Monday, June 1, 2009

Emerging "European" Consciousness?

Members of the European Parliament have begun to vote more along party than national lines, with Greens leading the way, according to this article. Could this, at long last, indicate the emergence of a transnational polity? It would be extremely interesting indeed if environmentalism--the cross-border issue par excellence--were to lead the way to a new political order. If so, I will have been proven wrong: years ago, when green politics first emerged, I predicted that what I saw as "single-issue organization" would be subsumed by more traditional interests of class and economic order. But so many things are now linked to "green politics" that one can hardly dismiss these parties as "single-issue." Indeed, the great issues of the day, the questions than touch on our very vision of society and the fundamental values around which political conflict is to be organized, are increasingly linked to the questions that have always animated the Greens. Tocqueville distinguished between "great parties," which concern themselves with what George H. W. Bush dismissed as "the vision thing," and "petty parties," which squabble about division of the spoils. If the way back to "great politics" passes through Europe and the environment, I would be almost pleased to have been proven wrong.

The Rights of Man and of the Non-Citizen

An administrative judge has issued an injunction preventing immigration minister Eric Besson (a former Socialist, now a UMP honcho after his desertion from the Ségo camp in mid-campaign) from opening bidding on state contracts to aid immigrants in detention to associations other than La Cimade, which now handles the work. The injunction came in response to a complaint by La Cimade that the real intention of the move was to alter the mission from one of providing detainees with legal representation to one of simply providing information.

Further developments in this case should be interesting to watch. There is a broad issue at stake here, and it extends well beyond France. What are the rights of immigrants detained on suspicion of illegality or other violation of a host country's laws? To what due process are they entitled? How are they to avail themselves of their rights if they don't know the language, don't know the legal system, and don't know what their rights are? The high-handed methods of the Immigration and Naturalization Service in the US have often been exposed, yet abuses continue. And the mere possession of information may be of little use if a detainee has no resources, no legal representation, and no help outside the detention center.

The presumption of guilt often seems to be the operative principle, and protest is often greeted with a shrug: "Why should they have rights, they're not citizens?" This "principle" has repeatedly been asserted in the United States by those who believe that the government's duty to protect its citizens automatically grants the authority to dispose of non-citizens as it pleases. But the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen was never intended to assert that non-citizens have no rights. Exactly what those rights are in the case of presumed illegal immigrants needs to be clarified. Besson's attempt to limit the service provided to detainess under the guise of "liberalizing" the "market" for the representation of immigrants should serve to bring the whole range of state practices in this realm under closer scrutiny.