, which was at once hopeful and anxious. While he rarely underestimated the more egotistical aspects of human nature, he remained committed to an inclusive social philosophy that prioritized cohesion over distinction. Hugo was acutely aware of the political tensions that threatened continental stability throughout the nineteenth century, having himself grown up during the
Napoleonic Wars, and so he repeatedly tried to direct attention to the need for greater cooperation across the continent. Simón Bolívar’s proposition of a holy alliance of Latin American nations at the 1826 Congress of Panama had given Hugo a model of opposition against the monarchical grip of old Europe – a model which he believed could reinvigorate the ideals of the French Revolution and productively reorganise the continent.

Hugo began by believing that a single ‘great’ figure like Napoleon would be needed as the driving force behind such a project, but as his conservatism waned he came to prioritize the sovereignty of the people and the importance of their democratically elected governments. Towards the end of the 1840s, he envisaged a multinational European entity whose main goal would be collective prosperity rather than just national security. This Europe was a continent of free trade and movement, bound by a shared sense of history and a collective rejection of autocracy, with military budgets transferred to civilian purposes so as to improve education and technology. Central to this idea of Europe was Hugo’s Romantic worldview, which looked beyond divisive and restrictive lines to stress interconnection and kinship between all things. Open minds demanded open borders in every sense for Hugo, requiring a focus not on nationalist vanity but on fraternal fortune.

When the
Franco-Prussian War broke out in 1870, Hugo’s dream seemed like a farcical fantasy, especially when France herself descended into a bloody civil war between the ensuing Paris Commune and the Versailles government. Yet ‘the terrible year’, as he called it, underlined his belief that the European nations needed to fortify a broadly conceived common ground before any specifically political infrastructure could be put in place. In this respect, Hugo turned to his own country in an attempt to move beyond old partitions. His 1872 poetry collection The Terrible Year stirred uncomfortable memories in order to open up painful national wounds and target France’s failure to overcome the divisive legacy of 1789. Two years later, his final novel, Ninety-Three, picked yet more aggressively at these lesions by dramatizing the civil conflict of 1793’s Reign of Terror so as to confront France’s internal tensions between republicanism and reactionary conservatism, as triggered by 1789 and as sustained by 1871.

Although the tragic ending of that novel reiterates Hugo’s uncertainty towards whether his own generation could ever realize the potential of a united Europe, he continued to stress the futility of conflict between shared interests.
In 1876, for example, when Serbia declared war on the Ottoman Empire in support of Bosnia and Herzegovina, he used the resulting military atrocities to argue once again for ‘the necessity of the United States of Europe’. ‘Let us replace political questions with human ones,’ he pleaded, ‘for our entire future depends on it.’ At a time when the political rhetoric around the EU Referendum is often striking a divisive, even confrontational, tone, Hugo’s voice arguably remains resonant in its call to look beyond nationalistic oppositions and economic self-interest towards ideals of collective prosperity. Them and us, me and you, are ultimately one and the same, so breaking up the Union rather than continuing to work together to improve it would be short-sighted rather than visionary – a step back away from the democratic dreams of the late eighteenth century, rather than forward into the future.

Dr Bradley Stephens, Senior Lecturer in French

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

The EU, Brexit and nature conservation law

In the lead up to the sold out Brexit debate at the University of Bristol on Friday 29 April 2016, we are posting some blogs from our Cabot Institute members outlining their thoughts on Brexit and potential implications for environmental research, environmental law and the environment.  

The EU plays a fundamental role in shaping the environmental law regimes of its Member States and that of the UK is no exception. A significant proportion of current domestic environmental law derives from EU Regulations (that automatically become part of English law) and EU Directives (that are implemented through national legislation).

Nature conservation law, i.e. the legal regime used to protect environmentally significant habitats and species, is a case in point and the focus of this blog. Conserving nature is key not only from a purely biodiversity standpoint but also from an ‘ecosystem services’ perspective. Ecosystem services are the benefits nature brings to the environment and to people, including supporting services (e.g. nutrient cycling), provisioning services (e.g. food), regulating services (e.g. carbon capture) and cultural services (e.g. recreation)

Site designation and management is a favoured technique of nature conservation law. The well-known Natura 2000 network, would not be there if it were not for EU Directives, namely the Habitats (92/43/EEC) and Wild Birds Directives (2009/147/EC), implemented in the UK by the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010. Under Article 3 of the Habitats Directive, Member States are indeed required to set up the Natura network composed of Special Areas of Conservation (sites hosting the natural habitat types listed in Annex I and habitats of the species listed in Annex II of the Habitats Directive) and Special Protection Areas (sites for the protection of rare and vulnerable birds as listed in Annex I of the Wild Birds Directive and for regularly occurring migratory species). 
Greenfinch by Mschulenburg - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0
In the UK, there are a substantial number of European protected sites: 652 Special Areas of Conservations (including candidate Special Areas of Conservation[1] and Sites of Community Importance[2]) and 270 Special Protection Areas, covering a total of 10,8128,04 ha (JNCC statistics as of 28 January 2016).

