Friday, April 10, 2009

Plaid Cymru and Europe

A few months ahead of the European elections in June, I was fascinated to stumble across an article by well-known Welsh political commentator, Richard Wyn Jones, giving an overview of Plaid’s changing historical and theoretical relationships with ‘Europe’.

His article, published in the Nations and Nationalism journal earlier this year, identifies different positions adopted by Plaid since the party’s formation, regarding Europe and Plaid’s ‘confusion’ regarding the constitutional end-goal.

It’s an article that makes for very interesting reading as, by adopting any of the three positions, pre-European integration, during European integration and post-European integration, it becomes easier to understand the various perspectives that you might find in Plaid writings over the years.

Wyn Jones begins by taking Saunders Lewis’ position on Europe as being a pre-nation-state ideal where Wales, as an independent region in the middle ages, possessed its own ‘freedom’ to develop culturally, something which was only threatened by the creation of the nation-state in England with the Acts of Union.

In this way, ‘Wales’ was part of a broader European mosaic which owed its fealty to the Roman Church.

According to Wyn Jones, the second phase of Plaid’s relationship with Europe came under Gwynfor Evans, where Plaid’s position moved from the ‘pre-sovereignty’ position adopted by Lewis to a ‘post-sovereignty’ position .where the party looked forward to the end of the nation-state during a period of European integration.

Plaid initially opposed the EEC and European integration as being a centralising, capitalist influence on Europe, rather than the coalition of small countries for which Plaid hoped.

However, following both the 1979 Referendum and the Miners’ Strike, Plaid became enthusiastic about the whole project, believing in a Europe of the Historic Regions.

Since then, though, Wyn Jones believes that Plaid have become frustrated with the reality of participating in the European institutions.

He comments that the experiences, first on the Committee of the Regions and then in the Parliament itself, have led the party to conclude that, in the face of what have become powerful and accepted ‘banal European’ institutions, the Europe of the Regions is a pipe-dream.

This is therefore what has led Plaid, in the past few years to the party’s newly-discovered Westphalian nation-state position, i.e. independence.

The irony, of course, is that most people in Wales thought that independence had always been Plaid’s default position anyway!

From a personal position, my concern has always been for people first, constitutional positions second and I want the best deal for the people of Wales.

I believe that the institutions of the United Kingdom have left Wales in a poor economic situation, and believe that we would be best suited if we were to have greater control of our daily lives.

As far as the European dimension goes, Wyn Jones is right to point to the banal Europeanisation of the EU institutions – they do exist and we must work within them.

However, I do not think that this precludes the glocalisation that was central to the power-sharing of the Europe of the Regions – that some powers are transferred upwards because they refer to issues that go beyond one or two regions or states but affect us all, while others should be transferred downwards so that they are closer to the populations which they serve.

But if we want Wales to be represented as effectively as possible in Europe, then, given the different agendas of the unionist parties, we’ll only achieve that through a strong Plaid showing on June 4th and aiming high for a second seat in the European Parliament.

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