Has the establishment of Natura 2000 made a difference to biodiversity protection? 

As part of its Smart Regulation Policy, the Commission has initiated a fitness check of the Habitats and Wild Birds Directives to evaluate their effectiveness, efficiency, coherence, relevance and added value. Though the final Commission report on the results of the fitness check will be available only later this year, the draft emerging findings prepared by a consortium of experts do suggest that the Habitats and Wild Birds Directives have substantially contributed to the conservation of nature and to meeting the EU’s biodiversity target.

It is fair to note that, prior to the EU Directives on nature conservation, the UK did have its own system for habitat protection, most notably based on the designation of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs). Introduced in the post-war period by the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, the law governing SSSIs has been strengthened over the decades by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, amended by Schedule 9 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. However, the management measures in place for SSSIs are not as stringent as those for the protection of Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas. 
Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) were introduced in the post-war period in the UK to help manage habitat protection.
It is also fair to note that in the marine environment, the UK has taken important steps domestically: the passing of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 in England and Wales (and similar Acts in the devolved administrations) has brought in new domestic marine conservation zones that contribute to the establishment of an ecologically coherent network in UK waters. But the building of such a network is not so disentangled from EU law, considering Art 13(4) of the EU Marine Strategic Framework Directive (2008/56/EC) requires the formation of marine protected areas’ networks in the marine environments of Member States.

Clearly therefore, EU law has contributed much to the development of nature conservation in the UK. Moreover, being part of the EU means that the Commission can exercise its power to bring infringement proceedings against Member States for incomplete or ineffective implementation of EU law, thereby exercising an external check on implementation (for nature conservation, see Commission v UK, Case C-06/04 [2005]  ECR I-9017).

What would Brexit mean for the future of nature conservation law?

What is unknown however is what would Brexit mean for the future of nature conservation law in the UK because much depends on the type of post-Brexit EU-UK relationship and the agreement that will be negotiated. However, it could be argued that compared to other environmental sectors (such as waste and water) nature conservation may be more at risk.  

Indeed, even in the not-too-radical scenario in which the UK chooses to stay within the EEA, the future of nature conservation law will depend on whether there is political willingness to continue to abide by existing commitments, rather than legal obligations stemming from the EEA agreement. This is because, though the EEA agreement does contains many environmental provisions, nature conservation is excluded (Annex XX of the EEA agreement excludes the Habitats and Wild Birds Directive). Consequently, the future of nature conservation law is very uncertain in a post-Brexit world, even in the event of EEA membership.

[1] Candidate Special Areas of Conservation are sites that have been submitted to the European Commission, but not yet formally adopted.
[2] Sites of Community Importance are sites that have been adopted by the European Commission but not yet formally designated by the government of each country.
This blog has been written by Cabot Institute member Dr Margherita Pieraccini, a Lecturer in Law at the University of Bristol. 
Margherita Pieraccini

Monday, 4 April 2016

Ahead of the West decides debate on 29 April, Daniel Hannan argues the case for leaving the EU

Daniel Hannan, Conservative MEP, offers his assessment of why UK citizens should vote to leave the EU on the 23rd June. Contributions from the other speakers at The West Decides (29th April) will be posted as they are received. 

Daniel Hannan, MEP. Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore

Undecided on whether to remain in the EU? Here are seven things to bear in mind. 

1. Our money, our priorities. Our annual tribute to Brussels now stands at £19 billion a year gross, 11 billion net. If we kept that money at home, we could give the entire country a two thirds cut in council tax. Or we could build and equip a state-of-the-art hospital every week. To put it another way, during the last Parliament, we saved £36 billion through the entire domestic cuts programme; yet, over the same period, we gave Brussels £85 billion. The EU, in other words, wiped out our austerity savings twice over. Even if we use the net figure, it’s still enough to have cancelled all the cuts and have had enough left over to take a penny off income tax. 

2. The EU is out of date. In the digital age, we are no longer defined by our geography. We have links to other English-speaking and common law nations around the world – nations that, unlike the EU, are growing economically. In 1980, the 28 EU states accounted for 30 per cent of the world’s economy; today, it’s 17 per cent and falling. The real growth is happening across the oceans, not least in Commonwealth countries to which we are linked by language and law, habit and history. 

3. Keeping Britain secure. Outside the EU, we can control our immigration policy. More passports are checked at Britain’s borders than at those of the other 27 EU states put together. The former Secretary General of Interpol, Ronald Noble, describes the Schengen Zone as ‘an international passport-free zone for terrorists to execute attacks on the Continent and make their escape’. 

4. Recovering our democracy. If the EU were just about international co-operation and trade, no one would have a problem with it. The trouble is that it regulates things that have no conceivable cross-border dimension: the power of our electrical appliances, the frequency of our bin collections, the way we open a bank account, the tax on sanitary products. Our laws should have precedence on our own territory, and we should be able to hire and fire the people who pass them.